The COVID-19 pandemic has been part of our lives since the beginning of 2020. Since then, conditions such as social isolation, distance, fear of being infected, uncertainty and anxiety have impacted many aspects of our lives, including ours. sleep! We've already discussed in another blog how pandemic and confinement are linked to insomnia and sleep deprivation. But 2021 brought news that we had been waiting for a long time: The vaccine for the new coronavirus was approved for use in Brazil and the vaccination campaign has already started!
Sleep was already important in the fight against COVID-19, and it will also be during vaccination. In this blog we will talk about the importance of sleep to the immunization process, what is known about the relationship of sleep deprivation with other vaccines, and what to expect for the vaccine against the new coronavirus.
Sleep and immunity
One of the main effects of sleep deprivation, both acute and chronic, is the worsening of the immune response. This is because the immune system relies heavily on quality sleep and especially on adequate amounts of deep sleep (also known as slow wave sleep, or stage N3).
Many sleep disorders also make the time we sleep insufficient and shallow. Therefore, there is also a great deterioration in the immunity of people with disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and chronic insomnia. There are already several studies showing that people who sleep less than 7 hours a night or who have sleep disorders have a much increased chance of catching colds and flu.
Our immunity is divided into two major types and both are affected by lack of sleep:
· Innate immunity: It is a type of nonspecific immunity, made so that our body reacts to anything, even without knowing what it is. We already have this immunity since we were born, responsible for making us react the first time we are exposed to a disease. Leukocytes (white blood cells) and inflammation are very important tools of this type of immunity.
Since COVID-19 is a new disease, no one had been exposed to it until 2019. That's why innate immunity is so important in fighting coronaviruses. The body reacts to this virus that invades our body even without knowing what it is. In the absence of drugs, antibodies and vaccines, innate immunity is all we have.
Innate immunity depends on quality sleep. That's why it's so important to sleep well during a pandemic, to increase the chances that our bodies will be able to react to the coronavirus the first time it becomes infected.
· Acquired immunity: This is a type of immunity that we acquire throughout life, as we contract diseases. It works like a “memory” of the immune system. After being infected for the first time by a disease, the body “learns” to defend itself against it, being more prepared in case there is another infection. Lymphocytes (a specific type of white blood cell) and antibodies are the main tools of acquired immunity. This type of immunity also depends heavily on good quality and quantity sleep. In cases of sleep deprivation the production of antibodies can be greatly reduced!
Sleep and vaccination
Vaccines depend on acquired immunity. For a vaccine to work, the body must be exposed to something that resembles the virus (or other microorganism) that causes a disease. It could be an attenuated virus, a dead virus, or a tiny bit of the virus. From this exposure, the body can begin to produce antibodies just as if it had become ill.
This process of “memory” of the immune system and the formation of antibodies depend on the maintenance of quality sleep. One of the most classic studies on the relationship between sleep and vaccination was coordinated by Dr. Even Van Cauter of the University of Chicago. In this study, a group of healthy people were asked to sleep for just 4 hours a night over six days, before receiving a flu shot. They were compared to another group of people who maintained healthy sleep habits for the same period. Ten days after vaccination, the amount of antibodies in sleep-deprived people was half of those who had slept normally.
It is now known that this effect occurs not only for the flu vaccine, but for several others, such as H1N1 and hepatitis. In all cases, lack of sleep compromises the body's ability to produce antibodies. In addition, this effect occurs both in people who were sleep deprived before and after vaccination. In other words, it is not enough to have slept well for days before getting vaccinated. It is necessary to maintain a healthy sleep routine also after vaccination, to ensure that the body creates this “memory” and that the immune response is efficient.
Sleep care for COVID-19 vaccination
We still don't know exactly how sleep can affect COVID-19 vaccination. As it is a very recent disease and vaccines have been available for a very short time, there are still no studies on it. But we have two big reasons to take care of our sleep during COVID-19 vaccination:
· As the effectiveness of the vaccine has been hampered by lack of sleep in several other diseases, it is very likely that the same thing can happen with COVID-19.
· The COVID-19 vaccine is so prized and resources so scarce to cover the entire population that any effort to ensure sufficient immunization is worth it.
Getting vaccinated is not just a measure of health, but of citizenship, which protects you and everyone around you. So this is really a great time to think about improving our sleep habits and seeking treatment for our insomnia! SleepUp is at your disposal to help!
Below are some tips on good sleep habits to increase your chance of getting immunized when you get your vaccine.
1 Ensure you get enough quality and sufficient sleep for at least seven days before getting vaccinated.
2 Sleep well in the week after getting vaccinated too.
3 Try to sleep at least 7 hours a night before and after vaccination.
4 Take care of your sleeping environment so that it is comfortable, dark and quiet.
5 Avoid voluntary sleep deprivation.
6 If you have insomnia or difficulty sleeping, seek treatment, especially non-pharmacological ones, such as those offered by SleepUp (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia).
7 Avoid other habits or behaviors that also diminish the effectiveness of immunizations, such as strenuous exercise, alcohol use, or stress.