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.
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.
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.