During the early phases of the pandemic, and especially during lockdowns and stay at home, many people reported sleep disturbances and their sleep patterns. With the number of COVID infections on the rise, we are again seeing reports of people having trouble sleeping during and after a COVID infection.
Some people report insomnia symptoms, where they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, commonly referred to as “coronasomnia” or “COVID insomnia.” Others report feeling constantly fatigued and seemingly unable to get enough sleep, which is sometimes referred to as “long COVID”.
So why is our sleep affected by COVID infections, and why do the effects differ so much between individuals?
Sleep and Immunity
When our body is infected with a virus, it triggers an immune or inflammatory response. As part of this response, our cells produce proteins such as cytokines to help fight the infection. Some of these cytokines are also involved in promoting sleep and are known as “sleep regulating substances† In this way, when there are more of these cytokines in our body, it tends to make us sleepier.
It gets a little more complicated, though, because like many things, sleep and immunity are bi-directional. This means that sleep, especially poor sleep, can affect immune function and immune function can affect sleep. During sleep, especially during the non-rapid eye movement phase, slow wave sleep (a deep sleep phase), there is a increase in the production of some cytokines† As such, sleep boosts the immune response, which can increase our chance of survival from the infection.
Sleep and COVID
While we are still learning about the specific effects of COVID on sleep, we do know what happens to sleep in other viral infections.
a study who looked at rhinovirus infections or the “cold” in healthy adults found that individuals who are symptomatic had shorter sleep duration, less consolidated sleep, and poorer cognitive performance than asymptomatic individuals.
another study that looked at people with respiratory infections showed that, while symptomatic, people spent more time in bed and had more sleep, but woke up more during sleep. People also reported more difficulty falling asleep, poorer sleep quality, more restless sleep, and more “lighter” sleep.
A more recent study found that patients with COVID reported more sleep problems than patients without COVID.
COVID insomnia and long COVID
While the changes in sleep with viral infections like COVID are likely due to our body’s immune response, it’s possible that the sleep disorders, such as fragmented sleep and frequent waking, can lead to poor sleep habits, such as using phones or electronic devices. devices at night.
Poorer sleep can also cause some people to take more frequent naps during the day, which can further affect sleep. And taking longer to fall asleep, or waking up during the night and having trouble falling back asleep, can lead to frustrations about not being able to sleep.
All of these factors, alone or in combination, can lead to the insomnia symptoms that people with COVID experience. In the short term, these insomnia symptoms aren’t really a big deal. However, if poor sleep habits persist, it can lead to: chronic insomnia†
On the other hand, there are people who experience COVID for a long time, where they are constantly fatigued, even though they may be getting enough sleep after their COVID infection is over. Unfortunately, more research is needed to determine why some people experience persistent fatigue after viral infections, but it could be due to an excessive immune response.
Factors such as: genetics, other health problems and mood disorders such as anxiety are the likely culprits why some people experience “COVID insomnia”, while others are more likely to develop “prolonged COVID”. Much more research is needed to fully understand the causes of poorer sleep with COVID.
How to deal with sleep disruptions caused by COVID
During the acute phase of infections it is important to accept that we may experience some sleep disturbances. Try not to get too frustrated with sleeping poorly or taking longer to fall asleep.
When you start to feel better, try to go back to your normal, pre-COVID, sleep-wake pattern and avoid naps during the day, or at least too many naps during the day. Try to avoid looking at the clock when you are in bed and go to bed when you feel sleepy. Reduce light exposure at night and try to get some bright light in the morning, preferably outdoors. This will help you get back to a normal routine more quickly.
For more tips on how to improve sleep and prevent chronic insomnia, read Sleep Health Foundation has a number of resources dedicated specifically to COVID and sleep. If you still have insomnia or excessive sleepiness after a COVID infection, especially if it’s been a few months, it’s always good to see your GP, who can give you more specific advice and determine if more testing is needed to be.
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