Don't want a cold?

Keep sleeping!

a person sleeping
A sleeper hard at work :) (Image: Wikimedia)

9/1/2015 — Want to avoid getting a cold this winter?

Start by getting more shut-eye (as in the individual at right). At least six or seven hours a night.

That’s the recommendation of researcher Aric Prather, from the University of California, San Francisco, who studies how behavior can affect health. The study results have been published in the journal Sleep.

He and other investigators recruited 164 healthy adults, ages 18 to 55, sprayed a live common cold virus into their noses and then quarantined them.

Aric Prather
Aric Prather

Sheldon Cohen
Sheldon Cohen

Prather and his colleagues relied on sleep diaries and a gizmo similar to a wrist FitBit to track the participants’ sleep for a week.

They found that those who were sleeping less were soon sneezing. The adults who got five or six hours of sleep each night were four times more likely to get a cold than those who slept seven or more hours.

To put it another way: almost 40 percent of those who slept six or fewer hours each night got colds, while only 18 percent of those who slept more than six hours got sick.

It didn’t matter whether the participants were overweight, whether it was winter or spring, whether they used a Neti pot or jogged regularly. What mattered when it came to fending off a cold successfully was the amount of sleep.

According to study co-author Sheldon Cohen, a higher level of inflammation is common among people who don’t get enough sleep. Which means inflammation may influence who does or doesn’t get a cold. Cohen, a Carnegie Mellon University psychologist, has studied the common cold for decades.

Other factors and behaviors may increase susceptibility too, research suggests. For instance, age may play a role, and smoking, chronic stress and a lack of exercise can all make us more susceptible.

"There's evidence that people who don't get enough sleep show higher levels of inflammation," says Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University who's been studying the common cold for decades and co-authored the study.

woman sleepingSir Frederic Leighton, Flaming June (1895)

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