Can Sleep Prevent a Cold?

Recent research has shown that people who get less than six hours of sleep per night are 4 times more likely to get cold than those who sleep more than 7 hours a night.

In the study, the data suggests that the amount of sleep is more closely associated with likelihood of catching a cold than age, daily stressors, or even smoking status.

In this study, 164 individuals wore devices that tracked their quality of sleep.   They were then exposed to the cold virus “rhinovirus” through nose drops  several times over a week period.

The amount of virus the study participants were exposed to was reported to be the same as might occur in the normal environment.

Mucus samples were then taken from participants to determine who had actually become infected with the cold virus.

Interestingly, those individuals who slept 6 hours or less a night were 4 times more like to become infected with the cold virus.

Although the study was not designed to provide a biologic explanation as to why 6 hours are needed to decrease infection risk,  the study would seem to suggest that less than 6 hours of sleep detrimentally affects the immune system.

Map of Sleep Insufficiency

The map below depicts age-adjusted percentage of adults who reported 30 days of insufficient rest or sleep during the preceding 30 days. Data is from the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

A map of the United States displaying the Percentage of Adults Reporting 30 Days Insufficient Rest of Sleep During Preceding 30 Days

The darker ares on the map have the most amount of reported sleep disturbance in the country.  It would seem that the southern most areas of the United States have the most reported sleep disturbance, although no causation can be concluded from this data.

So how do we improve sleep and increase the amount of sleep that we get?

The demands of work and house duties often interfere with earlier sleep times.  In addition, time spent in front of bright computers or televisions can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Going to bed and waking at similar times each night can assist in setting your biologic clock.  This means that over time, it will be easier to actually fall asleep and wake at the same time each day.

Limiting caffeine later in the day and going to bed in a dark environment certainly helps as well.

The most difficult task for most of us, is probably to simply put the computer or phone down or turn off the television.  There will hopefully come a time for most of us when we realize the our health is more important than getting in another 30 minutes of work on the computer.

So let’s be kind to our bodies tonight and each of us try to get a little more sleep.  Our bodies will surely thank us.

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In good health,

Dr. J


J Lee Jenkins, MD, MSc, FACEP is a practicing board-certified emergency physician and researcher in emergency public health. She can also be found on twitter ( and Facebook (J Lee Jenkins MD).

Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. This blog is not intended to provide personal medical advice. As always, please consult with your personal doctor prior to making any changes to your health regimen.


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