Sleep More—Get Sick Less
Experts say America has a sleep-deficit problem. Whether it’s schools that start too early, or escalating work demands, or spending too much time consuming mass media—many Americans simply don’t get the optimal amount of sleep each day. Although there are individual differences, and differences based on one’s age, in general, most adults need about eight hours of sleep every 24 hours. Some may do well with seven, while others may thrive on nine hours of shut-eye daily. Smaller children may require considerably more. Preschoolers, for instance, may require up to 14 hours a day, according the National Sleep Foundation. And infants spend the majority of their busy schedules sleeping, requiring up to 19 hours of sleep per day. Even teens need up to ten hours. Yet studies suggest they’re among the least likely to get the recommended amounts of sleep.
In our busy, always-connected, zero-downtime lives, time for sleep sometimes seems like a luxury we can’t afford. If that describes you, and you’re interested in taking care of your health, you might want to reconsider your approach to sleep. According to new research, adults who sleep six hours per night, or less, are four times more likely to get sick than their better-rested peers. The study was evidently the first to examine the direct relationship between sleep and risk of illness.
Aric Prather, PhD, is an assistant professor of Psychiatry at UCSF, and lead author of the study. "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.”
Think about that. Even a smoker who gets enough sleep is less likely to succumb to disease than a sleep-deprived, otherwise healthy non-smoker. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled insufficient sleep a public health crisis. It’s responsible for many real-world problems, such as auto accidents, lost work and productivity, industrial disasters and medical mistakes. Poor sleep has been linked to greater disease susceptibility, chronic illnesses, and even premature death.
In the present study, subjects were divided into two groups. One group had spent six hours or less sleeping each night, the previous week. The other had slept eight hours or more. Both groups were intentionally exposed to a cold virus. The tired folks were four times more likely to develop a cold than the well-rested volunteers. "It goes beyond feeling groggy or irritable," Prather said. "Not getting sleep fundamentally affects your physical health…In our busy culture, there's still a fair amount of pride about not having to sleep and getting a lot of work done," Prather said. "We need more studies like this to begin to drive home that sleep is a critical piece to our wellbeing.”
Aric A. Prather, Denise Janicki-Deverts, Martica H. Hall, Sheldon Cohen. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. SLEEP, 2015; DOI: 10.5665/sleep.4968