Woman with illness prevention face mask.

by Theresa Fisher | Van Winkle's

Sometimes, folksy wisdom makes for terrible medical advice. Other times, grandma gets it right.* Consider the common cold. When we're stuffed up and run down, chicken soup does more than merely warm our bellies. In fact, multiple studies suggest that a can of mm-mm good can help fight infection by reducing upper respiratory symptoms and stimulating the flow of nasal fluids. 

Another widespread mantra about treating colds that consistently gets the scientific stamp of approval? Stuffy noses get better with sleep. In recent years, a growing body of research has looked at the relationship between getting rest and staying sniffle-free. Now, a new large-scale population study links short sleep to lower immunity.

Reuters reported that researchers from the University of California at San Francisco, who've published previous research on the cold-sleep link, analyzed five years' worth of national health survey responses from more than 22,000 people. For the survey, respondents answered questions about their sleeping habits and rest-related problems/disorders (if they had any). They also supplied info on any recent brushes with infectious diseases, including the flu, pneumonia, and the younger sibling of sicknesses (i.e., annoying and kind of always around), the common cold. 

Of the short sleepers, 19 percent had dealt with a chest or head cold in the past month.

Fourteen percent of participants fell into the "short-sleeper" category, meaning they averaged no more than five hours of sleep each night. Of the short sleepers, 19 percent had dealt with a chest or head cold in the past month, compared to roughly 13 percent of those who reported sleeping at least seven hours. 

What's more, participants who'd been diagnosed with sleeping disorders, or who'd complained to their doctors about general sleeping trouble, were also more likely to have caught some type of infection. The link persisted after researchers analyzed the findings with respect to demographic factors. This study is the first population-level survey, authors said, to support smaller animal studies, among other research, exploring the role of sleep in strengthening immune function and fighting infection. 

*This is not an argument against modern medicine. Viva la science, man.  

Photo credit: Esparta via Visual Hunt / CC BY

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Van Winkle’s is a new website dedicated to exploring how sleep affects and informs our lives, both at night and during the day. Sleep may account for one-third of our time, but it influences us around the clock. Whether it’s sleep as related to science, health, family, pets, sex, or travel, we’re eager to learn more.

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