Evidence is mounting that not clocking enough Zs really can make you more likely to catch a cold. A new study found that people who sleep five hours or less each night were 17 percent more likely to catch a cold and 51 percent more likely to get an infection (like the flu or pneumonia) as people who sleep seven hours or more.
“Sleep plays an incredibly important role in regulating and maintaining an efficient immune system,” the study’s lead author, Aric Prather, assistant professor of psychiatry and associate director of the Center for Health and Community at University of California, San Francisco, told The Huffington Post.
While previous findings from lab experiments suggest that short sleep and cold susceptibility are linked, the new study provides evidence from a survey of thousands of people that short sleep duration, a diagnosed sleep disorder, or self-reported sleep disturbances all are linked to increased rates of getting sick, Prather said.
This research is significant because, together with previous studies, it shows there is a biological explanation for how sleep prepares our bodies to fight colds.
“Sleep has consistently taken a back seat to other health behaviors.”
Why longer sleepers get sick less often
The researchers used survey data from 22,726 adults who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys between 2005 and 2012 to compare participants’ self-reported sleep durations with whether they had a head or chest cold or an infection (the flu, pneumonia or an ear infection) in the previous 30 days.
The data showed that those who reported regularly sleeping five hours or less on weeknights were 17 percent more likely to report having had a head or chest cold and 51 percent more likely to report having had an infection, compared with those who reported sleeping seven hours to eight hours a night. The data also showed that individuals who reported having been diagnosed with a sleep disorder were about 18 percent more likely to report having had a cold in the previous 30 days and 88 percent more likely to have had an infection, compared with individuals without a sleep disorder. People who reported having sleep disturbances also were more likely to report having been sick.
Doctors should take sleep more seriously
The study adds to the evidence that sleep assessments should be more common in medical settings, the authors noted. Sleep assessments should be included in patients' primary care visits the same way blood pressure and weight gets recorded, they said.
“Sleep has consistently taken a back seat to other health behaviors when it comes to investment, both on the part of the individual who is thinking about his or her health, as well as institutions, including the health care system,” Prather said. “Sleep is central to health -- and our health might depend on it.”
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.