COVID-19 Vaccines and Sleep

Written by

Alison Deshong , Staff Writer, Product Testing Team
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COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at protecting yourself and those around you from serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. However, if you are considering getting a shot or have just gotten one, you may wonder about its possible side effects.

Mild side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are common and, in general, disappear after a few days. In some cases, people may notice effects on their sleep. But the vaccines have been shown to be safe since they were introduced in December 2020. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that most people ages 6 months and older get vaccinated against COVID-19. This means getting a primary vaccination course, generally requiring two shots, followed by a booster shot two or more months after that. 

We discuss some of the most common questions about the effects of COVID-19 vaccines on sleep, how to minimize any unwanted effects, and when it’s best to talk to your doctor about symptoms that may be concerning.

Do COVID-19 Vaccines Make You Sleep More?

One of the most common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines is feeling tired, which may cause you to want to sleep more in the hours or days after you receive a shot.

Side effects following vaccination can be signs that the body is responding to the vaccine and building immunity to COVID-19. Some people may notice only slightly uncomfortable side effects, while others may temporarily have difficulty going about their normal daily activities.  

The vaccine causes the body to launch an immune response, through which it produces and grows a host of new cells. This process requires energy and resources, which may explain much of the fatigue and need for extra sleep that can come on after a shot. 

Conversely, a vaccination may disrupt your sleep if you experience a side effect like a sore arm, fever, or chills. These may make it difficult to sleep or cause you to awaken during the night.

COVID-19 vaccines affect everyone differently, and not everyone feels tired after getting vaccinated. Some people may not have any symptoms at all. But even without noticeable side effects, the body is still building crucial immunity to help protect against severe illness.

How Much Sleep Should You Get Before a COVID-19 Vaccination?

While there are no official sleep guidelines for COVID-19 vaccines, it is a good idea to get a full night’s rest before and after having a vaccination. Adequate sleep, in general, is fundamental to good health and helps to promote a strong immune system.

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night, per the National Sleep Foundation. Teens require more sleep than adults, ideally 8 to 10 hours, and children under the age of 13 need even more, as much as 14 hours depending on their specific age.

During sleeping hours, the immune system is busy building the cells it needs to ward off disease. People who do not get sufficient sleep are more susceptible to infection from viruses like those that cause the common cold and the flu. Sleep deficiency is also linked to a lower immune response to vaccines. 

When scheduling a shot, consider planning around it to optimize the rest you get beforehand and afterwards. Because the side effects may make it harder to go about your normal activities for a few days, keeping a lighter schedule after a shot can allow you the time you may need for more rest and sleep.

Does a COVID-19 Booster Shot Affect Sleep?

The effects of a COVID-19 booster shot are similar to those of the first course of vaccination. A booster shot can lead to fatigue, which can make you want to sleep more than usual for a day or two. But that feeling will pass.

The CDC recommends that most people receive a COVID-19 booster shot. A booster vaccination gives added protection against serious illness from COVID-19.

What Are Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines?

For most people, the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are similar to those of other vaccinations. They tend to be fairly mild and clear up within one or two days.

Besides feeling tired, other common side effects include:

  • Pain, rash, or swelling at the site of the shot
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • General muscle pain
  • Nausea

Side effects of COVID-19 vaccines can differ depending on the dose and the brand. Side effects are often stronger after the second shot compared with the first dose. COVID-19 booster vaccinations can also cause side effects, which tend to be very similar to the side effects of the initial COVID-19 vaccinations.

More serious reactions to COVID-19 vaccines are possible, but they are rare. When they do happen, they can occur anywhere from minutes to weeks after receiving the vaccine.

Concerning side effects can include:

  • Symptoms of severe allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing, feeling faint or nauseated, or developing hives
  • Inflammation of the heart, with symptoms of chest pain or heart palpitations 
  • Blood clots, which can cause leg swelling, abdominal or chest pain, or shortness of breath

Again, the risk of experiencing a serious side effect is low. Health experts agree that, in most cases, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines far outweigh any negative side effects.

Tips to Reduce COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize some of the unwanted effects of a shot, should you experience them.

  • Keep your arm moving: COVID-19 shots, like other vaccinations, can cause pain, swelling, and inflammation at the site of injection, usually in the upper arm. Continuing to move your arm and applying a cold compress like an ice pack or damp cloth can soothe the area and bring some relief.
  • Allow time to rest: Getting plenty of sleep is important for a strong immune response, and adequate sleep after a first, second, or booster dose may improve the vaccine’s effectiveness. 
  • Drink fluids and wear warm clothes: If you develop a mild to moderate fever, drink plenty of fluids and wear comfortable, warm clothes to keep the chills at bay. You can also take over-the-counter medication to reduce a fever, but it is wise to consult with your doctor first.

It may be tempting to take an over-the-counter pain reliever before having your vaccinations, to prevent uncomfortable side effects before they start. But health experts strongly recommend against this, because those medications could dampen the success of the vaccine.

If you are a parent or caregiver to a young child, you can take many of the same steps to help keep your little one comfortable in the days after their vaccinations. Talk with your pediatrician if your child complains about pain or discomfort or if you notice other concerning symptoms.

When Is a COVID-19 Vaccine Most Effective?

After getting a COVID-19 shot, it can take a few weeks for your immune system to fully respond and provide adequate protection against the COVID-19 virus. 

Although there are several types of COVID-19 vaccines available, they all have a similar effect on the immune system. Each type prompts the body to produce a supply of white blood cells that can recognize, remember, and fight the COVID-19 virus. 

A couple of weeks following your primary vaccination course or a booster shot, you are considered fully vaccinated. This means you are now optimally protected against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. It is still possible to get an infection, but it is more likely that you will have no symptoms or mild ones.

Your immune system retains the antibodies it makes against COVID-19 for a while, but the protection can decline as time passes. A booster shot can improve the effectiveness of your initial COVID-19 vaccination by reminding the immune system how to fight the virus. The CDC recommends that people 5 years old and up receive a booster vaccination.

If you received a booster a while ago, it is recommended that you also receive a “bivalent” booster shot, which became available in September 2022. This updated shot combines protection against the original variant of the virus and against more recent Omicron variants.

What Should You Do if COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects Persist?

Check with your doctor if you have any serious or lasting side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor can help you determine whether your symptoms require medical attention. For most people, side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are mild to moderate and last only a few days. In rare cases, side effects can be more serious. 

Some serious side effects can occur in the weeks following vaccination. Contact your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms during the first few weeks after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Headache that does not go away
  • Severe stomach or back pain
  • Feeling weak on one or both sides of the body
  • Blurred vision
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Bruising more frequently than normal
  • Impaired cognition

Keep in mind that severe reactions to COVID-19 vaccines are rare. For most people, the effective protection against serious illness from COVID-19 outweighs any possible side effects of the vaccine.

References

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About The Author

Alison Deshong

Staff Writer, Product Testing Team

Alison is a health writer with ample experience reading and interpreting academic, peer-reviewed research. Based in San Diego, she is published in the journal PLOS Genetics and the Journal of Biological Chemistry and has been a copywriter for SmartBug media. With a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Davis, she has nearly a decade of academic research experience in life sciences. She enjoys helping people cut through the noise to understand the bigger picture about sleep and health. Alison likes to stay active with rock climbing, hiking, and walking her dog.

  • Position: Stomach Sleeper
  • Temperature: Neutral Sleeper
  • Chronotype: Bear

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