Getting a good night’s sleep boosts our immune response to vaccinations
People who sleep more than six hours a night produce significantly more antibodies after getting their jabs.
It’s well established that sleep is vital for our health – it reduces the risk of everything from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia. Now, a study carried out by researchers based in Paris, France, and Chicago, USA, has found that getting a good night’s shuteye can also boost our bodies' immune response to vaccinations.
To investigate the effect of sleep on vaccine effectiveness, the team combined the results of seven studies looking at jabs for influenza and hepatitis A and B and compared the antibody responses of those who slept a normal, healthy amount of seven to nine hours a night with those who slept six or less.
In each study, the participants’ sleep was measured in a lab environment, at home via a sleep-tracking smartwatch or self-reported.
They found that sleeping less than six hours per night significantly reduced immune response to vaccination. However, the difference was most prominent in men, perhaps due to women’s fluctuating sex hormones.
“We know from immunology studies that sex hormones influence the immune system,” said lead researcher Karine Spiegel from the French National Institute of Health and Medicine.
“In women, immunity is influenced by the state of the menstrual cycle, the use of contraceptives, and by menopause and post-menopausal status, but unfortunately, none of the studies that we summarised had any data about sex hormone levels.”
The negative effect was also more pronounced in those aged 18 to 60 compared to the over 65s. This is likely due to older people tending to sleep less.
While there is still more to be investigated about the relationship between sleep and vaccination, knowing the two are linked could help people to make lifestyle choices to boost their immunity, the researchers say.
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“We need to understand the sex differences, which days around the time of vaccination are most important, and exactly how much sleep is needed so that we can give guidance to people,” said Spiegel.
“We are going to be vaccinating millions and millions of people in the next few years, and this is an aspect that can help maximise protection.”
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Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.
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