Lack of sleep won’t just saddle you with unsightly bags and dark circles under your eyes: It also can make you more susceptible to disease.
New research from a team of California and Pennsylvania scientists has found a direct link between sleep and the effectiveness of vaccines.
Healthy adults who get less than six hours of sleep a night don’t get protection from vaccines, the researchers found.
“I hope this becomes a wake-up call, not just for public health advocates and doctors, but for everyone,” said Aric Prather, an psychoneuroimmunologist at UC San Francisco and author of the study. “We need to stress sleep as an element of maintaining good health.”
The study appeared this week in the journal Sleep.
It is fairly well established that sleep affords many benefits and that a lack of sleep can make people susceptible to all sorts of maladies, including respiratory illness.
And scientists previously have looked into the role that sleep plays in terms of boosting the effectiveness of vaccines – it does. However, those studies were done in controlled laboratory settings with college-age students, who generally are considered to have superior immune systems.
Prather wondered whether these studies could be applied to the real world – to middle-aged men and women living their lives normally, sleeping in their own beds, determining their own schedules. So he and his colleagues gathered a group of 125 men and women between the ages of 40 and 60 and followed them over a six-month period.
They screened out anyone who had an overlying medical condition or was on medication that could interfere with the subject’s sleep or reaction to a vaccine. The researchers then gave each participant a three-dose hepatitis B vaccine, which consists of an initial dose, a booster one month later and a final boost at six months.
They instructed the participants to keep sleep and stress diaries, and 88 of the subjects wore electronic sleep monitors at bedtime.
The team found that those who slept an average of less than six hours a night were far less likely to mount antibody responses to the vaccine. Therefore, they were more likely – 11.5 times more likely – to be unprotected by the vaccines than those who slept more than seven hours a night.
Stress, as an independent factor, didn’t have an effect, Prather said.
In the end, 18 of the 125 participants didn’t receive adequate protection from the vaccine.
“I expected to see a relationship between sleep and antibody production,” Prather said. “But I was surprised at just how dramatic it was, that some people were left unprotected.”
"With the emergence of our 24-hour lifestyle, longer working hours and the rise in the use of technology, chronic sleep deprivation has become a way of life for many Americans," Prather said. "These findings should help raise awareness in the public health community about the clear connection between sleep and health."
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This story was produced by California Watch, a part of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.californiawatch.org.