How IT Workers Can Survive Cold And Flu Season - InformationWeek

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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
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

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.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
9/16/2015 | 5:58:43 PM
Re: IT and Sleep Make Strange Bedfellows ...
The blue light from the TV or computer screen tricks the body into thinking is is daylight, so I completely get the shift to a 36 or 48 hour day. I read someone's experiment where they did not use artificial light at all for a month. He mentioned a researcher that found people told to sleep for 14 hours, they found themselves waking in the middle of the night, having an hour or two of not sleep but rest, then falling back asleep again. But with electronic devices we often get up from that first cycle and don't go back to sleep. Sleep may not be something we understand completely yet, but it does seem that we all need to get more of it.
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2015 | 9:23:24 AM
Re: IT and Sleep Make Strange Bedfellows ...
awake 36 hours and 12 hours of sleep

But isn't that totally unnatural for the body? Just like night shifts are unnatural for the body?
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
9/14/2015 | 5:06:40 AM
Re: IT and Sleep Make Strange Bedfellows ...
@soozyg, yes, during an insomnia episode it is extremely tempting to switch on a PC and log-in a few work hours, complete a business related market report or complete a course assignment. The outcome of it is that the body tends to switch towards a 36-hour sleep cycle that is similar to the sleep cycle of astronauts and it becomes quite different to switch back to a 24-hour cycle if meetings or class attendance is not compatible with a 36-hour sleep cycle.

Professionals from the aviation industry are also likely to change their sleep cycles. For instance, I know a few individuals that switch onto a 48-hour cycle (awake 36 hours and 12 hours of sleep) if the duty roster includes a long flight. It is not that the duty roster calls for a 36-hour shift but, fatigue is the factor that does not allow the individuals to fall off to sleep.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/10/2015 | 7:33:40 PM
Re: exposure
@soozyg- I'm not sure there is a study on whether teachers get sick less. I looked for it and couldn't find it. My experience with teachers is that they are always sick but can't call in sick, but that is entirely anecdotal.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/10/2015 | 7:30:04 PM
Re: Home-based freelancer
@Gary_El- That isn't noon cracking. That's the rest of us opening our lunch boxes. :)
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 8:51:47 AM
exposure
I believe teachers --especially lower grade teachers like preschool thru 1st grade--battle germs all the time. And in my experience they're rarely sick. I was told that after years of being in the profession they're just immune.....
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 8:48:42 AM
Re: IT and Sleep Make Strange Bedfellows ...
@jastroff

I think it's due to their mentality. The better the coder, the more wacky the hours. 

How shall I put this....? In my experience working with them, coder brains tend to veer to the non standard and non-regular. It's just the way their brains work.
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 8:43:39 AM
Re: IT and Sleep Make Strange Bedfellows ...
IT and sleep do not go well because, a PC is all that is required to work on a report, code, complete documentation, communicate and upgrade skills.

@Brian.Dean, are you saying that because a PC could be within reach at bedside that it's so easy for IT professionals to reach over and just start working, thus reducing sleep ?
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 8:28:03 AM
Re: IT and Sleep Make Strange Bedfellows ...
Glad to hear that you eventually learned that lesson. Now you have a responsibility to help younger IT staff learn that earlier than you did. As the 900-year-old Jedi master stated, pass on what you have learned.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
9/9/2015 | 11:13:28 PM
Re: IT and Sleep Make Strange Bedfellows ...

"...Demand will always outpace supply. Each of us in IT has to learn how to balance our personal needs for health, family, etc. with the demands of the job. Or, find another employer that is more balanced."

 

@jagibbons    That is great advice and words of wisdom.    I wish I had realized that 15 years ago, when I thought my career would actually amount to something.  Sure I have achieved more than most but it pales in comparison to the years lost being loyal to a companies that had little to no intention of ever being loyal back.   

 That is a hard lesson to learn, but I finally learned ( even though it still goes against my values ) but what do values have to do with business ?   

So it is not too late to do exactly as you state, find balance to fit it all in or find another company.  

Period.

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