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Is your cold preventing you from getting the sleep you need? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

If you have ever had a cold you probably know the answer to this question because it is often very difficult to sleep when you are feeling under the weather. This is unfortunate since one of the things you need most when you are sick is sleep. While it might seem like the discomfort that often comes with colds and flu is what makes it so difficult to get the sleep you need, new research indicates that this might not be the case.

A new study conducted at the University of Leicester found that the immune system itself may be what causes sleep to be so elusive during illness. In previous studies using fruit flies, researchers established that when the flies are sick, they experience sleep disruption and mental fuzziness. This new study looked at what happened if the flies’ immune systems were turned on when they were not sick. The goal was to determine if the symptoms were caused by the illness or the immune system’s response.

In order to make this determination, the research team turned on the flies’ immune systems and then ran tests to see how their sleep and memory were affected. With their immune systems engaged, the amount of time the flies slept was reduced and their performance on memory tests degraded.   In addition to determining that the immune response itself could cause sleep deprivation and memory issues, the study also creates another link between the brain and the immune system.

According to the one of the researchers who conducted the study, establishing this link in fruit flies will help boost genetic research in other areas. Establishing that there is a connection between the immune response, sleep, and memory in fruit flies provides an insect model that other research teams working on these kinds of connections can use.

So, if it is your immune system’s response that is making it difficult to sleep when you are sick, is there anything you can do to get the sleep you need?

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to make sure the discomfort caused by your symptoms doesn’t make it even more difficult to sleep.

  • Experts say that using nasal spray and external breathing strips can help alleviate congestion problems so that you can breathe better which helps with sleep.
  • Avoid the cold and flu medicines made specifically to help you sleep nighttime because they of the high alcohol content. While they may help you fall asleep faster, the alcohol can disrupt your sleep later in the night.
  • Take acetaminophen for the aches, pains, and fever that are common with colds and flu. Just be careful if you are taking any other medications as many cold and flu remedies already contain acetaminophen.
  • Paying attention to your sleep environment can also help you get more of the sleep you need to restore your health. Make sure the temperature of the room is between 60 and 68 degrees, which is optimal for sleep. Protect the sleep you can get by minimizing excess light and sound from your sleeping space.

 

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