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Less Than Seven Hours of Sleep Quadruples Your Chance of Getting a Cold

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Despite the warm weather, cold and flu season is upon us. And for many of us this means seriously upping our hand-washing game, packing sanitizer everywhere, and side-eyeing anyone on public transportation with a cough. (For the love of Nyquil, cough into your elbow!) (Learn How to Sneeze—Without Being a Jerk.) But this year scientists are giving us a new weapon in our cold-fighting arsenal—and it's no further than your bedroom.

Preventing the common cold may be as simple as getting enough sleep, says a new study published in the journal Sleep. Researchers asked 164 healthy adults to wear a small device that monitors sleep-wake cycles for a week. They then shot a live cold virus up the subjects' noses (fun!) and quarantined them for five days to see who developed cold symptoms and who didn't. The results were clear: People who regularly got less than six hours of sleep per night were 4.5 times more likely to get sick than people getting at least seven hours per night. And this was true regardless of demographics, season of the year, body mass index, psychological variables, and health practices.

This isn't terribly surprising, says lead author Aric Prather, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. In fact, his previous research found that inadequate sleep is linked with other illnesses. Prather says this could be because a lack of sleep lowers your immune system and raises risk for inflammation, both of which make it harder for your body to fight off all the germs in your environment. And, he adds: Women's health appears to suffer more from lack of sleep than men's does. "Inflammation has emerged as an important biological process in the development and progression of disease." And, he adds, that women's health appears to suffer more from lack of sleep than men's does.

Quality sleep is important for many reasons—not only will it help you avoid the sniffles but prior research has shown that not catching enough zzz's leads to a higher risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

"I'm a big proponent of making sleep an important part of your overall health plan, along with exercise and a healthy diet," he says, adding that he likes the recommendations given by the National Sleep Foundation, which include sticking to a set schedule, exercising daily, and practicing relaxation rituals before bed. (And try these Science-Backed Strategies on How to Sleep Better.) And because scientific evidence continues to show that women are more vulnerable to the ill effects of poor sleep than men, Prather says this is all the more reason that you need to make a healthy night's sleep a priority. So trade that face mask for an eye mask and hit the pillow early tonight!

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