Can a good night’s sleep stave off a cold?

15 September 2015

A report which suggests sleeping longer can lower the risk of catching a cold has been hitting the headlines.

A small study by University of California, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, found that people sleeping less than five hours were four-and-a-half times more likely to catch a cold than people who slept for more than seven hours a night.

It found similar results for those sleeping five to six hours although sleeping between six and seven hours involved no greater risk of catching a cold.Flu advice

However, NHS Choices has said it’s misleading to suggest that lack of sleep is the leading factor in catching a cold, citing being exposed to the cold viruses and poor hand hygiene as the most important factors in the spread of colds.

The American study monitored the sleeping habits of healthy, infection-free volunteers for a week. They were then given a common cold virus (rhinovirus 39) and monitored for the development of symptoms of the common cold. It was concluded that those who slept less had a greater risk of catching a cold.

Most people get two to five colds a year. They’re caused by more than 200 different viruses, all of which result in a runny nose, coughing and sneezing and sometimes other symptoms such as earache, headaches, a sore throat, aching muscles and mild fever.

The Cardiff University Common Cold Centre carries out clinical trials on colds and believes it’s very hard to avoid catching one. Colds spread by virus particles inhaled after being expelled from the nose of someone close by. The cold virus is also found on towels, door handles and other surfaces. If you touch these virus particles, then touch your nose or eye with your fingers, you could become infected.

That’s why the best defence against a cold is good hand hygiene – making sure you and your family wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds. Children are one of the most likely causes of infection so parents wiping their child’s nose should wash their hands afterwards.