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Whilst an apple a day apparently keeps the doctor away, The Sleep Council believe, after doing some research into sleep and the immune system, that an effective weapon against coughs and colds this winter is a great night’s sleep .

Lisa Artis, from The Sleep Council, said, “Experts agree that those who sleep better have a stronger immune reaction, suggesting that sleep can banish bugs as well as making you feel a lot healthier.

“A longer night’s sleep – around seven to eight hours for most adults – seems to guard against common winter nasties such as coughs and colds, while scrimping on sleep appears to make you more likely to succumb to the sniffles. This seems to be particularly common in young people.”

Researchers in America have found that burning the candle at both ends increases the chances of coming down with coughs, colds and upset stomachs – especially among students and young adults.

Lisa explained; “The study, by those in the medical know at the Bradley Hospital, Rhode Island, showed that bouts of illness declined when pupils had a longer night’s sleep. Sleeping for longer also guarded against school absences because of illness, especially among boys.

“Meanwhile German researchers have suggested that the release of certain hormones during sleep may boost the immune system.

“This is all useful information for a nation where a third of us are afflicted with a bad cold between and two and three times a year. Better sleep could be the answer, helping to reduce absence at both school and work.”

Not only does sleep help to prevent colds, it is also useful in recovery.

Said Lisa: “Experts suggest that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep when you are suffering from a heavy cold is essential for recovery. Taking to bed to relax can make a real difference to the way the body copes with a heavy cold. ”

We have some excellent hints and tips for anyone who is suffering with a sniffle to ensure they use sleep to help them get well soon:

If you are feeling ill, chances are your bed is the only place you want to be, so make sure it is really comfortable. Make it clean, comforting and somewhere you can really relax and get the most health benefits from your sleep.

Use a supportive pillow, especially if you’re a woman. The Sleep Council survey suggested that four out of 10 women like to sleep propped up to ease congestion, which for many is the worst bit of having a cold. Men however, tend to prefer to sprawl out and take up a bit more room.

Make sure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature; experts recommend around 18C is the best. Don’t put too many covers on, watch the dial on your electric blanket and be mindful of the conditions outside if you have the windows open.

Have a warm, relaxing bath before bed and try adding some herbal oils to clear your sinuses and help you breath a little more easily.

Try a comforting hot drink to help you sleep. Lemon and honey can sooth you, a hot chocolate made with milk can aid sleep but keep away from highly caffeinated teas and coffees.

Keep a glass of water, medication, throat sweets and tissues near your bed so you don’t need to go in search of them in the middle of the night.

Make your bedroom an electronic device free zone as these can stop you having a good night’s sleep.

* The Sleep Council ‘Cold Comfort’ Survey October 2005