Can You Fit More Sleep Into Your Daily Schedule?

I’m working on it…of course I’m writing this at 2am…

I have been thinking a great deal about my body’s immune system these past several months. The ‘brouhaha’ over the World Health Organization’s classification of a Phase 6 Influenza A Virus H1N1 pandemic has churned across several continents. There have been questions about the safety of the Influenza A Virus H1N1 vaccine that Big Pharma has raced through development and testing.  The vaccine is proving to be an incredible windfall that is bolstering Pharma’s ailing balance sheets. They stand to rack up billions in “sue-proof” profits from pandemic panic spending.

The issues around the Influenza A Virus H1N1 pandemic are complicated and highly personal. Some folks are true believers in the western-medical-pharmaceutical solution and can’t wait to volunteer for the shot. Some people passionately distrust big Pharma, believing them to be the embodiment of an evil empire that would inject the public with poison if they thought they could do so and make a profit. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the conversation, not really sure if the threat of the H1N1 Flu is worse that the threat of an unsafe vaccine. I’m old enough to remember thec1976 Swine flu scare. I watched President Ford get his flu shot on prime time TV. I also remember that more people died of the vaccine than the flu.

I haven’t made up my mind about getting the H1N1 vaccine shot yet. If I lived alone, my answer would be no, however I am the primary caregiver for my family, that includes my elderly mother-in-law. If I don’t get the shot, am I putting her at risk? Which brings me back to thinking about ways to bolster my immune system. Right now, I want to do everything possible to be as healthy as an essentially hardy, plump post-menopausal gal such as my good self can be.

JAMA recently published an abstract of the study, “Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold.” Dr Sheldon Cohen, of the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his colleagues found that poor sleep to be a predictor of low immunity.

To sleep, perhaps not to cough

Researchers paid healthy male and female volunteers  $800 to have cold viruses sprayed up their noses. The subjects were kept under close observation for signs of a cold during the day before their exposure and for 5 days afterwards while they waited in a hotel to see if they got sick. Study participants who slept fewer than seven hours a night, and who spent more of that time awake, were nearly three times more likely to develop a cold than people who had eight hours or more of undisturbed sleep.

Before the 14 days of monitoring, each participant also underwent a “pre-challenge” examination, where the researchers obtained information about potential confounders such as virus-specific antibody levels in their blood, demographics, body mass index, psychological variables and health behaviors.

The results showed that:

The less a person slept, the more likely he or she was to develop a cold (there was a graded association between infection rate and average sleep duration).

Participants who slept fewer than 7 hours were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than those who had 8 hours or more sleep.

The more efficiently a person slept (more of the time in bed actually spent asleep), the less likely he or she was to develop a cold (i.e. there was also a graded association between sleep efficiency and rate of infection).

Participants whose sleep efficiency feel below 92 per cent were 5.50 times more likely to develop a cold than those whose efficiency was 98 per cent or more.

Feeling rested was not linked to rate of infection.

Cohen and colleagues concluded that:

“Poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding exposure to a rhinovirus were associated with lower resistance to illness.”

The researchers also looked at separate components of illness and how they linked to the variables they measured.

“When the components of clinical illness (infection and signs or symptoms) were examined separately, sleep efficiency but not sleep duration was associated with signs and symptoms of illness,” they wrote, but “neither was associated with infection.”

“A possible explanation for this finding is that sleep disturbance influences the regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, histamines and other symptom mediators that are released in response to infection,” they suggested, recommending that seven to eight hours sleep a night would appear to be a reasonable target.

Additionally, the researchers said that previous studies had also shown that people who slept between seven and eight hours per night had the lowest rates of heart disease, illness and early death.

So while I’m still very much on the fence about the H1N1 Flu shot. I am definitely upping my vitamin supplements and the number of hours I spend dark and horizontal. I’ll get back to you about the shot thing.

This study was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Supplementary funds were provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with the Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health.

Study was published in Archives of Internal Medicine Vol. 169, No. 1, pp 62-67, January 12, 2009 by researchers, Sheldon Cohen; William J. Doyle; Cuneyt M. Alper; Denise Janicki-Deverts;

Sources: JAMA press release, journal abstract.


Author: H. Sandra Chevalier-Batik

I started the Inconvenient Woman Blog in 2007, and am the product of a long line of inconvenient women. The matriarchal line is French-Canadian, Roman Catholic, with a very feisty Irish great-grandmother thrown in for sheer bloody mindedness. I am a research analyst and author who has made her living studying technical data, and developing articles, training materials, books and web content. Tracking through statistical data, and oblique cross-references to find the relevant connections that identifies a problem, or explains a path of action, is my passion. I love clearly delineating the magic questions of knowledge: Who, What, Why, When, Where and for How Much, Paid to Whom. My life lessons: listen carefully, question with boldness, and personally verify the answers. I look at America through the appreciative eyes of an immigrant, and an amateur historian; the popular and political culture is a ceaseless fascination. I have no impressive initials after my name. I’m merely an observer and a chronicler, an inconvenient woman who asks questions, and sometimes encourages others to look at things differently.