Glial Fatigue and Sleep

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Your body is an interconnected system of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to keep you alive and functioning. Disrupting or depleting one system will have a ripple effect throughout the others. This is especially true for the central nervous system (or CNS), where glial cells play a vital role.

What are Glial Cells?

Glial cells (also called neuroglial cells or simply glia) are the unsung heroes of your nervous system. Essentially, they’re the CNS’s support system, providing structure, protecting neurons, and helping them communicate with each other. Seeing as how the term “glia” is actually derived from the Greek word for “glue,” it’s strikingly clear how important these cells are to the proper functioning of your nervous system.

There are three main types of glial cells in the CNS:

  • Astrocytes: glia that maintain the right balance of chemical environment for your neurons to communicate
  • Oligodendrocytes: glia that wraps myelin around axons to provide insulation and speed up nerve impulses
  • Microglia: glia that protect neurons from pathogens and clear away debris

While glial cells are super important for keeping your CNS functioning properly, they’re not indestructible. Just like any other cell in your body, glia can be subject to fatigue.

Glial Fatigue and Sleep

Sleep is a crucial time for your body to recover and repair itself. This is when your cells regenerate, your muscles relax, and you get some much-needed rest. All of the systems in your body need to be working in tandem for you to get a good night’s sleep—and that includes your glial cells.

The role glial cells play in both sleep and fatigue is still being understood. But new evidence suggests that having over-active glial cells is common in those experiencing chronic fatigue syndrome, which can be a result of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders.

Glial cell activation has also been linked as a potential cause of centralized pain (CP). It’s believed that when glial cells go into overdrive, neuroinflammation, cellular destruction, and hyperarousal soon follow. Needless to say, none of these things are conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Again, the research into this possible result of glial activation is still in its infancy, but some researchers theorize that severe stress exposure and sleep disturbances could trigger glial cell overactivation. This, in turn, could perpetuate the cycle of fatigue and poor sleep. Aging could also play a role, as the influence glial cells (specifically microglia and astrocytes) have been shown to decline with age.

While we don’t yet have all the answers when it comes to glial cells and sleep, one thing is certain: getting enough quality sleep is essential for glial cells—and your entire body—to function properly.

Tips for Healthy Sleep

Luckily, you don’t have to fully understand glial cells and their role in fatigue to get a good night’s sleep. But you do have to prioritize your rest and take steps to ensure you’re getting the best sleep possible.

Here are a few tips to help you get the restorative sleep your body needs:

  • Create a sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Our bodies crave routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will help regulate your body’s natural sleep rhythm.
  • Create a peaceful sleep environment. A dark, quiet room is ideal for sleeping, as it cues your body that it’s time to rest. Consider using blackout curtains or an eye mask to make your room as dark as possible, and invest in a white noise machine to help drown out any disruptive sounds.
  • Wind down before bed. An hour or so before you plan on going to sleep, start winding down for the night. Turn off all screens (that includes your TV, phone, and laptop), and try reading or doing a relaxation exercise to help prepare your body for sleep.
  • Get up and move during the day. Exercise is a great way to promote healthy sleep. Just 30 minutes of movement can help improve your sleep quality and quantity. Just be sure to avoid working out right before bed, as this can actually make it harder to fall asleep for some people.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed. These substances can all interfere with sleep. Caffeine, in particular, can stay in your system for up to 10 hours, so it’s best to avoid it after 2 p.m.

If you’re struggling to get enough restful sleep, talk with your doctor. They can help you rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your sleeplessness and recommend further treatment options.


Glial cells play an important role in sleep and fatigue. While the research into glial cell function is still in its early stages, we do know that getting enough quality sleep is essential for glial cells—and your entire body—to function properly.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, take the necessary steps to improve your sleep hygiene. And if your sleep difficulties persist, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.


Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Caffeine: How to Hack It and How to Quit It.

Ingiosi A, et al. (2013). Sleep and immune function: glial contributions and consequences of aging.

Johnson C. (2014). The ‘Insulted Midbrain’ in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Mayo Clinic. (2022). Chronic fatigue syndrome: Diagnosis.

National Library of Medicine. (2001). Neuroglial Cells [ABSTRACT].

Nijs J, et al. (2017). Sleep disturbances and severe stress as glial activators: key targets for treating central sensitization in chronic pain patients?

Tennant F. (2014). Glial Cell Activation and Neuroinflammation: How They Cause Centralized Pain.