With Fauci Ouchies taking over your feed, it's hard not to feel left out when you're still trying to schedule a coveted time slot at CVS, or Walgreens, or the nearest convention center. After all, getting your COVID-19 vaccine is your golden ticket to the dream that is normal life, right? You can finally go to the movies, hug your grandparents, and take that much-needed vacation — everything that is on the bucket list.
Not so fast.
Not only does it take a couple of weeks for your immune system to build protection after you’re fully vaccinated, but people also report fatigue-inducing side effects for a couple days after they receive their shot. It's important to take rest seriously before and after your vaccine to give your immune system the chance to let your antibodies kick into gear.
“The side effects are primarily immune related — it’s your body reacting to the spike proteins of the virus it’s being taught how to make, and that can give you the same kind of side effects that having a mild case of the flu or other viral infection would do,” says Jason Gallagher, clinical professor at Temple University’s School of Pharmacy and clinical pharmacy specialist in infectious diseases at Temple University Hospital.
So just how long should you expect to be out of commission and how easy should you be taking it? While there’s no cut-and-dry answer, this is the advice experts offer for taking a rest period after your COVID-19 vaccine(s).
How Long to Rest After Your COVID-19 Vaccine Shot and Why It Matters
Put your COVID-19 vaccine date (or dates) on your calendar, then mark off two days before and two days after. That’s your COVID-19 vaccine rest period.
Before the jab, there’s no need to make major changes other than sticking to good sleep hygiene and a bedtime routine. The sleep quality you get prior to your appointment could affect the way your immune system creates antibodies in response to the vaccine.
Traditional vaccines introduce your immune system to a virus or bacteria so it can develop antibodies against them. This is the technique used to develop CoronaVac, a COVID-19 vaccine from China that’s used in many countries, but not the United States. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines operate slightly differently by using messenger RNA (mRNA), which teaches your body to create the proteins to activate your immune system, as Gallagher explained.
Previous research around other vaccines, like the flu shot and hepatitis B vaccine, has shown that people who don’t sleep less around the time of their shot developed fewer antibodies, which could theoretically lower their resistance. While more research is needed to see if this effect is true for the COVID-19 vaccine, experts do say it’s worth getting solid sleep before your vaccine.
“If you really want to get the best out of a COVID vaccination, it’d be important for you to get sufficient sleep in the nights leading up to your vaccine and post vaccination to ensure you’re mounting a good response,” says Dr. Vikas Jain, sleep medicine specialist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney and advisor to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Jain advises at least seven hours of sleep each night. This amount should also provide about 90 minutes of much-needed REM sleep.
Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine (and When to Expect Them)
Got extra paid time off saved up from a year stuck at home? Consider putting your PTO to use in the day or two after getting your COVID-19 vaccine, or try to score an appointment just before the weekend. These days off will be primarily useful after your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or the first shot of Johnson & Johnson.
The two days after your shot are when you are most likely to experience common side effects like:
- pain, redness, and swelling where you got the shot (usually the muscle just below your shoulder)
- muscle aches
For these symptoms, you'll want to care for yourself the way you do when going through a flu or cold. Put on your comfy pajamas and fluff your pillows. Keep fluids near by and remember to wash your sheets, if your fever and chills causes you to sweat through them. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends putting a cool compress on the sore spot and exercising your arm to reduce discomfort in the area.
As for medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, or antihistamines, you'll want ask your doctor first. The CDC recommends avoiding them before your vaccination, but note that it's OK after, as long as you don't have medical reasons not to.
There’s no guaranteed reaction to the vaccine, so don’t sweat it if you can’t step away from work the next day — some people feel just fine! But age and gender are factors associated with experiencing side effects, says Dr. Saralyn Mark, an endocrinologist, geriatrician, and women’s health specialist, who serves as the COVID-19 lead for the American Medical Women’s Association.
“Everybody has an individual response. The studies on both the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the mRNA vaccines [from Pfizer and Moderna] define more significant side effects in younger individuals and women,” Mark explains.
Which vaccine dose you get may also determine your rest period. While the differences between side effects of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines aren’t huge, more people tend to experience symptoms like fatigue, headaches, joint pain, and chills after the second dose than the first. They also tend to be worse among people under age 56 who receive the Pfizer vaccine and under age 66 for the Moderna vaccine. According to the AARP, researchers suspect that the lesser reaction in order adults is due to a decline in immune response that happens as people age.
Regardless of your post-vaccination symptoms, it’s worth your putting aside extra time for rest and self-care, on top of the quality sleep you’re already planning to get over the course of your vaccine rest period.
A Note on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Since April 13, federal health agencies have paused the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six women between 18 and 48 years old experienced very rare blood clots within one to three weeks of their shot.
If you recently received this vaccine, you’ll want to monitor yourself for potential signs of this rare disorder, such as leg pain, severe headache, abdominal pain, or shortness of breath, for three weeks after the shot. Those are issues you’ll want to talk with your doctor about right away.
With that being said, the blood clot disorder is extremely rare, and once healthcare professionals have a better understanding of the connection and how to treat it, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may become available again. In that case, the most common side effects to watch out for include injection site pain, headache, fatigue, and body and muscle aches, although they tend to be less common in people age 60 and up.
How Long Do the Side Effects Last?
For all COVID-19 vaccines, side effects tend to go away a few days after the shot, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You’ll want to call your doctor if the side effects seem to be severe, last longer than a few days, if your fever spikes, or if redness or swelling in the injection spot worsen after 24 hours. But chances are, you’ll be feeling pretty good in about 48 hours.
That's not a free pass to throw COVID-19 precautions out the window, though. You’re not fully protected until two weeks after you’ve received your final dose of the vaccine (whether that’s the single Johnson & Johnson shot, or the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines).
“It’s important to maintain public health measures like wearing your mask, social distancing, and hand hygiene,” says Mark. “This is a time that you’re giving your body a challenge, so try to be conscious of what you can do to help your immune system, through good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and limiting alcohol.”
The Big Relief: You Might Sleep Better After Getting Your Vaccine
Not all COVID-19 side effects will leave you feeling lousy, though. Many people say they felt deep relief after getting their shot, which can help you rest easy when your body needs it most.
“A few days after I got my vaccine, I actually slept 10 hours. I haven’t done that in years,” says Mark. “It was the relief of having another level of protection. Relief can have a tremendous impact on your sleep if you’re less stressed about [contracting] COVID and getting seriously ill.”
Mark’s story rang true for me. After I got my first Pfizer shot a few weeks ago, I felt high on life while resting on the couch the following day. A friend texted me and asked how I was doing. “Pretty good,” I responded. “My reactions have been sore arm, tiredness, and an extreme sense of optimism.”
The first two side effects went away after a day, but the third effect of optimism? Well, that one persists — along with better sleep than I’ve gotten all year long.
Need help with your sleep schedule? Follow these sleep hygiene tips for optimal rest. And try to get ready for bed around 8 p.m. — experts say the window before midnight is the best bedtime for feeling well-rested in the morning.
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