A Simple Trick for Preventing the Common Cold

And hopefully, you're already doing it.

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Photo by Spike Mafford/Getty Images

Did you get enough sleep last night, or did you lose track of time and end up watching an entire season of your favorite TV show? One restless night isn't so bad, but don't make it a habit. Researchers from University of California, San Francisco, found that people who routinely clock fewer than six hours of sleep per night are four times more likely to catch a cold. The findings are available in this month's issue of Sleep.

While sleep deprivation has been linked to making people moody and unproductive, and leading to memory loss or mental health issues down the road, people still don't seem to get enough hours, prompting the CDC to deem sleep loss a "public health epidemic." For this study, researchers studied 164 volunteers between 2007 and 2011, using a watch sensor to track sleep quality and administering two months of health screenings and interviews to understand participants' stress levels, personalities, and lifestyle habits. After two months, volunteers were placed in a hotel and given the cold virus, then monitored for a week to see if they "caught" the cold.

Researchers believe that this methodology more accurately predicts a typical week for someone during cold and flu season, because it's based on their natural sleep patterns, as opposed to studies that purposefully deprive participants of sleep.

They found that subjects who had slept fewer than six hours a week the week before being given the virus were 4.2 times more likely to end up with a cold than those who slept at least seven hours. Those who slept fewer than five hours per night were 4.5 more likely to end up sick.

"Short sleep was more important than any other factor in predicting subjects' likelihood of catching cold," lead author Aric Prather said in a statement. "It didn't matter how old people were, their stress levels, their race, education, or income. It didn't matter if they were a smoker. With all those things taken into account, statistically sleep still carried the day."

Still not convinced you need an earlier bedtime? See five reasons you definitely need to catch more Zzs.