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Insomnia, COVID-19, and other sleep disorders: What you need to know

Published July 22nd, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our lives as it helps us to recharge and prepares us for the next day.

However, sleep may be a struggle for you as millions of people suffer from sleep disorders in the United States.

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders, and it can be caused by a variety of factors including stress, anxiety, medical conditions, and we are starting to discover how viruses like COVID-19 may be a factor too.

In this article, we will discuss the symptoms and treatment options for insomnia as well as how COVID-19 can cause other sleep disorders.

We will also pass along tips to help you prevent insomnia in the future no matter what may be causing it.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder where you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

If you have insomnia you may feel tired during the day and have trouble concentrating among many other symptoms that we will discuss below.

You may also suffer from acute insomnia, also called short-term insomnia, or chronic insomnia, also called long-term insomnia.

Acute insomnia usually lasts for a few days or weeks and is often caused by stressors like exams, job interviews, or major life changes.

Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, lasts for a month or more and can be caused by underlying health conditions, medications, or mental health disorders among many other factors.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

The most common symptom of insomnia is difficulty falling asleep.

You may also find it difficult to stay asleep or you may wake up too early in the morning and be unable to fall back asleep. Insomnia can also cause other symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Depression
  • Becoming more error prone
  • Higher risk of falling down

If you have these symptoms and think you may have insomnia, it is best to seek out professional help from your doctor or health care provider as there are many ways to treat the disorder.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified in 2019 causing the COVID-19 pandemic and it is similar to SARS-CoV, the viral infection that caused the 2002-2004 SARS pandemic.

COVID-19, also called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‑CoV‑2), is a respiratory illness that can cause severe symptoms and lead to pneumonia and even death in some cases.

The COVID-19 virus is spread through person-to-person contact with respiratory secretions such as saliva or mucus from an infected person.

It can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs, door handles, or countertops, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Covid-19 symptoms are very similar to the common cold but are usually more severe.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 infection include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

In some cases, if you have COVID-19 you may also experience more severe symptoms like:

  • Confusion
  • Severe respiratory distress that can cause pain in your chest and difficulty breathing
  • Being unable to get up or stay awake
  • Gray, pale, or blue lips, skin, or underneath your nails

These symptoms can range from mild symptoms to severe symptoms and they may come on suddenly or develop over time.

If you have any of these severe symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention right away as COVID-19 can be a very severe illness and even death.

What is long-haul COVID-19?

Long-haul COVID-19 is a term used to describe the persistent symptoms that you may experience after you have recovered from the virus but still experience long-term effects.

It can also go by a variety of different names including long COVID or post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).

If you suffer from the effects of COVID-19 after recovering from the initial infection you may be called a "long-hauler" and have mental and physical symptoms that can last for weeks or months after infection.

These symptoms can be very debilitating and are variable from person to person.

They also include most of the listed symptoms for COVID-19 above, however, the long-term symptoms may also include:

  • Brain fog
  • Chest pain
  • Joint pain
  • Insomnia or other sleep issues
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stomach pain
  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Lung issues
  • Heart inflammation (myocarditis)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Seizures
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hair loss
  • Skin rashes that are known as COVID rash

There is still a lot unknown about long-haul COVID-19 and how to treat it, however, there are some promising treatments that are being looked into.

If you think you may be a COVID-19 long-hauler with ongoing symptoms it is important to let your doctor know what symptoms have persisted or if you have new symptoms.

Does COVID-19 cause insomnia?

It is not known for sure if COVID-19 causes insomnia, however, there are many risk factors that can contribute to poor sleep quality and the development of insomnia including several mental health conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety.

The effects of long-haul COVID-19 can also cause symptoms like brain fog and difficulty concentrating which can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

There have been a couple of words coined that relate the two and they are "coronasomnia" or "COVID-somnia" although more research is needed to come to a firm conclusion about whether insomnia is a symptom of COVID-19.

How long can insomnia last with COVID-19?

There is no definitive answer to how long insomnia can last with COVID-19 as it varies from person to person which means you may only experience a short period of time where you have difficulty sleeping while others may have chronic insomnia that lasts for months or longer.

If you are struggling with insomnia it is important to seek help from a medical professional as there are many treatments that can help.

What other sleep disorders are caused by COVID-19?

There are other sleep disorders that can be caused by COVID-19, however, they are not as well understood as insomnia. These other sleep disorders include:

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder where your breathing is interrupted during sleep and can cause severe sleep disturbances.

It is a potentially serious condition that can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Delayed sleep schedule

A delayed sleep schedule is a condition where your body's natural sleep rhythm (circadian rhythm) is delayed and you have difficulty falling asleep at night and staying awake during the day which can also be caused by jet lag or shift work among other causes.

Hypersomnia

Hypersomnia is a condition where you sleep too much during the day and it can be caused by a variety of different things including medications, psychiatric disorders, and sleep disorders.

Night terrors

Night terrors are a type of sleep disorder where you experience fear, anxiety, or terror during sleep which can wake you up and make it difficult to fall back asleep.

As with insomnia, more research is needed to understand whether these other sleep disorders are caused by COVID-19 and how to treat them.

How do you treat insomnia?

There are many different ways to treat insomnia and the best way to find what works for you is to talk to your doctor. Some common treatments for insomnia include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I is a type of therapy that helps you change the thoughts and behaviors that are keeping you from sleeping. It is considered to be one of the most effective treatments for insomnia.

Medications

There are many different types of medications that can be used to treat insomnia including over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, and natural supplements such as melatonin.

Light therapy

Light therapy is a treatment where you are exposed to bright light for a short period of time which can help reset your body's natural sleep cycle.

Before starting any prescription or over-the-counter medication or supplement always consult with your doctor first.

Are there ways to prevent insomnia?

Yes, there are many things you can do to help prevent insomnia including:

  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule including on weekends
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
  • Creating a calm and relaxing sleep environment and a daily routine to help you relax before bed
  • Limiting screen time before bed

If you are struggling with insomnia or any other sleep disorder it is important to seek help from your doctor as there are many effective treatments that can help.

Summary

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can be caused by a variety of different things.

COVID-19 is one potential cause of insomnia, however, more research is needed to understand the connection between the two.

Your insomnia can last for a short period of time or it can be chronic and last for months or longer which may happen if you are a COVID-19 long-hauler.

There are many different ways to treat insomnia which we list above and it is up to your doctor to determine the best one for a better quality of life for you.

If you have any more questions about COVID-19, insomnia, or if insomnia is a symptom of COVID-19, please consult with your doctor or health care provider.

References and sources:

Mayo Clinic

CDC

Cleveland Clinic

Sleepstation

Everyday Health

Michigan Medicine

Sleep Foundation

WebMD

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