Aric Prather, PhD: Sleep and COVID-19 Vaccination in Naive Population


Dr. Aric Prather and his team at UCSF are running a large study that began in March 2021 which follows healthy individuals through the COVID-19 vaccination and booster process.

A prominent presentation featured at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (SLEEP) 2022 Annual Meeting titled "Sleep in the Time of COVID: An Update on How Sleep Affects the Immune System" was given by a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Aric Prather, PhD, who also serves as the interim director of the UCSF Center for Health and Community, led the session on how sleep relates to the immune system during the "ongoing and protracted" impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Importance of Sleep for the Immune System

In an interview with HCPLive, he explained that while he's conducted research that demonstrated lack of sleep (6 hours or less) was associated with a 4 times higher risk of becoming sick after rhinovirus exposure, there's not much information at this time on the relationship between COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccination and sleep.

"That means we have to rely on large population based studies where, maybe in an electronic medical record we have information about sleep, or sleep behavior."

Even in these cases, the data aren't clear. He continued to share what some recent research on the topic has suggested based on their findings but noted that it hasn't been peer reviewed.

"Rather than focusing on that, I think the easier kind of question to ask with respect to COVID has been in the context of COVID vaccines, right?" Prather said. "Because that also will tell us something about the immune system, and certainly [vaccines] are critical for protecting people."

Sleep and COVID-19 Vaccination

Currently, Prather and his team at UCSF are running a large study that began in March 2021 which follows healthy individuals through the COVID-19 vaccination and booster process. The aim is to identify psychological, behavioral, sleep, and biological predictors of who mounts and maintains protection, he explained.

"We got emergency funding from NIH and we just set it up, and we're on the radio, we were on television, we were doing anything we could to get people when everyone was racing to get their vaccines," Prather said.

There will likely be plenty of studies on how people respond to the booster shots, he predicted, because there's more time to get that research in place. But as for examining a naive population beginning with the first vaccine dose–that was more challenging.

Prather's team was able to phenotype a variety of aspects about the individuals before they actually received any COVID-19 vaccination.

"I'm hopeful that we'll learn something about sleep and circadian science as it's related to vaccination response," he said.

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