COVID Insomnia: Can COVID-19 Impact Your Sleep?
- Poor sleep quality has been linked to COVID-19, and those who have Long COVID have a high risk of developing COVID-related insomnia.
- COVID patients are most likely to lose sleep due to COVID-19, but people who have not been infected may also experience sleepless nights and anxiety disorders due to the pandemic.
- Disrupted sleep can seriously affect your quality of life, but there are many things you can do to help you get some rest while recovering from COVID-19.
- You can regulate your sleep cycle by building good sleep habits, scheduling time to worry, and speaking to friends, family, and professionals about what you’re going through.
- Sleep medicine may help, but it’s advisable to speak to your doctor before you start taking medication to sleep better.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that a third of adults in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep. This is concerning for several reasons.
Not getting enough sleep for prolonged periods of time can significantly increase the risk of developing conditions like hypertension, obesity, and depression.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, anxiety, depression, and insomnia rates all increased.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the link between insomnia and COVID-19. We’ll explain why people infected with COVID-19 are more prone to sleep problems, and what you can do if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Can COVID-19 Cause Insomnia?
Yes. COVID-19 can cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Insomnia is commonly associated with anxiety disorders, and the pandemic resulted in increased levels of anxiety across the world.
A systematic review or meta-analysis conducted in 2022 looked at data from 250 studies done across 49 countries and found that COVID-19 contributes to sleep disturbances both directly and indirectly.
The meta-analysis found, among other things, that:
- Patients with COVID-19 had the highest frequency of sleep disturbances due to symptoms associated with the disease, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
- Body pain and medications used to treat COVID-19 increase the risk of insomnia.
- Disruptions in the circadian rhythm (the 24-hour cycle that forms part of the body’s internal clock) caused by irregular sleep patterns, limited sunlight exposure, and more blue light led to increased sleep disturbances.
- Lack of social interaction and outdoor activities leads to increased anxiety, which contributes to loss of sleep.
Is Insomnia a Common Symptom of COVID-19?
While fatigue is listed under the common symptoms of COVID-19 on the CDC’s website, insomnia isn’t. However, research shows that insomnia is quite common among those who have Long COVID.
Long COVID or Post-COVID refers to the long-term or ongoing health issues that arise from the COVID-19 virus.
A study on sleep and COVID-19 recovery found that insomnia was a common occurrence among people recovering from the coronavirus.
In addition, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was common during the recovery period and the quality of life experienced by those in recovery — especially frontline workers — was severely affected.
You may have recovered from COVID-19, but some of the other problems still remain — the grief, financial stress, and the effects of lockdown restrictions. All these things cause anxiety that can keep you up at night.
Why Can’t I Sleep After COVID-19?
It can be incredibly frustrating to not be able to fall asleep during the post-COVID-19 recovery period when your body needs rest.
Here are some reasons why you may find it difficult to fall asleep after COVID-19:
Isolation and altered schedules
The pandemic’s lockdowns and movement restrictions resulted in increased social isolation and irregular schedules. Both of these things can affect sleep patterns.
Teens and young adults reported increased loneliness and symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of being cut off from their peers and loved ones.
In addition, keeping up with shifting restrictions and work schedules can disrupt the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which also affects sleep.
Stress, anxiety, or mental health issues
The pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health. Raised anxiety and stress levels around health, work, school, and finances contribute to sleepless nights.
Contracting COVID-19 and recovering from it can be a stressful experience — both physically and mentally. The higher your stress levels, the greater your chances of losing sleep.
Limited medical care and undiagnosed sleep disorders
Statistics from the CDC show that 40.9% of adults in the U.S. put off medical treatments due to fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Several sleep labs shut down operations during the pandemic. One study showed that 93.6% of all sleep labs stopped nearly all their sleep testing during this time, which means people with sleep disorders might not have received the help they needed.
Who is Most at Risk of Developing Coronasomnia?
The American Medical Association (AMA) defines coronasomnia as ‘the term used for sleep problems related to the pandemic.’
A recent study that examined the connection between sleep and COVID-19, found that patients with Long COVID experienced decreased light sleep and deep sleep time.
While further research is needed, it seems likely that anyone who’s at risk of developing Long COVID may also develop the sleep disturbances associated with it.
According to the CDC, people who have a higher risk of developing Long COVID include:
- Those who’ve had severe cases of COVID-19, especially those who required hospitalization.
- Those with comorbidities, including hypertension, heart failure, diabetes, and cancer.
- Those who are unvaccinated.
- Those who’ve developed MIS (multisystem inflammatory syndrome) after COVID-19. This is a rare condition that causes inflammation of the organs, like the heart, brain, skin, eyes, and lungs.
Long COVID and Sleep Disturbances: What’s the Connection?
Poor sleep quality is not uncommon after you’ve had COVID-19.
Findings suggest the reason why patients with COVID-19, as well as those who are still in the recovery phase, have sleep problems is because:
- They have decreased respiratory function and don’t get enough oxygen to regulate their sleep cycles.
- They experience an increased heart rate (HR) and a decreased hypoxic ventilatory response (HVR), which is a process that’s meant to happen when you don’t get enough oxygen).
What Are Some Other Symptoms of Long COVID?
Also called Post-COVID conditions (PCC), or COVID-19 brain fog, Long COVID is defined by the CDC as the long-term effects of a COVID-19 infection.
The symptoms associated with Long COVID can continue for months or longer, and they include:
- Extreme tiredness that impacts daily activities
- Chest and muscle pain
- Concentration difficulties
- Altered taste and smell
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea and stomach aches
- Skin rashes
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Symptoms that worsen after physical or mental tasks
The good news is that you can protect yourself and your loved ones from post-COVID conditions by getting vaccinated and staying up to date with your boosters.
What Sleep Disorders Are Linked to COVID-19?
While research on sleep disorders and COVID-19 is ongoing, people who have had COVID-19 can struggle with various sleep disturbances, including:
- Daytime sleepiness.
- Circadian rhythm sleep-wake cycle disorders (when your body’s internal clock doesn’t work properly and you don’t know when it’s time to wake up or sleep).
A meta-analysis of COVID-19 and psychological distress revealed that sleep disorders were more prevalent among healthcare workers and those infected with COVID-19, but that they could affect uninfected people, too. About 18% of the general population reported sleep disturbances due to pandemic-related stress.
How Long Does COVID Insomnia Last?
More research is needed on COVID-19 and its link to insomnia, but it is likely that sleep disorders related to COVID-19 will last as long as the person has the post-COVID-19 condition.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the symptoms of Long COVID can last between two to three months.
What Am I Doing to Make My Insomnia Worse?
There are certain habits and lifestyle factors that could be worsening your insomnia.
If you are struggling to get a good night’s rest after COVID-19, here are some things that may be decreasing your sleep quality:
- Consuming caffeine before bedtime.
- Drinking alcohol — it may help you drift off to sleep, but it can cause sleep disturbances during the night.
- Some medical conditions, like asthma, cancer, and heart disease.
- Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications.
- Stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Changes in sleep routines.
- Exercising just before bedtime.
- Bad sleep hygiene.
- Exposing yourself to blue light before bedtime (when you browse through your phone or use the computer).
- Consuming a large meal in the evening.
- Taking daytime naps.
The good news is that there are several things you can do to improve your sleep when you’re recovering from COVID-19.
What Can I Do to Sleep Better After COVID-19?
Sleep disorders can greatly affect your overall quality of life, and not getting the required amount of quality sleep may impact your recovery from COVID-19.
Whether you have chronic insomnia, or your sleepless nights are triggered by COVID-19, here are some things you can incorporate into your lifestyle or daily routine to ensure you get some rest:
Practice good sleep hygiene
‘Sleep hygiene’ simply refers to habits that help you get a better night’s sleep.
Some ways to practice good sleep hygiene include:
- Limiting caffeine and alcohol, especially close to bedtime.
- Having a schedule that doesn’t change, even on the weekends. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
- Not using electronic devices a few hours before going to sleep.
- Eating dinner earlier to avoid going to bed after a large meal.
- Ensuring that you stay active during the day.
- Ensuring that your room is dark and comfortable at night.
- Implementing a bedtime routine that relaxes you—this may include taking a warm shower, meditating, or reading a book before lights out.
Schedule “worry time”
Most people have experienced heightened levels of anxiety and stress during the pandemic.
Negative headlines, coupled with financial fears and worries about your and your loved ones’ health, can result in nightmares and other sleep disturbances.
Setting some time aside each day to acknowledge your fears and anxieties — whether it’s by writing them down in a journal or speaking to a friend — can prevent them from resurfacing when it’s time to go to sleep.
Don’t force yourself to sleep
If you can’t sleep at night, tossing and turning won’t help — trying to force your body to sleep may increase your feelings of frustration and anxiety.
Instead, get out of bed and engage in a calming activity — reading or meditation may help.
Talk to someone
Whether it’s a professional — like a psychologist — or a trusted family member, friend, or colleague, speaking about your fears and sleeping difficulties can help you deal with them.
By speaking to people, you may learn that others are struggling with similar problems and you might even pick up a few tips on how to improve your sleep habits.
Should I Be Taking Sleep Medicine for COVID-19 Insomnia?
Sleep medicine can cause residual effects that may decrease your quality of life.
Results from a study in the U.S. found that the residual effects of sleep medication — like drowsiness, concentration difficulties, and sluggishness — were experienced by four in every five study participants with insomnia.
Not everyone will experience the negative effects related to sleep medicine, but it’s always best to speak to your doctor before taking sleeping pills to alleviate COVID-19 insomnia.
When Should I See a Doctor for COVID Insomnia?
COVID insomnia can be frustrating to deal with, especially if you’re following good sleep hygiene and you’ve already tried the tips mentioned above.
If COVID insomnia is impacting your daily routine or affecting your ability to work, you should seek professional medical advice. A doctor or sleep specialist (somnologist) will be able to advise you on how to deal with sleep issues related to COVID-19.
Where Can I Learn More about Sleep Disorders?
Don’t wait until your coronasomnia affects your psychological or emotional health. If you’ve been struggling to sleep, LifeMD can help. Make an appointment today, and speak to a board-certified doctor or nurse practitioner from the comfort of your home.