BY BETH ENGLISH
Oh, the irony.
Just days after reading several news stories about how to prevent colds this season, I was clobbered by one.
It was the perfect storm—shifting weather, more time indoors, kids back at school and the stress that goes along with that. Not to mention, a fun weekend trip to visit family that involved too much late-night chatting and less-than-usual amounts of sleep.
It’s that last factor that I think did it. A recent study has shown that sleep might just be the magic bullet to prevent colds.
The study involved 164 healthy men and women, average age 30. Aric Prather, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues gave participants devices similar to a Fitbit and monitored their sleep for a week. Then the study volunteers went a lab, had a live cold virus sprayed into their noses and were quarantined in a hotel for the next five days.
Here’s what researchers found: Those who averaged five to six hours of sleep a night were four times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept an average of seven hours. Four times. Yikes!
Prather pointed out that a lack of sleep hurts the immune system in a variety of ways–from how the cells act, to enabling our inflammation pathways.
Or, looking at it another way, about 39% of those who slept six hours or less got sick. Of those who slept more than six hours a night, only 18% got colds.
“It’s striking,” Prather told National Public Radio. “We don’t know conclusively what happens, but there are a variety of pathways and they all work together and ultimately put people at risk.
While other factors such as stress and lack of exercise also come into play, sleep plays a large role in helping our immune system do battle with invading viruses. Scientists aren’t 100% sure why, but I’m sure they’re looking for answers.
Doing a Google search, I found this interesting note on the Mayo Clinic website: “During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines … Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.”
For me, the good news is three days into the cold and things already are looking up. I’ve put myself to bed at a reasonable hour each night, and I’m feeling better. Even if I didn’t get enough rest to prevent my cold, I’m determined to give my body what it needs to help fight it.
While every person in our house has had the cold (I’m the last to succumb), I’m going to remember this study in the days to come. Because, certainly, this isn’t the last virus that will come home from school this year.
My wish for you in these October days of changing leaves, pumpkin spice lattes and nippy high school football games is to stay well and enjoy it all. Remember to take care of yourself and get some rest!
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