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Can Better Sleep Mean Catching Fewer Colds?

Lack of sleep affects your immune system.
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Lack of Sleep and Vaccines

Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived also get less protection from flu vaccines than those who are getting adequate sleep, Balachandran says.

John Park, MD, a pulmonologist who specializes in sleep medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., agrees. “We know that our immune response is suppressed when we are sleep deprived and that we develop less antibodies to certain vaccines if we are sleep-deprived,” Park says. “It takes longer for our body to respond to immunizations, so if we are exposed to a flu virus, we may be more likely to get sick than if we are well rested when vaccinated.”

Sleep Loss: A Life and Death Issue

Sleep loss also plays a roll in our ability to fight off serious health conditions. Research suggests that sleep-deprived people are at higher risk of dying from heart disease, according to Balachandran. “The more sleep loss, the higher your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) will be,” he says. CRP is a marker of inflammation, and inflammation may play a role in heart disease.

People who sleep less are actually more likely than their well-rested counterparts to die from all causes. “Studies show that people who get about seven hours of sleep a night have the best survival, and if we get less than six hours of sleep a night, our mortality seems to increase,” Balachandran says.

Fighting Illness: How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It appears that some people may do better on less sleep than others. “If you have a strong immune system, it may take longer for you to get run down if you are not sleeping,” says Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. “Some people may be able to drink a cup of coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts and readjust. But if you have a weak immune system, you will likely be more prone to infection if you are not getting enough sleep.”

But Balachandran says the bottom line is this: “We live in a 24-7 society and everyone has two jobs and is bombarded with media. So sleep seems expendable. But proper sleep is a fundamental component of a healthy lifestyle.”

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