Why It’s So Important To Prioritize Sleep After You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

Photo: Getty Images / Adene Sanchez
Research suggests that lack of sleep makes you more susceptible to viral infections. Conversely, getting enough sleep may help you build up immunity after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, says Christian Benedict, PhD, an associate professor of neuroscience at Uppsala University in Sweden, who recently published a paper in Lancet Respiratory Medicine on the matter.

"There are several studies from U.S. and European groups that have shown that people who get a good night’s sleep in the nights shortly before and after vaccination against virus infections, such as seasonal flu, hepatitis A/B, produces more virus-specific antibodies and virus-specific memory immune cells than those who do not get sufficient slumber," Dr. Benedict tells Well+Good. "In other words, they appear more protected. Whether the same is true for the COVID-19 vaccination has not been shown, but nonetheless is likely."

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Many immunological functions depend on circadian rhythms and regular sleep, says Dr. Benedict. Your body produces cytokine proteins when you sleep and your body needs more of them when developing an immune response. Sleep deprivation can decrease the production of cytokines, according to the Mayo Clinic, as well as infection-fighting antibodies and cells.

When you get vaccinated, your body relies on immune responses to develop protection, says biochemist, neurobiologist, and antibody engineer Esther Odekunle, PhD, in an episode of Well+Good YouTube series Need To Know.

"A vaccine is a substance that stimulates your body's immune system to fight against, and therefore protect you against, a pathogen, and a pathogen is anything that causes disease," says Dr. Odekunle. "The benefit of a vaccine is that it imitates an infection and therefore provides immune protection."

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The amount of sleep you get can impact your body's ability to produce an immune response following vaccination, thus impacting the level of immunity you develop. In 2002, researchers found that a night of partial sleep loss led to a 50 percent reduction in the immunologic response to an influenza A vaccination when compared to the response in those who maintained a regular sleep schedule. And a 2012 study of 125 people found that shorter sleep duration was associated with lower secondary antibody response to hepatitis B antigens, likely leading to decreased clinical protection. While this research wasn't done specifically on the COVID-19 vaccine, it points to the overall connection between sleep and immunity following vaccination.

Considering efficacy, the three vaccines currently available in the United States are among the best we've had ever had access to, says Dr. Benedict. The Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are 95 percent, 94 percent, and 66 percent effective, respectively, at preventing contraction of the virus that causes COVID-19 (and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85 percent effective at preventing severe illness from the coronavirus). As more and more people are vaccinated and the nation works its way to achieving herd immunity,  ensuring you get a good sleep around the time of vaccination can provide you with even more protection. Even as we continue to face COVID-19 variants, all three vaccines remain effective against severe illness and hospitalization.

Recently, the Biden Administration announced its plan to make booster shots available for recipients of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. These third doses are recommended between six and eight months, which means that even after you get your initial vaccinations, you may need to prioritize sleep after your booster shots, as well.

"Sleep is definitely an important variable in the equation underlying your immune response to vaccination against virus infections, including COVID-19," says Dr. Benedict. "There are several things that you can do to support your sleep. Turn of light-emitting e-devices in the evening about one hour before bedtime, turn of pop-up messages on your smartphone after work—after work you should relax and not work and not think about work. Take a morning daylight shower outside to kick off your brain and strengthen your circadian rhythms, try to keep regular bed and wake times—your brain loves predictable patterns—and don’t constantly worry about your sleep."

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