Aric Prather, PhD: Sleep and Susceptibility to Infectious Disease, COVID-19

June 6, 2022
Giuliana Grossi

Sleep expert Aric Prather, PhD, presented a discussion at SLEEP 2022 that focused on how the immune system and sleep are related to the "ongoing and protracted" impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aric Prather, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Interim Director, UCSF Center for Health and Community University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) led a presentation this weekend at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (SLEEP) 2022 Annual Meeting.

His discussion "Sleep in the Time of COVID: An Update on How Sleep Affects the Immune System" focused on how the immune system and sleep are related to the "ongoing and protracted" impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There are a lot of insights from what we know from human and animal studies that sleep is really important and impacts the immune system potentially making people vulnerable, to both, becoming infected if exposed," he said, "and then with relationship to the rollout of vaccination, how sleep may play a role in how people respond to those."

Prather explained that the onset of the pandemic has affected how people sleep in a variety of ways, with impacts being both positive and negative. There have been important empirical studies indicating that when people don't get enough sleep they can be more susceptible to infections.

Prather was part of a team that conducted an investigation evaluating the relationship between sleep and exposure to rhinovirus. While everyone was exposed to the virus, not everyone became infected and of that subgroup, only a portion of inidivduals developed a clinically verified cold, he said.

The results demonstrated that those who got 6 hours of sleep or less on average per night were about 4 times more likely to become sick compared with those who slept for 7 hours or more per night.

"This is really important when we think about the COVID-19 pandemic, because we were controlling exposure [in the study]," Prather said.

While exposure is less controllable in the real-world, he explained that the evidence has been pretty clear, in his study and among others, that "when people don't get sufficient amounts of sleep, they're just more susceptible."

In the following segments of his interview, Prather discusses how vaccine efficacy may be impacted by sleep behavior around the time of vaccination.


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