Do you go to bed early on the few nights before you get a vaccination?

And on the few nights afterward?

If you’re like most people, the thought of getting extra ZZZs around the time that you receive a vaccination wouldn’t even cross your mind.

But a new study found that how much sleep we get during a six-day window surrounding a vaccination (specifically, the three nights before and the three nights after) impacts whether we get the maximum protection from the vaccine.

How much sleep is necessary?

I spoke with the study’s lead author, Aric Prather, PhD, to ask…


This wasn’t the first study about sleep and vaccines. But until recently, such research was conducted in sleep labs, isolated facilities where sleep patterns can be easily monitored. And participants—mostly young adults—were often totally deprived of a full night’s sleep around the time that they were vaccinated.

Dr. Prather’s study was different. It was designed to look at the effect of sleep on vaccine protection among middle-aged people (between the ages of 40 and 60) because the immune system usually becomes less effective as we age. It was also designed to examine real sleep, as in the kind people get in their own comfy beds (not in a lab) and the type of sleep loss that people experience naturally in day-to-day life (such as a few hours of deprivation—not pulling an all-nighter specifically for an experiment).

Study subjects slept at home and wore actigraph watches, devices with sensors that recorded how long they slept at night. Researchers analyzed sleep’s impact on protection from the hepatitis B vaccine, specifically, but Dr. Prather told me that poor sleeping patterns are likely to reduce the effectiveness of virtually all vaccines.

The hepatitis B vaccine is typically administered in three doses (the first two are a month apart and the third is given six months after the first shot). Researchers analyzed sleep length three nights before the initial dose and three nights after it. (One limitation of the study is that actigraph watches were worn only during the nights surrounding the first dose—researchers didn’t have enough funding for participants to wear them throughout the study.) Researchers also drew blood before any doses were given and after each of the three doses to measure subjects’ antibody responses—the more antibodies, the higher the immunity.

What they found: The less sleep individuals got throughout that particular time frame, the fewer antibodies for hepatitis B they had in their blood, on average. This association held true even after researchers controlled for other variables that might have influenced the results, such as age, sex and body mass index. Example: Participants who slept less than six hours each night, on average, were about 12 times less likely than those who slept more than seven hours each night to meet the antibody threshold for protection established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for vaccine effectiveness.

So the more ZZZs you get, the better the vaccination works, said Dr. Prather.

That’s enough for me. If I’m going to get a shot, I’m willing to go to bed a few hours early to make it, you know, stick.


Dr. Prather isn’t exactly sure why sleep is so important in terms of providing optimal vaccine protection, but prior studies have found that sleep deprivation decreases the number and function of T-cells—white blood cells that help the body develop antibodies. So that may be at least one reason why. Future studies will answer this question more definitively.

If you don’t get the amount of sleep you’d like on the days surrounding your vaccination, it doesn’t mean that the vaccination isn’t working at all—you’ll still get some protection from it, said Dr. Prather.

But, ideally, to get the most protection possible, plan ahead. For example, if you have a lot of events scheduled during one particular week and you know that you’ll be out late and skimping on sleep, schedule your vaccination for a different week. And if you already have a vaccination scheduled, mark your calendar now with reminders to take it easy that week and hit the sack as early as possible. If you’re getting a multidose vaccine, your safest bet is to get proper sleep surrounding all doses.