- Researchers say poor sleep can greatly reduce your body’s immune reaction to vaccinations.
- They say that’s because restful sleep helps the body to produce antibodies needed to ward off infections.
- Experts say there are a number of ways to help ensure a good night’s sleep from establishing a consistent bedtime routine to avoiding caffeine in the evening to limiting screen time at night.
It’s easy to understand on an intuitive level why it’s so important to get a good night’s sleep.
The difference between a restful night and a restless one can generally be felt the next day – and, over time, the cumulative risk of sleepless nights carries an increased risk of a host of health complications from poor mental health to type 2 diabetes.
A new meta-analysis has found one more reason to get enough sleep, with researchers saying that people who get more sleep at night produce more antibodies that can help boost the efficacy of vaccines.
Their findings were recently published in the scientific journal Current Biology.
Eve Van Cauter, PhD, a senior study author and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago as well as Karine Spiegel, PhD, the lead study author from the French National Institute of Health and Medicine analyzed data from seven studies to compare the antibody response in people who slept more than 7 hours a night versus those who slept for 6 hours or less.
They reported that more sleep resulted in the production of more antibodies — and, hence, a boosted response to a range of vaccines from flu to COVID-19.
A pandemic project
“During the lockdown of 2020, part of our normal academic work was interrupted and we started thinking about what we could do to contribute, even in a small way, to the ‘war’ against SARS-Cov-2,” Van Cauter told Healthline.
“Soon, vaccines were being developed and we thought that summarizing the state of knowledge about the link between insufficient sleep and reduced antibody response might be of interest to many people,” she added. “This was the starting point of the current paper. Thus, we expected that a meta-analysis of existing published evidence would provide a result consistent with the notion that short sleep is detrimental to vaccine efficacy.”
The connection isn’t particularly surprising, Van Cauter says, because it’s already well understood that sleep plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system, which helps contribute to immunity overall.
Sleep differences between men and women
While the analysis sheds new light on the interaction between sleep and vaccine efficacy, there’s still more data needed to fully understand some of the differences observed between men and women.
“The overall effect size for the impact of short sleep on vaccination was strong and highly significant for men while it was smaller and not significant for women,” Van Cauter explained. “We need to understand the role of hormones – phase of the menstrual cycle, hormonal contraception, menopause and its treatment – in this sex disparity. Further, as is often the case, fewer data pertinent to the issue of sleep and vaccination have been collected in women than in men.”
Van Cauter says there are two big takeaways for people who are interested in how sleep can help their response to vaccination.
“First, when people schedule an appointment for vaccine inoculation, they should make every effort to have normal – 7 to 8 hour – sleep duration around the time of vaccination,” she said. “Second, there is much more to learn about the interaction between sleep and vaccination, including how many days of short sleep duration affect the antibody response, and what is the optimal time interval relative to the day of inoculation.”
The basics for healthy sleep habits
If you have trouble getting enough sleep at night, you’re not alone.
Close to 40% of adults in the United States report not getting enough sleep at night.
The sleep hygiene around sleep hygiene applies: set a schedule and a routine, avoid caffeine and electronic devices before bedtime, and get enough exercise during the day.
But for those who still have trouble sleeping even after following this advice, there’s hope.
Dan Ford, a licensed psychologist who specializes in insomnia treatment and serves as clinical director at The Better Sleep Clinic in Auckland, New Zealand, told Healthline that if these sleep hygiene guidelines aren’t working, it’s usually a good indicator that a person has transitioned to a sleep disorder such as short-term or chronic insomnia disorder.
“The effective treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-i” he explained. “Sleep hygiene advice may be included as part of CBT-i, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference to the person’s sleep disorder unless it’s something glaringly obvious like drinking alcohol every night or having caffeine or nicotine before bed.”
Ford compared sleep hygiene to oral hygiene in that both can help prevent bigger problems down the road – but if one of these problems emerges, a more significant intervention will be necessary.
“You will still need to have good sleep hygiene to resolve things, so sleep hygiene is necessary – but not sufficient – to get through a sleep disorder,” he said.
For anyone who’s having trouble getting enough sleep at night, Ford recommends making a concerted effort to follow sleep hygiene guidelines and change anything that needs changing – and if the problem persists, it may be time to talk to a professional.
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