When your mom told you that you'd have to get some sleep, she may have been doing you a favor. Scientists have confirmed that the best way to prevent colds and infections, and the best way to feel more healthy overall is to get a good night's sleep.
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For people who sleep five or fewer hours a night, they are 28% more likely to catch a cold than those who regularly get more sleep, the study said.
Other infections, like the flu, ear infections, and pneumonia were 80% more likely in people who got fewer hours of sleep. The idea number seems to be around 8 or 9 hours.
"People who sleep five or fewer hours on average are at substantially increased risk for both colds whether head or chest or other infections, compared to people who sleep seven to eight hours on average," said study researcher Aric Prather. He's an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco.
The research also found that those who have sleeping problems or disorders were more likely to get sick or have an infection.
No one is able to say why the lack of sleep makes us more susceptible to infections. However, Prather noted that T-cells, a type of white blood cells that fight infections, don't work as well when you are tired.
This new study builds on some of the previous work from Prather. In the past, he exposed the link between colds and sleep duration. However, with this study he wanted to back it up with real world data.
Of course, this doesn't show a cause and effect relationship, but rather a link.
The data was collected from a large U.S. National Health and Nutritional Examination survey that lasted from 2005 to 2012. He looked at the records of over 23,000 men and women, who averaged 46 years old. They were volunteers.
The findings were published as a letter April 11 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
This new research also builds on other studies, according to Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. Cohen also studied sleep habits and colds. "We found that seven hours is about the breaking point," he said. "People who got less than seven hours were at greater risk, basically."
When many studies are conducted and the results are examined, "the consistency across studies really does suggest that sleep is playing a role [in susceptibility to colds]," Cohen said. "Whether it is because sleep maintains a strong immune system, we can't say for sure at this point."
Other factors, like lacking exercise or the blue light from our phones, could help explain it, he said. Even so, "the data suggest that sleep may be altering the immune function in some way," with sufficient sleep helping it.
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People can become better sleepers, Prather said. Getting up at the same time every day is a start, he said. "Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet and dark," he advised. "Have a wind-down period [before going to sleep]."