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Can Better Sleep Mean Catching Fewer Colds?

Lack of sleep affects your immune system.

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.”

How to Get Enough Sleep

Balachandran offers some sleep hygiene tips for better health. “Go to sleep at the same time every day and wake up at the same time,” he says. “Make sure that your bedroom environment is well-suited for sleep. This means shutting off the computer and TV before bed.”

If you aren’t getting adequate sleep, Park says the most important question is: why?  “Is it by choice or necessity, or because you physically are unable to sleep?” he asks. “If you physically can’t sleep due to insomnia or another underlying health problem, visit your doctor or a specialist to see what treatments are available.”

Treatment may include medications and sleep hygiene tips such as avoiding caffeine after lunch, not consuming alcohol within six hours of your bedtime, and not smoking before bed. You may also learn relaxation and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for changing actions or thoughts that may be hurting your ability to sleep.

Reviewed on January 19, 2010
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