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Surprising Science

Great Preventative Cold Medicine? A Good Night’s Sleep.

A new study says that the less sleep you get, the more likely you’ll be to catch a cold. 

As if being an insomniac wasn’t troublesome enough, here’s something else you can lay awake worrying about: getting sick. A new study led by Aric Prather and UCSF, Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Dietrich College found a direct correlation between length of sleep and the chances of developing a cold. Compared to people who get seven-plus hours rest, people that sleep six hours or fewer a night were four times as likely to catch a cold, and people that sleep less than five hours a night were 4.5 times as likely to get sick.

As someone whose late-night Spotify sessions indicate a chronic sleep problem (I have around a dozen playlists dedicated to inducing sleep, all with dubious success rates), this is not good news. As more and more sleep studies are published, I’ve become increasingly aware of how important a good night’s rest is to our overall health.

This study took 194 subjects and put them through two months of health screenings, then watched their sleeping habits for a week. They were given a cold virus via nasal drops, and over the next several days monitored for cold symptoms. Nothing they measured, from basic demographic information to antibody levels to psychological variables, predicted one’s likelihood to get a cold except for sleep levels.

Arianna Huffington discusses the importance of a well-rested mind and body.

This study was more accurate than previous sleep studies due to the technology used in the measurements. Researchers used wrist actigraphy, which is basically a FitBit, instead of the usual polysomnography (which can inhibit natural movement during sleep) or just relying on the subject’s recollection. It also didn’t deprive the subjects of sleep, but allowed them to maintain as normal a routine as possible. The intention was to create an environment that could have been any regular week in cold season.

My fellow Big Thinkers have written about how sleep affects our ability to read moods, probability of developing Alzheimer’s, and cognition in our older years. While these are all troubling for those of us who can’t get a solid night of rest, it is still useful and pertinent knowledge. It’s something for us to take into consideration as we head into cold season, armed with our Duane Reade rewards card and throat coat tea. For those that are able, turn off Netflix and go to bed. Your body will thank you later.

Photo courtesy of GettyImages


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