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Sleep Deprivation

Cytokine and Neuroendocrine Effects on Perception of Effort

Cullen, Tom1,2; Thomas, Gavin2; Wadley, Alex J.3,4

doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002207
Original Investigation: PDF Only

Introduction An increased perception of effort and subjective fatigue are thought to be central to decreased exercise performance observed following disrupted sleep. However, there is limited understanding of the mechanisms which underpin these phenomena. We investigated the role of interleukin-6 (IL-6), the soluble interleukin-6 receptor (sIL-6R) and neuroendocrine factors (cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline and brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF)) in mediating these responses at rest and during exercise.

Methods In a randomized order ten healthy active males completed 3 experimental trials following different sleep conditions; a single night of sleep deprivation (DEP), partial sleep deprivation equivalent to 4-hrs of sleep (PART) and normal sleep (CON). The experimental sessions consisted of physiological and perceptual measurements of exercise intensity throughout 45-min moderate intensity and 15-min maximal effort cycling. Cytokine and neuroendocrine factors were assessed at rest and in response to exercise.

Results Sleep deprivation resulted in increased resting IL-6, lower blood glucose, increased perceived fatigue and perception of effort, lower free-living energy expenditure, and reduced maximal exercise performance. In contrast, sleep deprivation did not alter physiological, cytokine or neuroendocrine responses to exercise. Variations in the resting concentration of IL-6 were associated with lowered blood glucose, an increased perception of effort, and impaired exercise performance. Resting concentrations of cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and BNDF showed subtle interactions with specific aspects of mood status, and performance but were not impacted by sleep deprivation. There were minimal effects of partial sleep deprivation.

Conclusions These findings demonstrate that cytokine and neuroendocrine responses to exercise are not altered by sleep deprivation but that changes in the resting concentration of IL-6 may play a role in altered perception of effort in this context.

1Centre for Sport Exercise and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry, United Kingdom

2School of Sport & Exercise Science, University of Worcester, Henwick Grove, Worcester, United Kingdom

3National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, United Kingdom

4University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Infirmary Square, Leicester, United Kingdom

Corresponding author: Dr Tom Cullen, Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry, UK, CV1 5FB. Email:

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. This research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.

Accepted for Publication: 18 October 2019.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially without permission from the journal.

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine