It's been a long, miserable flu season. While it's winding down, we're not out of the woods just yet.
If you've managed to escape it so far, or if you're just looking to keep the common cold at bay, there's one thing you can do to increase your chances of preventing yourself from getting sick.
Can you sleep your way to flu prevention?
"When I don't sleep, I basically, I just feel run down, but I've never related it to having a cold, one woman said.
"If I don't sleep a certain amount, nightly, I definitely feel off during the day, I am susceptible to illness at times," one man said.
Studies show a lack of sleep can affect the immune system.
"If you're not getting enough sleep on a chronic basis, you're studying for a test, or on vacation, or whatever, you a lot of times will get sick the week after," Allegheny General Hospital Sleep Specialist Dr. Daniel Shade said.
A group of healthy volunteers were deprived of sleep and given a flu vaccine.
"When they looked at the antibody response to this vaccination, it was 50 percent less in the patients that were sleep-deprived versus the patients that were not sleep-deprived," Dr. Shade said.
In a different, but similar study, the common cold virus was given to a sleep-deprived group and a non-sleep-deprived group. The ones without sleep got the common cold, and it was more severe.
"It was a lot worse in general with mucus production and fever," Dr. Shade said.
So, how much sleep are we talking about?
"Moderately, we're talking six hours a night for five to seven days," Dr. Shade said.
That's compared to the recommended seven to nine hours a night.
With even mild sleep deprivation, certain inflammatory proteins increase, and certain infection fighting white blood cells decrease. Infection isn't the only potential danger, either.
"We know that tumor cells grow more and metastasize more when patients are sleep-deprived," Dr. Shade said.
While sleep isn't the only prevention factor, it can certainly help.
"I still think you need to wash your hands and avoid people who have the flu," Dr. Shade said. "I think the research shows if you get enough sleep the risks of getting the flu are lower."
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