How Sleep Prevents Colds

How Sleep Prevents Colds

You can’t hide from it. Cold and flu season will roll around no matter what. When it does, people all around you will be coughing and sneezing. Memories of last year’s cold and flu attacks will come rushing back to you – the fatigue, fever, headaches, muscle aches, and other symptoms.

But just because you can’t stop cold and flu season doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to keep yourself from getting sick. In fact, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from colds and flu is to maintain your immune system all year long. And one of the best ways to do that is by just lying back, breathing deep, and falling into a nice, long sleep.

How sleep helps fight colds

Getting enough sleep, and getting good quality sleep has been shown to decrease your chance of getting a cold.1

Further, people who lose just a little bit of sleep are more likely to come down with a cold. How much is a little? In a recent study, those who got less than 7 hours of good sleep were almost 3 times more likely to get sick than people who got 8 or more hours.1

In addition, if you’re normally an 8-hour sleeper and you lose as little as 10 minutes of sleep in an average night – you’re more likely to catch a cold!1

That means that just a few extra Zs can protect you against the common cold and all the uncomfortable symptoms a cold can bring.

How you can get more sleep, and get better sleep

Unfortunately, as beneficial as sleep is for keeping colds and sickness at bay, many of us struggle to get enough of it. For example, 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep-related problems.2  In addition to leaving you vulnerable to colds and flu, lack of sleep also affects work performance, leisure activities, relationships, the ability to think clearly, and mental and emotional well-being.2

So how can you get more sleep, and get better quality sleep? Try these small changes to help ensure sufficient, quality sleep.

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – including weekends!3,4
  • Don’t hit the hay with a full stomach. Limit your food and beverage consumption at least two hours before bedtime to prevent heartburn and to keep from getting up for trips to the bathroom.3,4
  • Say no to caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed. These substances are known to interfere with sleep.3,4
  • Create a pro-sleep bedroom environment. That means low lighting, a comfortable temperature and a noise level that suits your preference. It’s also important to have a comfortable mattress and pillow to prevent tossing and turning.3,4
  • Take time to wind down before bed. Ease the transition from your hectic day to restful sleep by engaging in relaxing activities before bed. Take a warm bath, listen to soft music, or read a book.3,4
  • Exercise regularly. In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. Finish your exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.3,4
  • Keep prescription sleeping pills to a minimum.  Sleeping pills are effective but can have side-effects, so they should be used sparingly and for the shortest amount of time possible.

If your sleep is disrupted on a regular basis, you could have a sleep disorder. Your doctor can help to identify and treat the cause of your sleeping problems, and help you get the nightly sleep you need for better days and fewer colds.


  1. Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(1):62-67.Sheldon Cohen, PhD; William J. Doyle, PhD; Cuneyt M. Alper, MD; Denise Janicki-Deverts, PhD; Ronald B. Turner, MD.
  2. Associations of frequent sleep insufficiency with health-related quality of life and health behaviors. Sleep Medicine, Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 23-27. T.Strine, D.Chapman.
  3. Healthy sleep tips. National Sleep Foundation. . Accessed September 2010.
  4. In brief: Your guide to healthy sleep. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. , Accessed September 2010.