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Sleeping less makes you more likely to catch a cold, study finds

Not getting a full night’s rest makes you more susceptible to catching a cold, a new study shows. Those who slept less than six hours per night were significantly more susceptible to the common cold virus than those who slept more than seven hours per night.

The study participants were 164 healthy volunteers, ages 18 to 55.  Researchers recorded their sleep habits for a week using both sleep diaries and actigraphy – a measurement of rest and activity using a sensor worn on the wrist. The researchers then quarantined the volunteers and exposed them to the common cold virus by giving them nose drops that contained the virus. They then monitored the quarantined volunteers to see who developed a cold, and who did not.

The results showed that the people who slept least were far more likely to get sick. Compared to people who slept more than seven hours per night, those who slept less than five hours per night were 4.5 times more likely to catch a cold. Those who slept between five and six hours per night were 4.2 times more likely to catch a cold than those who got more than seven hours of sleep.

The researchers noted that this effect was independent of other factors such as age, stress, smoking status or BMI. The results suggest that sleeping less increases a person’s susceptibility to the common cold virus, regardless of other factors.

The researchers also outlined some possible reasons for a link between short sleep and likelihood of catching a cold. A key mechanism may be sleep’s role in regulating the immune system. The study authors noted that lack of sleep affects the behaviour of important immune cells known as T cells.

The study was led by Aric Prather, PhD, at the University of California San Francisco, and included researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. It was published online ahead of print in the journal Sleep on Aug. 31, 2015.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital