A recent study led by a University of California, San Francisco sleep researcher confirms if we aren’t getting enough sleep, we are at increased risk for catching the common cold.
The health community has long believed sleep is important, but there is always debate on just how much sleep we really need and what implications it may have on our health. Researchers in the study determined adults who sleep less than six hours a night have a four times higher risk of catching a cold when directly exposed to the virus than those who get at least seven hours.
“Not getting enough sleep essentially leaves us vulnerable to a number of diseases or conditions, including colds,” said Alberto Santos, MD, medical director of the Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton and Baylor Medical Center at Frisco sleep lab. “When you aren’t getting enough sleep, this puts your body at risk because sleep deprivation suppresses our immune system function.”
In the carefully controlled two-part experiment, a team of scientists collected nightly sleep data on 164 healthy individuals for one week. The participants recorded sleep and wake times, but they also wore watch-like devices to monitor movement and sleep duration, known as wrist actigraphy. This type of tracking was the first of its kind, as prior research was based on self-reported measures and subject to bias.
After monitoring sleep, the participants were taken to a hotel and given nasal drops containing the cold virus. Doctors monitored them closely after, collecting and weighing mucus samples daily to determine if they showed signs of illness and when the virus displayed.
Why not getting enough sleep could mean more colds
We know sleeping more isn’t quite a cure for the common cold, but now research proves it could go a long way in protecting you from getting sick in the first place.
“Sleep can help us recharge our bodies, providing valuable time we can’t afford to skip out on,” Dr. Santos said. “If you’ve developed a bad habit of skipping sleep, you may be at risk for a number of side effects like increased irritability, decreased cognitive functioning and a suppressed immune system.”
Sleep is an element of our health that we can try daily to improve. Most people admit that they need more and want more, but just may need to shut off their screens, decrease their stress or get professional help for sleep disorders.
“I specialize in helping those who have trouble sleeping, due to a number of conditions including insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep deprivation, or other reasons,” Dr. Santos said. “I have seen over and over the impact sleep can have on the level of our daily functioning. It is essential to prioritize sleep to avoid colds, but also for our general wellness.”
If you’ve already fallen victim to the cold virus this season, you may want to improve your sleep to save on some tissues. Prevention is always the best medicine.
“One of the best ways to fight off the common cold is to listen to your body and take it easy,” Dr. Santos said. “Be sure you are drinking plenty of water, controlling your stress, and of course, getting adequate rest so your body can fight off the virus.”
Once we come to understand the benefits of sleep, we can start to view it as a tool to help live a healthy life, rather than a necessary evil that interferes with all other activities.