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More than one study has demonstrated that sleep deprivation impairs some immune functions, with research indicating that individuals who sleep for seven to eight hours a night have lower incidences of chronic conditions such as heart disease. But there has been little evidence to suggest that poor sleep increases susceptibility to the common cold.
Now a study published in January, 2009 has found that subjects who had less than seven hours of sleep a night were three times more likely to develop respiratory illness following exposure to a cold virus that those who slept for eight hours or more.
The study was carried out between 2000 and 2004 by Sheldon Cohen PhD at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the US and involved 153 healthy men and women. Participants were interviewed each day over a two-week period on how many hours they slept per night and whether they felt rested.
They were then quarantined and given nasal drops containing rhinovirus – a cause of the common cold. For five days following the exposure the participants reported any symptoms of illness and had mucus samples collected for virus cultures. They were then tested 28 days later for antibody responses to the virus, with results revealing that the less an individual slept, the more likely they were to develop a cold.
The mechanisms that link sleep deprivation to cold susceptibility are not completely understood, but the study’s authors suggest that sleep disturbance might influence the regulation of cytokines, histamines and other symptoms mediators that are released by the body in response to infection.