How IT Workers Can Survive Cold And Flu Season

Your mother has been telling you this for years. Now that scientists agree, maybe you'll finally listen?
9 Ways Technology Is Slowly Killing Us All
9 Ways Technology Is Slowly Killing Us All
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September marks the beginning of cold and flu season. Yes, that time of year where you don't want to shake anyone's hand or touch a doorknob or even think about using mass transit. Of course, as an IT worker, it's often your job to interact with people and their icky, germ-laden devices.

So, how can you protect yourself from getting sick? Turns out, all you need to do is sleep.

We're not talking about taking to your bed and hibernating until spring. We're talking about getting an honest-to-goodness full night's sleep. Every night.

A recent university study directly relates the amount of sleep you get to your chances of catching a cold or flu. It appears that 7 hours of shut-eye per night is the golden number. Sleep fewer than 7 hours a night, and you are four times more likely to get a cold. It doesn't matter what age you are, your stress levels, your education, or income. If you sleep at least 7 hours a night, you are far less likely to get a cold.

It's important to note here, that we're not talking about how much sleep you get after you've been exposed to cold germs. You have to get that much sleep every night in order to boost your immune system so when you encounter the evil cold and flu bugs, your body is ready to fight them off.

[ Of course, it doesn't hurt to avoid touching some things. Read 8 Germ Hotspots In The Office. ]

Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco and Carnegie Mellon teamed up for a study on the correlation between sleep and colds. For the research, 164 volunteers from Pittsburgh volunteered to take a series of surveys and exams about their basic health baseline, stress levels, cigarette and alcohol uses, and the amount of sleep they got.

The volunteers were then sequestered in a hotel where researchers exposed them to a cold virus via nasal drops. Those who had gotten fewer than seven hours of sleep per night in the week preceding the test were 4.1 times more likely than other study participants to get sick from the cold virus.

Of course, millions of us routinely get fewer than 7 hours of sleep a night. Actual sleep numbers are difficult to pin down because of problems with reporting (though fitness devices may soon change that). A 2013 Gallup poll found that the average American got 6.8 hours of sleep per night (that number has been steady since 1990), but self-reporting often leads to low numbers, because people like to appear tough.

A 2014 Bureau of Labor and Statistics study found that Americans got 9 hours sleep per night, but that data is known to be off because the question was based on when people went to bed, not when they went to sleep. So it doesn't account for time spent in bed reading or watching TV, using your smartphone, tossing and turning from insomnia, and, engaging in, um, "intimate" relations.

Still, 43% of respondents in the Gallup poll said they know they'd feel better if they got more sleep. So let's say about 40% of us are not getting enough sleep. We're setting ourselves up to get sick no matter how often we wash our hands or avoid travel.

Not only does it stink to get a cold, but it costs American people and American companies a whole lot of money when we get sick. Here's some startling data:

  • Americans spent $173.5 million on hand sanitizer in 2012 trying not to get sick. Sleeping is free and would have helped more.
  • Americans spent $3.6 billion on over the counter cold medicine in 2010. Catch some zzzzz's instead. You won't catch the cold, which means you won't need the meds.
  • The CDC puts the total economic burden of a bad cold and flu season at $87 billion.
  • A bad cold and flu season can lower the GDP by as much as .24% to .8%.

DVR your favorite late-night shows, turn off the smartphone, put the work laptop away, and get more sleep. Jon Stewart's off the air anyway. And you'll enjoy work so much more without the sniffles.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing