Sleep deprivation from nightly fireworks 'can be viewed as torture,' doctor says

For millions of Americans, fireworks — once a Fourth of July novelty — suddenly feel like a weapon of war. In cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, residents have been reporting daily rounds of the explosives for weeks now, some of which begin as early as 7 p.m. and continue until the morning.

Questions about where they’re coming from abound and prompted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce a task force on Tuesday to look into it. In the flood of answers, a conspiracy theory — now shared over 20,000 times — was floated on Facebook, suggesting that they’re a part of a “coordinated government effort” to cause mental exhaustion and friction in neighborhoods.

While it remains unclear exactly why fireworks have suddenly spiked, or where they’re coming from, doctors say there is no debate about how they may be affecting those who are losing sleep as a result. “Not getting restful sleep continually can be detrimental to your health, that’s been proven,” says Yahoo Life Medical Contributor Dr. Dara Kass. “Sleep deprivation can be viewed as torture.”

In the midst of a global pandemic that has infected more than 2.3 million Americans, this lack of sleep — which many have been discussing on Twitter — could have dangerous implications. Dr. Sanford Auerbach, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston Medical Center, elaborates on the concept to Yahoo Life. “Our immune system is particularly sensitive to the effects of sleep deprivation,” says Auerbach. “Sleep loss has been shown to affect many components of our immune system, the system that helps to defend our body against infectious diseases. This has been a particular concern during this time of COVID-19.”

Related Video: At-Home Fireworks Use on the Rise

Dr. Brandon Peters, a sleep medicine specialist and adjunct lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, agrees. “Sleep deprivation affects the function of the immune system,” Peters tells Yahoo Life. “Research has shown that it increases the risk of catching the common cold. It can change the response to an immunization, making it less effective.”

One study on the topic from the University of Washington Health Sciences in 2017 analyzed blood samples from identical twins and found that those who slept less than the other twin had “a depressed immune system.” Another from researchers in Germany last year found that adequate sleep “improves the potential ability of some of the body’s immune cells to attach to their targets.”

To understand why sleep is so pivotal to fighting off disease requires first reframing the way we think about sleep. “Sleep is sometimes considered a quiet state with little happening. In fact, sleep is rather dynamic,” says Auerbach. “From a physiological point of view, there are essential processes that occur. There is oxidative repair, neurotransmitter turnover in the brain and clearance of potentially toxic accumulations in the brain. A loss of sleep can lead to a decline in our physical and mental abilities. Sleep deprivation over a period of time can put us at risk for many health problems.”

“Sleep is a pillar of health, just like nutrition and exercise,” adds Peters. “If we sleep poorly, not getting enough hours or adequate quality, our well-being and health suffer. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, on average, to feel rested, and these needs may change throughout life. Noise, light and elevated temperature are all disruptive to sleep.”

On top of affecting the immune system, long-term lack of sleep can also put individuals at higher risk of other health complications like cancer and diabetes. In the short term, Peters says it can take a mental toll as well, interfering with our ability to function during the day. “Poor sleep exacerbates anxiety, depression and irritability,” he says. “It affects the frontal lobe of the brain. This also impacts concentration, attention, short-term memory and organization.”

Although the effects may be troubling, the good news is that the body can quickly recover. “Fortunately, the effects of sleep deprivation are quickly reversed,” says Peters. “One night of recovery sleep may improve the physical and mental impacts.”

Given that, Kass hopes the phenomenon will soon come to an end. “The combined effect of sleep deprivation and generalized anxiety in the uncertainty of this moment is not beneficial for anyone’s health,” she says. “The fact that they’re happening in the middle of the night is not OK.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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