It looks like sleep may beat the apple in keeping the doctors away as good sleep may lower the risk of getting sick, a new study suggests.

Sleep is one of life's pleasures that have been taken for granted far too often with possibly serious consequences including the increased risk of developing common types of infections such as flu and colds.

Researchers from the Center for Health and Community of University of California-San Francisco conducted a large study that points out the close association between insufficient sleep and its effect to the immune system, the body's natural defense against pathogens that can cause a variety of illnesses.

A total of 22,726 men and women with an average age of 42.6 were chosen from a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics between 2005 and 2012.

These participants answered a form that inquired about their sleeping habits including how long they sleep in a day and whether they had seen a doctor or had been diagnosed with a sleeping problem or disorder like insomnia. They also needed to tell if they had suffered from infections like flu, pneumonia, ear infection, and colds within the last 30 days.

While most of the participants were able to get at least six hours a night, at least 14 percent could be classified as short sleepers, whose sleep hours did not exceed beyond five. Within this group, 19 percent developed chest or head cold, about 4 percentage points higher than people who slept for at least seven hours.

Meanwhile, those who were diagnosed with a sleeping disorder or had reported sleeping issues to their doctors were more likely to suffer from an infection even if the data were adjusted to other contributing factors like age, race, and sex.

The information in this study seems to corroborate their 2015 research, which suggests that recruits who slept six hours or less were almost four times at risk of developing a cold.

This goes to show that "in many countries, particularly western countries, sleep takes a back seat to productivity, which may make some sense in the short term but certainly not the longer term," said co-author Aric A. Prather, especially since short sleepers are also less likely to exercise.

Nevertheless, the researchers convey that their study does not establish cause and effect but rather that the "two are somehow connected," he added.

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