Some people have so many tasks they want to accomplish that they put sleep on the back burner. Instead of getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, they’re lucky to get five or six. Other than feeling tired, not sleeping enough can have other negative effects on health – and even increase the risk of infection. If you find you’re catching too many colds or viral illnesses, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at your sleep habits.
Does Not Sleeping Enough Increase the Risk of Infection?
Not getting enough sleep can increase the risk of catching the common cold. A study carried out at Carnegie Mellon University showed that people who sleep less are more susceptible to catching the cold virus – and the less time they sleep, the more likely they are to develop cold symptoms. People who get less quality sleep are also at higher risk – compared to people who sleep soundly. When it comes to warding off cold and flu viruses, a good night’s sleep is one of the best natural defenses against infection.
How Does Not Sleeping Enough Raise the Risk of Infection?
Lack of sleep alters the way the immune system functions. When a person drifts off to sleep, the immune system uses that time to make factors that help it fight off infection. Two important changes in the immune system occur when a person is sleep deprived. The number of T-cells (a type of white blood cell that fights infection) decreases and the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines – chemicals produced by the body to fight off infection – goes down. These “cold and flu virus fighters” are naturally produced during sleep – and when sleep is in short supply, their numbers dwindle – which increases the risk of infection.
How Much Sleep is Enough to Minimize the Risk of Infection?
Most studies show between seven and eight hours sleep is optimal. Getting too much sleep (more than eight hours) isn’t a good thing either. One study showed that people who sleep more than eight hours have a higher mortality rate. When it comes to sleep, extremes – either too much or too little sleep – isn’t healthy.
Not Getting Enough Sleep and Illness: The Bottom Line
Ideally, an adult should aim for at least seven, but no more than eight hours sleep to minimize the risk of illness from all causes. It’s important to make time for sleep, but don’t spend all day in bed. As with most things in life, moderation is key.