Eight hours. That’s the magic number we’re always told when we ask how many hours of sleep we should be getting. But ask anyone you know — we think it’s safe to say not everyone is abiding by those unwritten rules. And if many people aren’t getting enough sleep, then it shouldn’t be too surprising that those very people get sick more often.
According to a recent study, people who don’t get enough sleep show higher levels of inflammation, and are more susceptible to viruses like the common cold. But just because we all touch the same germy door handle doesn’t mean we’re all going to get sick.
“Sometimes when we’re exposed to viruses, we end up not getting sick,” Aric Prather, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told NPR.
Everyone is different, as are our bodies and immune systems, so those getting more sleep than others might be a little more protected. Prather and his colleagues recruited 164 healthy men and women whose average age was 30 years old and studied their sleep patterns for a week. Then, the researchers sprayed a live common cold virus into each person’s nose to see who got sick and who didn’t. (You’d have to tie us down and pay us thousands of dollars to do that to us, but we digress.)
“What we found was that individuals who were sleeping the least were substantially more likely to develop a cold,” Prather says.
Adults who averaged five or six hours nightly were four times more likely to catch the cold than people who slept at least seven hours per night. So, in other words, about 39 per cent of those who slept six hours or less got sick. Of those who slept more than six hours, “only 18 percent got colds,” Prather says.
“There’s evidence that people who don’t get enough sleep show higher levels of inflammation,” says Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University who co-authored the study.
Research suggests that other factors like age, stress, lack of exercise and smoking may play a role, but sleep is clearly the biggie. And six or seven hours, not an intimidating eight, should suffice. Now how to get more of it? Well, like with everything else, consistency is key, the Mayo Clinic points out. So…
- Create a bedtime ritual, whether it’s reading a book, taking a shower, something relaxing to transition your mind and body into sleep mode.
- Set a regular bedtime, and program yourself to go to bed the same time every night.
- Same goes for when you wake up. Note, if you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm.
- Make sure you have the right mattress and pillow, because comfort makes a huge difference.
- Naps are OK but don’t make them too long. Ten to 30 minutes should suffice.
- Incorporate some sort of physical activity into your day, just not too close to when you should be winding down, as you might be too pumped to sleep.
- Manage your stress and if it’s still overwhelming, it might be time to call your doctor.