Older woman sleeping in chair in the daytime
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Chronic poor sleep is a risk factor for contracting influenza and other respiratory infections, and contributes to severity, a large, new study has found.

Investigators analyzed data for 600,000 participants across population studies from Finland and the United Kingdom. They used genetic analysis to help identify causal risk relationships.

Results from analyses of the Finnish data showed that people with a diagnosis of insomnia were nearly six times as likely to develop an unspecified respiratory infection. They also had more than four times the risk of contracting influenza when compared to the other participants. Analyses based on the UK biobank data supported the findings.

The results also linked insomnia to COVID-19 severity, including COVID-19 infection requiring hospitalization.

The results were not explained by other common risk factors for respiratory disease such as obesity or smoking, according to lead researcher Hanna Ollila, of the University of Helsinki. She and her colleagues said that the findings have public health implications, as approximately 30% of adults experience some symptoms of insomnia. Poor sleep is especially prevalent among middle-aged and older adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 

Earlier studies have found links between poor sleep and respiratory illness, but hadn’t established causal risk, the researchers said.

“These findings highlight the role of sleep in maintaining sufficient immune response against pathogens,” they concluded.

The study team included investigators from the University of Helsinki and Harvard Medical School in collaboration with Yale and Stanford Universities.

Full findings were published in The Lancet Discovery Science, eBioMedicine.

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