Though the coronavirus pandemic seemed to be tapering off just a few short months ago, the rise in the Omicron variant has led to millions of infections in the United States each week. If you or someone you know has had or currently has COVID-19, you’re probably aware of the many and varied symptoms. Most likely, you know that the symptoms of the disease can make it difficult to sleep. In this article, I’ll discuss how COVID-19 can affect your sleep, and discuss some ways you can sleep better with the disease.
Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.
COVID Sleep Issues
Like all illnesses, one of the best ways you can help your body recover from COVID-19 is to get proper sleep, which is 7-8 hours for adults and about 10 for kids and teens. However, many find that the disease makes it difficult to fall asleep or impairs their ability to sleep through the night.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), there are a few reasons that COVID-19 can make sleeping hard:
- Coughing, difficulty breathing, and fever
- Sleeping too much during the day, which makes it harder to fall asleep at night
- Not enough natural light, which reduces melatonin production
- COVID-19 medications
- Being in a hospital (unfamiliar environment/loud noises)
All of these factors can impact your ability to sleep, and at times more than one factor can be in play, making getting proper rest even more of a challenge.
What is Coronasomnia?
The stress of the pandemic has given rise to a phenomenon known as coronasomnia, or the inability to sleep related to the stress of the ongoing pandemic. According to UC Davis Health professor Angela Drake, who treats sleep disorders, there’s been a marked rise in insomnia since the start of the pandemic. Some of the causes for coronasomnia include:
- Heightened stress levels
- Increased rates of depression
- More fear surrounding the pandemic
- Upended routines (particularly for parents of young children)
- Working from home
- Ever-changing restrictions on travel, dining, and leisure activities
Coronasomnia is about more than just the virus; it also relates to all the changes surrounding the pandemic and how it’s managed. And as the coronavirus pandemic continues without a clear end in sight, many are continuing to struggle with this unique form of insomnia.
How Poor Sleep Affects Your Health
Unfortunately, getting poor sleep as a result of COVID-19 or coronasomnia is a vicious cycle, in which you’re slower to recover the less rest you get. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a number of health problems, as sleep is the body’s rest and recovery period. One of the most important parts of the body that relies on adequate sleep is the immune system; studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep have lowered immunity. We need sleep to get well, and to get well we need to sleep — this highlights the cyclic nature of sleep problems related to COVID-19.
Our immune system isn’t the only thing that suffers from a lack of rest. Other bodily processes that rely on sleep include muscle recovery, cognitive function, and metabolism. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The Best Way to Sleep with COVID-19
Though both COVID-19 and coronasomnia can make it difficult to get proper rest, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to help yourself get better sleep. Take a look at some of the practices I recommend below.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. You do this by keeping good habits, like going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, keeping the bedroom for sleep and sex only, ensuring you’re not using screens right before bed, and avoiding caffeine or alcohol at least two hours before bed.
- Try a humidifier. The moist air will help loosen congestion, making breathing easier.
- Decompress and destress before bed. To avoid spending too much time worrying about your health or the pandemic in general, try to do something you find relaxing, like listening to music or reading a book.
- Try and get some sunlight. If possible, spend some time outside, as the natural light helps keep our circadian rhythms running smoothly. If you can’t go outside, consider purchasing a sun lamp, which mimics natural light.
- Avoid large meals right before bed. It will be harder to fall asleep if your body is still digesting food.
Trying one or all of these methods is likely to help you fall asleep. However, it is important to know when to seek treatment. According to Dr. Rachel Manber, director of the Stanford Sleep Health and Insomnia Program (SHIP), you should consult a medical professional when sleep disturbances become chronic. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can be treated with various methods, including behavioral therapy.
The Best Position to Sleep in with COVID-19
Depending on the type of symptoms you have, you may want to consider sleeping differently while you have COVID-19. According to critical care physician Dr. Brain Boer, If your breathing is not being affected, it will not matter which position you sleep in. However, if you are struggling to breathe, doctors recommend sleeping on your stomach. This position will help open up your lungs, and prevent lung injury by reducing pressure on them.
Since stomach sleeping is the least common sleeping position, many might struggle when shifting. To make stomach sleeping more comfortable, try putting a pillow underneath your hips, which should help keep your spine in a straighter line. You’ll also want to use a flat or horseshoe shaped pillow, to prevent backward neck craning. Change to a side position as needed to prevent soreness. Finally, sleepers with acid reflux, nausea, or pelvic/back pain should consult their doctors before switching to this position.
How to Sleep After the COVID Vaccine
If you choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine, you may experience some side effects. This is nothing to be too alarmed about, since according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), all vaccines can have side effects, as they stimulate your body’s immune response. With the COVID vaccine, you might experience soreness at the injection site, muscle pain, nausea, and fatigue.
According to Cornell Medicine, there are a few things you can do to reduce these side effects:
- Put a cool washcloth over your injection site to reduce pain and swelling. Exercising the arm you were jabbed will also help.
- Try over the counter pain medicine like Tylenol or Advil to reduce aches and soreness.
- Drink enough water. Staying hydrated is essential when you’re not feeling well.
- Sleep when you feel fatigued. Getting proper rest will help you recover faster.
Final Word from Mattress Clarity
Getting proper rest during a global pandemic is no easy task. If you’re not suffering from the disease itself, worrying about it can also make sleeping difficult. However, the tools presented here, like practicing proper sleep hygiene, getting enough sunlight, and ensuring good and timely nutrition, can help you get better rest. Remember, this information should not be taken as medical advice, but rather general tools to improve your sleep health. Please consult your doctor for questions about your personal health.
Sleeping with COVID FAQs
Does COVID make you sleep a lot?
It depends! Fatigue is a common symptom of COVID-19, so many might find themselves sleeping quite a bit more when they have the illness. However, others might find COVID makes it difficult for them to sleep, so it really comes down to the individual.
Is not being able to sleep a sign of COVID?
Not necessarily. There’s a host of other factors that could be contributing to an inability to sleep. If your inability to sleep is paired with other symptoms, like a stuffy nose and coughing, consider getting tested for COVID.
Does COVID affect sleep?
Yes, COVID can affect your sleep. Respiratory symptoms can make it more difficult to sleep. On the other hand, COVID can also make you fatigued and sleep more. You might find yourself sleeping more at times and less at others, depending on your symptoms.
If we both have COVID, can we sleep together?
Currently, there is no official advice from the CDC on sleeping together when partners are positive for COVID-19. If you and your partner are able to isolate at the same time and each complete your recommended quarantine timelines, it can be ok to sleep together. However, something to keep in mind is the severity of your symptoms. Though information is limited at this time, it could be possible that they could make you sicker.
Is it normal to have insomnia after having COVID-19?
Currently, insomnia is not on the CDC’s list of common COVID-19 symptoms. Though it is possible to develop COVID-related insomnia, researchers have found coronasomnia, or pandemic-related stress (unrelated to having the disease itself), is far more common.