If there is only one thing you do to avoid getting a cold – have it be this thing

Written by: Joe Bosshard

COLD

You have been crushing workouts lately, you feel yourself getting faster, you know you are getting stronger. Then you get that feeling. A little tickle in the throat, one too many sneezes, a consistent runny nose.  NOOOOO!Nothing slows down momentum like getting a cold (or injury). A freaking cold?!? There isn’t much you can do (try zinc).  It’s going to be a few weeks before you feel totally normal again.  You will likely have to dial back the training for a bit. Have a race planned? Might want to reconsider. No reason to make this thing last longer than it has to.

i have a coldComing down with a cold a couple times per year often feels inevitable. If it’s at the right time, it sometimes feels like a relief when you get one. “Okay, I got my annual winter cold. I didn’t have anything important planned. Now it’s out of the way.”

Everyone has their own theories and tips for how to kick a cold quickly or how to avoid one.  You all know that “I eat 2 garlic cloves (insert anything here) per day and I haven’t been sick since 1987” person. Some people swear by their grandma’s “family cure” for getting over a cold fast. Whatever the remedy or prevention might be, there likely isn’t much data to back up your beliefs. No, that one time in 2005, around Christmas, where you thought you had a cold for only 30 hours because you drank a bottle of maple syrup doesn’t count as relevant data.

Luckily for us, there are people who do research and scientific studies for a living.  Personally, I like to know what is the most bang for my buck.  What do I get the MOST benefit from with the least amount of effort, time, money, etc?  When it comes to avoiding a cold there is a solution that blows away the competition.  Sure, research has shown multiple ways to reduce your chances of getting sick.  But, if you can only choose one, the one thing you can do that improves your chances the most of saying “SCREW YOU SNIFFLES”, then you have to go with….SLEEP

 

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There was a study done where the researchers took 164 healthy men and women, average age 30, and gave them nasal drops containing a rhinovirus (the virus commonly associated with a cold….that would suck). They were monitored over 5 days for the development of a cold.  Their sleep was tracked using a wrist actigraphy (basically a watch that monitors rest/activity cycles) and a sleep diary. Here is what they found…

You are 4 times more likely to catch a cold if you sleep less than 6 hours a night. Sleep less than 5 hours per night? Now you are 4.5 times more at risk of catching a cold when compared with someone who sleeps more than 6 hours. 4-4.5 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO CATCH A COLD!! About 39% of the people who slept 6 hours or less got sick. Only 18% of the people who slept more than 6 hours got sick. That is a huge difference.

You want me to sleep more? OH HELL YES.

You can get a cold shot directly up your nose and not get sick (improve you chances greatly) if you sleep a lot. That is neat.

 

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When compared to other factors  — including stress levels, age, income, education, income or whether they were smokers – the amount of sleep the participants were getting proved most important, researchers reported.

“This study reinforces the notion that sleep is just as important to your health as diet and exercise,” said Dr. Nathaniel F. Watson, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “People need to view sleep as a tool to achieve a healthy life, rather than as something that interferes with all their other activities.”

The guy that is the freakin’ president of Sleep (think about those debates) says you need to take sleep seriously.  Consider scheduling in sleep just like you do exercise and work meetings. It should go on your daily “to-do” list.

Why are you more susceptible to coming down with a cold when you don’t sleep enough?  It’s not totally clear yet but there are plenty of hunches. A number of studies have found a correlation between sleep deprivation and poor immune function. A weak immune system is a recipe for getting sick. Pretty simple.  There is also evidence that people who don’t get enough sleep have higher levels of inflammation.  High levels of inflammation is associated with an increased risk for the development of a number of diseases.

 

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I’m not going to go into the other reasons why sleep is important.  You know, reasons like healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels, decreased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, and promoting healthy brain function and emotional well-being. Not that those things aren’t important (they kind of are, I guess), but because it’s pretty much winter now and I’m waiting to get my “annual winter cold.” Just remember that sleep is necessary. Put down your work, turn the movie off, say goodnight to friends. Go get enough sleep.

Anecdotally, sleeping more to stay healthy is nothing new.  Your mother has probably been telling you this for years. When you are sick you are told to rest.  Ask any professional athlete what they feel is most important to staying healthy and you will more often than not hear them say sleep. Emma Coburn wrote that sleep is the most important thing she does to improve as a runner outside of actually running. Well, now we have evidence to back your mom up.  I’ll leave you with some advice. If anyone ever gives you a hard time for getting a few extra ZZZZs, tell them you are hiding from the common cold – science and the president of Sleep told you to do it.

I’ll dive into how to get more sleep, how to get more efficient sleep, and other proven methods to avoid getting sick some other time.

Do you have advice to avoid getting sick? Avoid injury? Stories to share? Click HERE.

Joe is a former University of Colorado runner with a penchant for numbers and filing tax returns. He started run2run as a distraction while studying for CPA exams.

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