After you catch a cold, all you really want to do is get plenty of sleep. But have you tried getting enough sleep before you feel bad to avoid the disease altogether? There’s evidence it works!
As Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Sleep happens to be both the prevention and the cure in many cases! If you get enough sleep on a regular basis, you’ll save yourself the trouble of spending days in bed recovering from colds. Here’s how it works.
Sleep helps your immune system fight off infections
I found in this study, that the immune systems of well-rested subjects (i.e. those with higher measured levels of sleep) were more resistant to germs causing the common cold. The researchers simply tracked the amounts of the subjects’ sleep and intentionally infected them with rhinovirus germs. Findings are clear: if you sleep less than 6h per day, you are 4 times more likely to catch a cold than good sleeper!
What is cold?
To understand immune response better, you have to understand the viral infections first. A virus is an intracellular parasite where it hides and hijacks cellular mechanism to replicate and produce new viruses. To fight it, you need “cellular intelligence” which distinguish infected cells from the healthy ones. There is no hope for infected cell — when found by the immune system, it must be terminated before virus spread further. These two roles — intelligence and extermination — are done by T cells.
Sleep stimulate T cells
The main support you get from sleep is T cells metabolism regulation. When you’re asleep, your immune system reinforces your T cell to work better and more efficiently. They replicate faster and are more prone to travel long distances to get to where they’re needed most; that helps to get your immune response better localized, restricted to where it’s needed, and to end it sooner. Long story short, you fight common cold faster, and might not even notice you ever got it.
Sleep strengthens immune response
Another couple of studies involving the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccination showed that sleep plays an important role in the immune system responds vaccines. During the sound sleep, your body prepares to fight future infections better; vaccination got less effective in sleep-deprived groups. Sleep caused a more balanced immunological response by increased release of immunostimulating hormones like prolactin, GH, and dopamine while lowering stress-related agents like cortisol and norepinephrine, which suppress the immune cells activity.
Lack of sleep is a stress for the body and weakens natural immune response mechanisms. Regeneration during sleep activates immune cells to be more efficient and precise, what shortens the time of infection. I recommend you get plenty of good, regular sleep to help your immune system be all it can be and save you a headache, literally!
What do you do when you catch a cold? What are your best ways to prevent a viral infection? Share with us your experiences in the comment section below!
The medical science liaison in Neuroon Open, Medical Doctor. I am interested in psychiatry, neuroscience, and epistemology. As a former biology-class teacher and a physician by profession, I try to explain complicated and non-trivial subjects of neuroscience and psychiatry in an easy-understandable fashion. I produce and play music in my free time.