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Sleep Away Coughs and Colds

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The common cold has long baffled doctor's and scientists alike. Unlike many of the other common infections, there’s still no cure for it. There are steps we can take to help prevent it though. A recent study conducted at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University has suggested that the prevention of the common cold may rest in simply getting more sleep.

153 healthy adults (78 men and 75 women) aged 21 to 55 years were recruited to take part in the study. Each member of the group was placed in a hotel, had the cold virus sprayed up their nostrils and was monitored over the course of five days. The results of the study suggested that those who slept for eight hours undisturbed were much more likely to avoid catching the cold.

Dr. Michael Irwin, an immune researcher at the University of California, who was not involved in the study, said this sends a clear message that maintaining regular sleep habits is very important, because they are critical for our health.

Those who slept for less than seven hours per night in the two weeks leading up to the experiment, were as much as three times more likely to catch the cold virus than those who slept eight hours or more.

The researchers contacted the participants each evening for two weeks prior to the cold virus exposure, to discuss their sleeping patterns. Subjects were questioned on such issues as what time they went to bed at, had their sleep been relaxed or disturbed and how many hours of rest they had during the night?

The participants then checked into a hotel, where they were sprayed with the cold virus and given five days to see if the virus will work. Out of 153 volunteers, a staggering 135 got infected with the virus, however only 54 showed the symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, congestion and runny nose*.

*It is important to note that these symptoms are not directly caused by the virus, but by our immune system fighting the virus. Therefore you may still be infected even when you’re not showing any symptoms, it just means that your immune system’s reaction is well tuned. Think of it as an allergy, which is a well know overreaction of the immune system to an otherwise benign substance. In the case of cold symptoms, it’s an overreaction to the not so benign virus. Hay fever for instance, shares much of its symptoms, like congestion, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes with the common cold.

The experiment also showed that those who had a restless sleep pattern (tossing and turning more than 8% of their time in bed) were five times more susceptible to the virus than those who slept peacefully. The feeling of being rested however did not have an influence on the infection rates. Certain factors known to affect susceptibility to colds like smoking, alcohol intake and exercise were also taken into consideration, but didn’t influence the connection between sleep and resisting a cold infection.

Previous research has linked unstable sleeping patterns to weight gain, heart disease, memory problems and high blood pressure. It now seems that sleep is also vitally important for the proper functioning of our immune system.

Dr. Daniel Buysse, a sleep researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, says too much sleep can lead to restless or low quality sleep, which can also have a detrimental affect on our health. Increase the risk of catching a cold is only one such example. He suggests that restlessness during the night indicates a little less time in bed might be better, while on the other hand daytime fatigue after a peaceful night’s sleep, is a clear sign that more time in bed is needed.

In order to improve sleeping patterns in a bid to improve health, it is not advised to turn to sleeping aids of any sort, says Harvard sleep researcher Sat Bir Khalsa. There are many other things we can do to regulate sleeping patterns. Having a regular bedtime, moving computers and televisions out of the bedroom, not eating late at night, making sure the room is completely dark and doing some 30 minutes of exercise daily have all been shown to aid restful sleep.

A significant amount of research has been done into vitamin C and herbal supplements such as Echinacea and garlic as possible cold remedies. Unfortunately they have not lived up to the expectations under the close eye of rigorous clinical trials. That leaves a healthy and active lifestyle and regular sleep as the best way of avoiding those pesky coughs and colds.


Source: Preventing colds may be as easy as vitamin ZZZ (

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