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Sleep Less, Be More Susceptible to a Cold, Says Study

Last updated Sept. 4, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Pejman Parvandi

“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.”


Scientists from University of California, San Francisco, University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University have concluded from a study they conducted that short sleep duration increased an individual’s susceptibility to the common cold.

Humans spend one-third of their life sleeping. It is during sleep that one’s body rejuvenates and repairs itself. Studies suggest a link between disturbing the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and poor metabolic health, in addition to higher rates of chronic illness and early mortality. Not surprisingly, lack of sleep has been found to damage brain cells as well.

Now, researchers in the current study have conducted an investigation that is the first of its kind - connecting the natural sleep patterns of an individual to his/her risk of getting sick. For the study, 164 healthy men and women, in the age group of 18-55 years volunteered. Using wrist actigraphy, in which a non-invasive device on the wrist records sleep data and sleep diaries, researchers assessed the participants’ sleep duration and continuity for seven consecutive days.

After seven days, participants were quarantined and given nasal drops containing the rhinovirus (that causes the common cold). They were monitored for five days for developing a clinical cold, which was defined for the study as infection, with objective symptoms of a cold. The results showed that:

  • Individuals sleeping less than 5-6 hours a night were at a greater risk of developing a cold.
  • Those who slept 7 hours a night were not at a great risk of catching a cold.
  • Interrupted sleep did not make one susceptible to catching a cold.
  • No association was observed between an individual’s pre-challenge antibody levels, psychological state, body mass index, or health practices.
  • There was no correlation observed between an individual’s demographics and his/her susceptibility to a cold.

Dr. Aric Prather, the lead author of the study, tells the University of California San Francisco News, “Short sleep was more important than any other factor in predicting subjects’ likelihood of catching cold,” 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.”

It would seem that sleep is a very simple way of avoiding infections and sickness. Our parents were not wrong after all, when they set “bedtimes” and tried to instill discipline. It would do us all good to remember and get a good night’s sleep with the flu season just around the corner.

Written by Mangala Sarkar, Ph.D.

Primary References

Prather, A., Janicki-Deverts, D., Hall, M., & Cohen, S. (2015). Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep, 38(9), 1353-1359.

Short Sleepers Are Four Times More Likely to Catch a Cold. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2015, from http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2015/08/131411/short-sleepers-are-four-times-more-likely-catch-cold

DoveMed Resources

Sleep Can Help Diabetes and Other Metabolic Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2015, from http://www.dovemed.com/sleep-can-help-diabetes-and-other-metabolic-disord/

Disrupted Sleep May Intensify Cancer Growth, Animal Study Shows. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2015, from http://www.dovemed.com/disrupted-sleep-may-intensify-cancer-growth-animal/

Sleep Deprivation May Damage Brain. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2015, from http://www.dovemed.com/sleep-deprivation-may-damage-brain/

Additional References

Actigraphy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2015, from https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-tests/s/sleep-disorder-tests/procedures/actigraphy.html

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 4, 2015
Last updated: Sept. 4, 2015