Poor sleep decreases vaccine effectiveness, especially for men

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If you’re scheduling an appointment for a vaccination — whether for Covid-19, the flu, or a trip to another country — make sure you get a long night’s sleep before heading to the doctor.

Sleeping less than six hours the night before getting vaccinated can limit your body’s response to the vaccine, reducing protection against the virus or bacteria, a new study has found.

“Good sleep not only amplifies but may also extend the duration of vaccine protection,” lead author Eve Van Cauter, professor emeritus in the University of Chicago Department of Medicine, said in a statement.

But there was an odd detail in the study results: the impact of poor sleep on the immune response to a vaccine was only scientifically relevant in men.

“Research that used objective measures of sleep deprivation, such as that from a sleep laboratory, found a decrease in the ability to respond to the vaccine that was particularly and statistically significant in men, but not in women. “said study co-author Dr. Michael Irwin. , professor emeritus of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine.

Why would a man’s immunity be affected while a woman’s is not?

“There are known sex differences in the immune response to foreign antigens, like viruses, and also to self antigens, like in autoimmune disorders,” said Dr. Phyllis Zee, professor of neurology and director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School. of Medicine.

“In general, women have a stronger immune response, including (to) the flu vaccine,” Zee said, who did not participate in the study. “The evidence is that these differences reflect hormonal, genetic and environmental differences, which may change over the lifespan, so these differences may be less important in older people.”

Regardless of gender, if you’re sleep deprived, jet lagged, work night shifts or have fluctuations in your sleep-wake cycle, consider delaying vaccination, said Irwin, who runs the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and Mindful Awareness at UCLA. Research Center.

“If I was working with patients to get them vaccinated, I would ask them if they have any sleep issues and if they were sleep deprived the night before,” Irwin said. “If they are, I would ask them to come back when they are fully rested.”

The body needs to go through four stages of sleep several times a night. During the first and second stages, our bodies begin to slow down their rhythms. This prepares us for the third stage – a deep, slow-wave sleep where the body recovers at the cellular level, repairs the damage caused by the wear and tear of the day, and consolidates memories into long-term storage.

Rapid eye movement sleep, also called REM sleep, is the final stage. Studies have shown that lack of REM sleep, which is also where we dream, can lead to memory deficit and poor cognitive outcomes, as well as heart disease and other chronic illnesses and premature death.

On the other hand, years of research have shown that sleep – and especially the deepest, most healing type – boosts the immune response.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most adults need seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep to get restful sleep. Sleeping six hours or less a night — something many people do, especially during a busy work week — can cause a host of health issues.

The new study, published Monday in the journal Current Biology, undertook a meta-analysis of existing research on sleep and immune function following vaccination against influenza A and hepatitis A and B.

When only studies that used self-reported sleep duration were analyzed, antibodies were reduced in people who slept less than six hours, but the association between sleep deprivation and immunity after vaccination was not. scientifically significant.

However, when only studies that used objective measures — such as requiring people to attend a sleep lab, or when devices capable of accurately tracking sleep were used — there was a “robust” association, especially for men, Irwin said.

One explanation for the discrepancy between objective and self-reported research results is that people generally overestimate the amount of sleep they get each night, according to the study.

According to the analysis, people who slept less than six hours produced fewer antibodies than people who slept seven hours or more. The reduced immune response affected adults between the ages of 18 and 60 more than people over 65.

This was not surprising, according to the statement, because “older people tend to sleep less in general, (so) going from seven hours of sleep per night to less than six hours is not as big a change as go from eight hours to less than six.

The study did not include an analysis of the antibody response to Covid-19 vaccines because there are not yet adequate studies of sleep in people vaccinated with Covid, Irwin said. But he believes the results would still apply.

“The way we stimulate the immune system is the same whether we use an mRNA vaccine for Covid-19, or a vaccine for influenza, hepatitis, typhoid or pneumococcal disease,” Irwin said. “It’s a prototypical antibody or vaccine response, and that’s why we think we can generalize to Covid.”

The team carried out an analysis which showed that, if a person arrived for a Covid-19 vaccination without adequate sleep, their antibody response to the vaccine would be weakened by the equivalent of two months – entirely based on their body’s initial response .

Make sure you get a full night of solid sleep before and a few days after a vaccination to boost the antibody response.

“You would have already lost two months of immunity, so to speak, even if you just got vaccinated,” Irwin said. “If you have a poor immune response, you are less likely to get full protection against Covid.”

More studies are needed to detect the nuances of poor sleep’s impact on the immune system, Zee said. Still, the information supports current practice in her sleep clinic.

“I already tell my patients to sleep regularly to improve immune function,” she said. “Now we have even stronger evidence to give that kind of advice.”

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