While a cure for the common cold remains elusive, a new study says getting enough sleep could be key to avoid getting sick in the first place.
The study found that people getting less than six hours of sleep per night were four times more likely to catch a cold than their longer sleeping counterparts.
According to lead researcher Aric Prather, a sleep researcher at the University of San Francisco, the study was the first to “use objective sleep measures to connect people’s natural sleep habits and their risk of getting sick.”
“Short sleep was more important than any other factor in predicting subjects’ likelihood of catching cold,” Prather said in a statement. “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.”
For the study, researchers recruited 164 volunteers between 2007 and 2011. The volunteers were given extensive health screenings and were asked about levels of stress, their general temperament, and their use of alcohol and tobacco in order to establish a general health baseline.
The volunteers’ sleep patterns and sleep quality were measured for a week prior to giving them the cold virus.
Subjects who had slept less than six hours a night during that week were 4.2 times more likely to catch a cold.
“It goes beyond feeling groggy or irritable,” Prather said. “Not getting sleep fundamentally affects your physical health.”
Researchers not affiliated with the study were not surprised with the findings.
Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior with Brown University Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, expressed little surprise with the findings.
"This is a confirmatory study of other studies that have been moving our thinking in this direction," said Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior with Brown University Alpert Medical School in Providence, R.I., speaking to Philly.com. "Short sleep has been linked to a greater risk for cancer and other more chronic conditions, and consistently shorter sleep has clearly been associated with a higher likelihood of illness."
Insufficient sleep has been called a “public health epidemic” in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and according to a 2013 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 20 percent of Americans get less than six hours of sleep on an average work night.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends at least seven hours of sleep per night for adults.
The study, “Behaviorally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold,” appears in the September issue of the journal Sleep.