Does Lack of Sleep Increase Your Chances of Getting The Common Cold?

As a Penn State student, there are two things that I am very familiar with. Being sick; and not sleeping. I think it is safe to say that most college students suffer from lack of sleep. My question is whether that lack of sleep leads to vulnerability to catching the common cold.


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While researching this topic, I came across a study run at the University of Virginia where researchers set out to answer exactly that question.This double blind study was composed of 78 men and 75 women, all of whom were in good health. In order to rule out possible third variables, the researchers made sure that all of the participants had medical histories that would not directly impact their predisposition to catching the common cold. In order to gauge the participant’s sleeping habits, the researchers used the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index. This gave the researchers an average level of sleep quality over the 28-day study that they could use to compare to immunity to the common cold. In an effort to keep third variables from skewing the results, the participants were quarantined for the duration of the study. On the 14th day of the study, the participants were exposed to the rhinovirus through nasal drops which causes the common cold. The participants were quarantined and monitored for five days after exposure to the virus in order to see if any symptoms would develop related to the common cold.

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After analyzing the results, the researchers found that those participants who got less than seven hours of sleep per night were almost three times as likely to catch a cold than those who got eight hours of sleep or more. While the researchers did not discuss a clear mechanism for why a lack of sleep causes individuals to become vulnerable to the common cold, the only reason I can think of is that with less total energy, the body cannot devote as much energy to the immune system causing a higher vulnerability.

My take away from this study was that it is worth getting that extra hour or so of sleep in order to prevent the common cold. Because being ill can sometimes lead to a harder time falling asleep, becoming sick once could create a vicious cycle of becoming sick over and over again. Just make sure you get an adequate amount of rest to avoid being sick and rest when you become sick in order to prevent future illnesses.


3 thoughts on “Does Lack of Sleep Increase Your Chances of Getting The Common Cold?

  1. cmt5658

    I have always heard this, but never knew it was actually true. I guess when thinking about it however, it makes very much sense. It also scares me a lot because living in East Halls surrounded by germs, while also staying up late to complete many hours of actives and work, it seems almost impossible to not get the cold. This website link ( is not a scientific study, but rather just a question blog for mothers. One mom asked how to keep her immune system up while she received little to no sleep. The comments provide numerous examples such as exercise and healthy eating.

  2. Elsa Breakey

    Every time I catch a cold my mother blames it on me not getting enough sleep. She always is reminding me to rest up and make sure I go to sleep at a decent time. I hate admitting it, but she’s right. My roommate and I both were sick a few weeks ago because we would stay out until about 2 a.m. and wake up for class at 8:30 a.m. Although I thought I was getting enough sleep, the consistent 6.5 hours weren’t enough to make me feel good and healthy. Needless to say, we’ve stayed in the past few weeks.

    1. Greg Belluscio Post author

      Hey Elsa, it seems that in your case, a lack of sleep could very well be a major factor in why you stopped getting sick, but do you think the places you were going out to could be a third variable that was causing both a lack of sleep and an increased chance of getting sick?

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