I was recently impressed to find out that there are 10 times more microbes (bacteria) living on or in us than there are human cells. This large population of bacteria, collectively, is called our microbiome. This large population of microbes exerts a tremendous influence on our biologic function. Conversely, problems or diseases we may have can have significant influences on our microbiome, leading to additional problems.
There has been increasing interest in the effect of sleep, our daily rhythms, called circadian rhythms, and light exposure on our microbiome. The concern is how the above mentioned conditions can influence out immune system by influencing our microbiome. The bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract can influence immune responses, cardiovascular events, and all-cause mortality.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is known to affect oxygen levels throughout the night. Altered oxygen diffusing in our intestinal tract can lead to an alteration in the bacteria contained in the gut. These alterations can have a significant effect on the type of bacteria in our gut. This change in the bacterial population can then have significant influences on our ability to fight off infections, along with changes in insulin sensitivity. Changes in insulin sensitivity may then contribute to obesity and metabolic problems.
More studies are needed to further define the effect sleep fragmentation, insomnia, chronic sleep restriction and circadian rhythms have on our overall state of health. What is clear is that all our systems are connected and problems with one can create serious problems with another.