Sleep protects from sickness

Are you somebody who ‘always’ gets sick? Or maybe you’re someone who ‘never’ does. Why are people differentially susceptible to getting sick? Your genes play a role in susceptibility, but your behaviors may too. For example, how is your diet? Do you exercise? These factors likely contribute. But what about sleep? Sleep is a regulator of immune functioning, and therefore it might be involved.

With this in mind, a group of researchers set out to see whether sleep affects susceptibility for getting the common cold. To do so, they took about 150 individuals and monitored their sleep for a week using motion-detecting wrist bands. Each participant was then separately ‘quarantined’ for 5 days in the lab, where they were exposed to rhinovirus, which is the common cold. Over the course of the 5 days, cold progression was monitored. The sleep of those who developed a cold and those who did not was compared.

It was found that those who slept less than an average 5 hours per night were more than 4 times more likely to catch a cold than those sleeping more than 7 hours per night. Those results were also true for those sleeping between 5 and 6 hours per night. However, those sleeping between 6 and 7 hours were not at greater risk for developing a cold. Amazingly, these results held true even when accounting for body mass index (BMI) and health practices. Thus, sleep is an independent predictor in catching a cold.

This study is incredible, as it shows a clear role for sleep in helping to prevent sickness. This study is especially important for those suffering from sleep apnea. Although it is sometimes difficult to stick to sleep apnea treatment, it is imperative that treatment is used for the entire night. As this study clearly shows, 5 hours of sleep is not enough. Therefore, only using CPAP for 5 hours (or less) is not sufficient.


Source: Prather, A. A., Janicki-Deverts, D., Hall, M. H., & Cohen, S. (2015). Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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