JERSEY CITY, NJ - Do people with healthier sleep habits have a better chance of avoiding the flu? This is very likely, said Dr. Jyoti Matta, a pulmonologist and director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Jersey City Medical Center — and that even includes people who have gotten a flu shot.

A recent CNN report, citing studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association and the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, suggested that consistent, healthy sleep can contribute to increased efficacy of the influenza vaccine. Dr. Matta is not surprised. 

“The efficacy of the flu shot is not 100 percent,” said Dr. Matta, a board-certified sleep specialist who treats disorders that include insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome. “If 100 people get the shot, perhaps 30 or 40 might still get the flu. With any medicine or vaccine, we try to improve the effectiveness of the product. And one of those parameters for patients is to optimize their sleep.”

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Dr. Matta explains that increased levels of cortisol as well as melatonin, a hormone manufactured by the body to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, can increase inflammatory response in people who do not get enough sleep. This inflammation may interfere with the antibodies and immune response produced by the flu vaccination. 

“This is a problem we often see with college students, as well as nurses and other shift workers,” said Dr. Matta. “And it’s even more prevalent now, due to the anxiety and uncertainty we are all facing, as well as the increased prevalence of remote working and home-schooling.” In addition to unhealthy sleep habits contributing to a less effective flu shot, she said, poor sleep hygiene may also increase an unvaccinated patient’s susceptibility to the flu and other infections.

Dr. Matta offers several suggestions to improve long-term sleep hygiene: 

  • Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night and have a fixed daily schedule for bedtime and waking.
  • Reserve bedrooms for sleeping — avoid screen-time activities such as watching television and using phones and tablets.
  • Shift workers who must sleep during the day should try to minimize disruptions and use masks or blackout curtains to ensure the optimum amount of uninterrupted sleep.
  • Those who are experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, or other signs of a possible sleep disorder, should consult a physician. 

“Our already hectic personal and professional lives, combined with the added stressors many of us are presently experiencing, can make it difficult to maintain proper sleep hygiene,” Dr. Matta said, “but the health benefits are well worth the effort. And of course, I encourage everyone to make sure they and their family members get their flu shots every year.”