Study: Sleeping More Boosts Immune System Health

November 16, 2009 10:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Recent studies have discovered a relationship between lack of sleep and susceptibility to colds, highlighting the delicacy of the immune system machinery.

Fight Colds With Slumber

Many Americans attempt to ward off colds by taking vitamin C, but recent studies suggest that getting a good night’s sleep may be the best antidote, providing a “reflection of the role sleep plays in maintaining the body’s defenses,” Anahad O’Connor reports for The New York Times.

According to a study conducted by the Archives of Internal Medicine, quoted by The New York Times, subjects “who slept an average of fewer than seven hours a night … were three times as likely to get sick as those who averaged at least eight hours.”

Similarly, a study at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, published by BMC Evolutionary Biology, discovered that “[s]pecies that have evolved longer sleep durations appear to be able to increase investment in their immune systems and be better protected from parasites,” a conclusion that supports the notion of a link between sleep and immunity.

According to Sheldon Cohen, leader of the clinical trial for the Archives of Internal Medicine study, regular sleeping patterns that provide enough hours of rest every night could help regulate and balance our immune systems. Although the mechanism behind the association between sleep and cold symptoms remains unknown, previous research suggests that the link could be related to “the release of inflammatory chemicals, which cause some of the symptoms of colds,” Elizabeth Cooney reports for The Boston Globe.

Cohen also highlights the delicacy of the immune system, and how small changes in our lifestyle patterns can make a big difference in our health. “The really striking thing about this study for us is how little differences in sleep can have a big impact on your susceptibility,” Coco Ballantyne quotes him as saying in 60-Second Science, a Scientific American blog.

Related Topics: Back-to-school sleep schedules; Do vitamins work?

Considering the impact of sleeping patterns on the immune system, particularly during the challenging flu season, it’s important to establish a regular sleeping schedule for children and teens as they return to school. The National Sleep Foundation outlines a series of “Back-to-School Sleep Tips” to help parents maintain a healthy sleeping routine for their kids. Learn how implementing a relaxing routine before bedtime, creating an “environment that is cool, quiet, dimly lit and comfortable” and keeping electronics such as televisions and video games outside the bedroom can help kids fall asleep faster.

Recent studies suggest that vitamins may not be the cure-all that many believe them to be in treating a variety of ailments. Although vitamins such as B12 supplements for the elderly, folic acid for women, and calcium and vitamin D for women over 65 have been proven to be beneficial, more than a decade of research is showing that taking large doses of vitamins is not necessarily recommended.

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