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Sleep problems plague coronavirus long-haulers with many recovered patients reporting a continued struggle to sleep. Even those who had not contracted the virus, insomnia has become all too familiar. From isolation, confinement, stress and worry; a major toll on one’s sleep is evident. In fact, a report from the National Institutes of Health highlighted that even early in the pandemic a “very high rate of clinically significant insomnia was present”.
People who already suffer with sleep problems even before the pandemic have experienced a worsening of symptoms, and those who were ‘good’ sleepers have now started to experience insomnia.
Sleep doctors have now dubbed the sleep problems caused by COVID-19 as Covid-somnia or coronasomnia which describes the variety of sleep disorders, not just in patients but in the whole population.
Most viral infections are known to cause fatigue and drowsiness with coronavirus being no different.
The virus affects one’s nervous system from the olfactory and facial nerves, causing loss of smell and taste, through to the long Covid legacy symptoms of headaches and brain fog.
It is therefore plausible that COVID-19 has a long-lasting impact on a person’s brain and sleep patterns.
There are lots of symptoms you can have even after a coronavirus infection.
The NHS lists the common long Covid symptoms which include:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
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Tina Mori, a matron in a new-born unit, says she used to feel fine on five or six hours’ sleep a night however Covid sent her sleep “all over the place”.
In a diary for BBC News Tina wrote: “Last night I had a really rough night, not sleeping and desperate to sleep.
“I’m sleeping for very short periods now and struggling to get back to sleep and it’s like a continuous cycle.”
Dr Paul Whitaker, who runs a long Covid clinic said that patients with long-term symptoms may have difficulty sleeping or on the other hand they may sleep excessively (up to 17 hours a day) because they are plagued with such fatigue.
“Or it can be a combination of both problems – they sleep during the day and therefore have problems sleeping at night,” he added.
Half of patients recovering from COVID-19 reported difficulty sleeping and insomnia as one of the lingering symptoms in a survey of more than 1,500 people in the Survivor Corp Facebook group, a resource those who have had Covid which has more than 100,000 members.
Dr Meir Kryger, a sleep researcher and professor at the Yale School of Medicine has seen patients with several types of “really significant” long-hauler symptoms related to sleep.
Most survivors were never sick enough with COVID-19 to be hospitalised, but still struggle with long-term psychological and physiological issues.
“Some develop severe insomnia, a fear of falling asleep because they think something horrible is going to happen to them,” he said.
Tips to help improve your sleep problems by sleep experts include:
- Keep a normal daily routine
- Create and keep a going-to-bed routine
- Avoid screens in the bedroom
- Don’t use your bedroom, and especially your bed, as your office
- Get some exercise during the day
- Don’t take naps
- Get some sunlight
- Don’t eat dinner late
- If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, get out of bed
- Cut back on news and social media, especially in the evening
- Reduce your alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Be careful with sleep medication
- Try learning to meditate with one of the many apps available
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