Good sleep prevents common cold by boosting immunity, study says

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

The real question about one recent study may be, did these “volunteers” undergo torture as defined by the Geneva Convention?

Past studies have shown that poor sleep habits weaken your body’s natural immune function.  A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine gets more specific.  In it, researchers directly exposed volunteers to a cold virus to see if sleep made a difference in fighting it off.

In an experiment that I thought only medical students would volunteer to undergo, the participants were quarantined for five days.  They got drops with a high concentration of rhinovirus up their nose and waited for the consequences.

No animals were harmed in this study.

Before the quarantine, these people reported their sleep patterns each day for two weeks.  The investigators were interested in sleep duration and sleep efficiency (how long they reported sleeping divided by how long they were in bed.  Below 85 percent is considered abnormal).


  • There was a pattern. The longer and better quality the sleep, the less susceptibility to colds.
  • People getting fewer than seven hours of sleep nightly were almost three times more likely to get a cold.
  • People with less than a 92-percent efficiency were over five times more likely to get a cold than those with a 98-percent efficiency or above.

Bottom Line

  • Get your eight hours or more of sleep.
  • Use good sleep hygiene to get quality sleep.
  • Don’t forget your children and teens.

The researchers mercifully excluded people with heart disease, asthma and sleep apnea.  They took multiple variables, including smoking and exercise, into consideration in the analysis.

Do you get enough sleep?  What are your sleep habits?

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9 Responses to “Good sleep prevents common cold by boosting immunity, study says”

  1. Mark Says:

    Such an important topic. I definitely am on the lacking side of sleep. Usually 4-6 hours maximum with 2-3 wake ups during that period. Oh what an 8 hour sleep must be like. I can only “dream” of that.

  2. cathy Says:

    Perhaps they used new moms in the study for their sleep deprived victims. Until recently, I did NOT get enough sleep – thanks to my youngest child. Though I was rarely sick, it DID take a toll on my metabolism and just my quality of life in general. I’m really strict when it comes to sleep and my kids. I’ve seen firsthand what a difference quality sleep makes! And recent studies like the one you’re reporting just emphasizes what we should already know – sleep is so important for a healthy and happy body!

    cathys last blog post..Snack time…poppers!

  3. Blake Says:

    Great info, thanks. I try to get at least 7-8 every night, even when I get up early to workout. Nice to know that sleep can help our immune systems.

    Blakes last blog post..How To Make Awesome Guacamole

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Mark, you need more. See the link in the post for some good sleep hygiene tips. If you snore loudly, consider sleep apnea.

  5. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Cathy, new moms are a special situation. I doubt if many get enough sleep, and I don’t know a good alternative until your child gets a little older.

  6. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Blake, I, too, am glad sleep is geting some good pr since it is one of my favorite passtimes.

  7. DR Says:

    For the last few weeks, I have been “trying” to go to bed at a set time and wake up at a set time. This little routine has made a huge difference in the amount and quality of my sleep.

    My body seems to now know when it’s time to go to bed and when it’s time to wake up.

    I don’t know about my immune system, but my level of energy is better throughout the day.

    DRs last blog post..Think Yourself Thin….The Complete Beck Diet for Life

  8. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Great to hear that DR. It is nice to know when recommedations, that are supposed to help, actually do.

  9. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » Thank you! (Plus, find new health, mom and baby-boomer blogs) Says:

    [...] The Fight for Fitness: “Good Stuff to Read” (linked to Dr. Hubbard’s sleep and immunity post) [...]

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