Short sleepers are four times more likely to catch a cold: Researchers connect sleep loss to higher rates of illness

August 31, 2015
Credit: Vera Kratochvil/public domain

Scientists have long associated sufficient sleep with good health. Now they've confirmed it.

In 2009, Carnegie Mellon University's Sheldon Cohen found for the first time that insufficient is associated with a greater likelihood of catching a cold. To do this, Cohen, who has spent years exploring psychological factors contributing to illness, assessed participants self-reported sleep duration and efficiency levels and then exposed them to a .

Now, Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and researchers from UC San Francisco and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have confirmed that insufficient sleep is connected to an increased chance of getting sick. Published in the journal Sleep, the researchers used objective sleep measures to show that people who sleep six hours a night or less are more than four times more likely to catch a cold, compared to those who sleep more than seven hours in a night.

Aric Prather, assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF and lead author of the study, said that the findings add to growing evidence emphasizing how important sleep is for health.

"It goes beyond feeling groggy or irritable," Prather said. "Not getting enough sleep affects your physical health."

Cohen's lab is renowned for using the common cold virus to safely test how various factors affect the body's ability to fight off disease. Prather approached Cohen about the possibility of investigating sleep and susceptibility to colds using data collected in a recent study in which participants wore sensors to get objective, accurate sleep measures.

"We had worked with Dr. Prather before and were excited about the opportunity to have an expert in the effects of sleep on health take the lead in addressing this important question," Cohen said.

For the study, 164 adults underwent two months of health screenings, interviews and questionnaires to establish baselines for factors like stress, temperament, and alcohol and cigarette use. The researchers also tracked their for seven days using a watch-like sensor that measured the duration and quality of sleep throughout the night. Then, the participants were sequestered in a hotel, administered the cold virus via nasal drops and monitored for a week, collecting daily mucus samples to see if the virus had taken hold.

They found that subjects who slept less than six hours a night were 4.2 times more likely to catch the cold compared to those who got more than seven hours of sleep, and those who slept less than five hours were 4.5 times more likely.

"Sleep goes beyond all the other factors that were measured," Prather said. "It didn't matter how old people were, their stress levels, their race, education or income. It didn't matter if they were a smoker. With all those things taken into account, statistically sleep still carried the day and was an overwhelmingly strong predictor for susceptibility to the ."

Prather said the study shows the risks of chronic sleep loss better than typical experiments in which researchers artificially deprive subjects of sleep, because it is based on subjects' normal sleep behavior.

"This could be a typical week for someone during cold season," he said.

The study adds another piece of evidence that sleep should be treated as a crucial pillar of public health, along with diet and exercise, the researchers said. But it's still a challenge to convince people to get more sleep.

"In our busy culture, there's still a fair amount of pride about not having to sleep and getting a lot of work done," Prather said. "We need more studies like this to begin to drive home that sleep is a critical piece to our well-being."

Explore further: Getting less sleep associated with lower resistance to colds

Related Stories

Getting less sleep associated with lower resistance to colds

January 12, 2009

Individuals who get less than seven hours of sleep per night appear about three times as likely to develop respiratory illness following exposure to a cold virus as those who sleep eight hours or more, according to a report ...

Sufficient sleep is important for healthy sexual desire

March 16, 2015

In a study of 171 women, those who obtained more sleep on a given night experienced greater sexual desire the next day. Reflecting sleep's impact on sexual desire, each additional hour of sleep increased the likelihood of ...

More reasons why getting a good night's sleep is important

March 31, 2015

Not getting enough sleep not only makes our minds less alert, but our bodies too. Studies have suggested that losing several hours of sleep can slow the body's metabolism, but what about losing only a few hours? A team of ...

Short sleep duration ups odds of metabolic syndrome

July 23, 2015

(HealthDay)—Short sleep duration (less than seven hours) is associated with increased likelihood of metabolic syndrome, according to a meta-analysis published online July 13 in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Dream of feeling less tired? The trick comes with age

August 17, 2015

The elderly are doing something right. New research into the effects of age on sleep suggests our older community sleep less, but report better quality sleep, and feel more awake during the day.

Recommended for you

'Business diet' a bad deal for the heart

August 19, 2016

(HealthDay)—The typical "social business diet"—heavy on red meats, sweet drinks, processed snacks and booze—takes a toll on the heart, a new study finds.

Concussion rates rising significantly in adolescents

August 18, 2016

The number of Americans diagnosed with concussions is growing, most significantly in adolescents, according to researchers at UC San Francisco. They recommend that adolescents be prioritized for ongoing work in concussion ...

Large trial proposed to compare HCTZ, chlorthalidone

August 17, 2016

(HealthDay)—A large randomized trial is being developed to compare the effectiveness of hydrochlorothiazide with chlorthalidone in Veterans Affairs (VA) patients, according to an Ideas and Opinions piece published online ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Earthman
1 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2015
Sounds like BS to me. I have been functioning on three to four hours of sleep per night for years, with an occasional (maybe eight times per year) five to six hour night. I catch a cold maybe once in two years, and they are invariably very short-lived, lasting no more than three days.

Garlic and hot peppers, people, garlic and hot peppers.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.