Should you rest after getting a COVID vaccine? Absolutely — and that’s true for before your shots too, whether it’s your first dose or the new booster. Put your COVID-19 vaccine date (or dates) on your calendar, then mark off two days before and two days after to get at least seven hours of sleep. That’s your COVID-19 vaccine rest period. These days off will be primarily useful after your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, the first shot of Johnson & Johnson, and even your booster shot.
Not only does adequate sleep give your immune system the chance to let your antibodies kick into gear, prioritizing rest can also help with those fatigue-inducing side effects that may happen the day after you get your shot. And no, experiencing the common, mild side effects of the shot don’t mean that the COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous.
“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.
And since there’s a lot of misinformation floating around the internet these days, let’s debunk some other common COVID-19 vaccine myths:
- You should still get the shot, even if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past. Research shows you may face more than double the risk of reinfection if you’re not vaccinated.
- These shots don’t cause infertility or miscarriage, and they are safe during pregnancy.
- Getting the vaccine doesn’t mean you can stop wearing your mask or following other safety measures — breakthrough infections are rare, but they can happen, so it’s important to continue protecting yourself and those around you.
Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s get into the details about COVID-19 vaccine and sleep: Just how much prep do you need to do before your COVID-19 vaccines or booster shot and what side effects should you look out for? There’s no cut-and-dry answer, but that’s also why experts advise prioritizing rest.
How does sleep before your COVID-19 vaccine help?
Before the jab, there’s no need to make major lifestyle changes other than practicing 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 vaccines.
If you need a sleep recommendation, Dr. Vikas Jain, sleep medicine specialist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney and advisor to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises aiming for at least seven hours. This amount should also help you get through your sleep stages and support your immune system.
“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 Jain.
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.
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.
What about the COVID-19 booster shot and sleep?
“While we don’t have enough data right now to make determinations on exactly how much sleep you need, it’s safe to assume we treat the booster similar to how we treated the last dose,” says Stephanie Griggs, PhD, RN, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.
Griggs, who researches sleep, also recommends trying to get adequate rest at least two days before and two days after your booster shot to help build a robust immune response.
“It’s going to assure us that we’re not stressing our bodies and that we’re able to retain those antibodies as we go forward,” she says. “Unless you’re really sleep deprived, it’s fine to get your booster shot on schedule.”
What side effects should I monitor after I get the vaccine?
For your first and second vaccination: 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 your booster shot: Early research on thousands of people who’ve received a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine shows that the booster tends to come with similar side effects to the second dose, such as:
- soreness and/or redness at the injection site
- muscle aches
Don’t fret if taking time off is not doable after your booster shot. Fewer than a third of people who received a third dose were unable to go about their normal business the next day, so it’s unlikely you’ll be totally out of commission. Just try to get solid sleep (that’s 7 to 9 hours for most people) and treat your body with care after your booster.
Managing vaccination side effects
If you do experience 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 Centers 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.
Who is more likely to experience side effects?
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.
However, for all COVID-19 vaccines, side effects tend to go away a few days after the shot, per the CDC. 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.
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.
“Sleep is so important for regenerative purposes. We have to give our bodies a chance to recover and reenergize, and by getting rest, by de-stressing, by focusing on self-care, you allow your body to do that,” says Mark.
A note on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Those are issues you’ll want to talk with your doctor about right away.
Federal health agencies briefly halted the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine last spring due to reports that a handful of women who received the shot experienced very rare blood clots. But a thorough review of data underscored the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness in late April, and the vaccine is now available once again.
As a one-dose shot (as of publication of this article, although be aware that a booster may be on its way), it can be an option worth considering if your schedule doesn’t allow for multiple vaccine appointments, or your doctor has advised against one of the mRNA vaccines for specific reasons (like if you have an allergy to a certain ingredient).
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine now comes with a warning about the blood clot risk. It’s considered extremely rare, occurring in about 7 in every 1 million vaccinated women between age 18 and 49 (and it’s even less common for older women, and men of all ages).
In general, the most common side effects to expect from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine include injection site pain, headache, fatigue, and body and muscle aches, although they tend to be less common in people age 60 and up. And those don’t necessarily mean you’re having a serious reaction — just that your immune system is responding to the shot.
Still, it’s a good idea to monitor yourself for potential signs of this rare disorder for three weeks after the shot, such as:
- leg pain
- severe headache
- abdominal pain
- shortness of breath
Safety precautions after your COVID-19 vaccine and/or booster
The COVID-19 booster helps strengthen your immune response to the virus (unfortunately, that response can decline over time). But don’t think of it as a license to stop wearing masks, social distancing, and following other guidelines.
With your first shot, 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 vaccines are designed to keep you out of the hospital and prevent death. The challenge is whether they prevent infection and transmission, and the data is still coming in, so it’s really important to maintain other public health measures,” says Mark.
The vaccine and booster significantly lower your risk of a severe infection, but others — such as children who are too young to receive a shot and people who have weakened immune systems — are still extremely vulnerable to the virus.
Regardless of your vaccination status, masking up and taking other safety precautions, like washing your hands frequently, continue to play an important role in keeping the community at large safe.
The big relief: you might be getting better sleep after the 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 in April, 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.