Chronic insomnia, by far the most commonly encountered sleep disorder in medical practice, is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep at night and increased fatigue during the day. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are fatigue-inducing cytokines, and the daytime secretion of IL-6 is negatively influenced by the quantity and quality of the previous night's sleep. We hypothesize that the poor quality of insomniacs' sleep is associated with a hypersecretion of these 2 cytokines during the daytime, which, in turn, correlates with the fatigue experienced by these patients. Eleven young insomniacs (6 men and 5 women) and 11 (8 men and 3 women) age- and body mass index (BMI)-matched healthy controls participated in the study. Subjects were recorded in the sleep laboratory for 4 consecutive nights and serial 24-hour plasma measures of IL-6 and TNF were obtained during the 4th day. Insomniacs compared to controls slept poorly (sleep latency and wake were increased, whereas percentage sleep time was decreased during baseline nights, all P <.05). The mean 24-hour IL-6 and TNF secretions were not different between insomniacs and controls. However, the difference in the change (increase) of IL-6 plasma levels from midafternoon (2 PM) to evening (9 PM) between insomniacs and controls was significant (P <.01). Furthermore, cosinor analysis showed a significant shift of the major peak of IL-6 secretion from nighttime (4 AM) to evening (7 PM) in insomniacs compared to controls (P <.05). Also, while TNF secretion in controls showed a distinct circadian rhythm with a peak close and prior to the offset of sleep (P <.05), such a rhythm was not present in insomniacs. Finally, daytime secretion of TNF in insomniacs was characterized by a regular rhythm of 4 hours (P <.05); such a distinct periodicity was not present in controls. We conclude that chronic insomnia is associated with a shift of IL-6 and TNF secretion from nighttime to daytime, which may explain the daytime fatigue and performance decrements associated with this disorder. The daytime shift of IL-6 and TNF secretion, combined with a 24-hour hypersecretion of cortisol, an arousal hormone, may explain the insomniacs' daytime fatigue and difficulty falling asleep.
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