Sleep disorders such as insomnia are commonplace. However, the number of people reporting sleep quality issues has grown significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Insomnia can be short-lived or chronic. It also affects people differently. Some symptoms of insomnia are:
- inability to fall or stay asleep
- fatigue or irritability during the day
- waking up too early
If you’re wondering if COVID-19 can cause insomnia, read on. In this article, we’ll discuss the theories and data behind the increase in sleep disorders and their possible link to COVID-19.
It’s not your imagination. The bleary-eyed faces greeting you on Zoom or in person are a tell-tale sign that many people aren’t sleeping well these days. You may be wondering, is insomnia a symptom of COVID?
Sleep problems were most likely in:
- children and adolescents
- university students
- healthcare workers, especially nurses
- people with special healthcare needs, such as pregnant people, older adults, or people with chronic conditions
The study also cited insomnia as the most common sleep problem. It accounted for
While COVID-19 and sleep disorders often go together, experts are still trying to figure out what links them. Possible causes and connections include:
Stress and worry
Worry and anxiety certainly seem to play a role in rising insomnia rates. Concerns about getting sick, or of a loved one getting sick, have become constant for many people. Worries about finances, employment, and other pandemic-related issues have also been widespread.
According to the World Health Organization, stress and anxiety levels skyrocketed by
Sticking to a solid sleep routine is a good way to improve sleep quality. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the day-to-day routines of many, if not most, people. Working from home, having children home from school, or losing a job are disruptors that can skew sleep habits, causing insomnia and poor sleep quality.
For some people, a side effect of routine disruption is isolation. This can add to the emotional distress caused by COVID-19 and make sleep pattern problems even worse.
Spending the entire day in bed while sick can make it harder to fall asleep and wake up at the appropriate times.
Long COVID is also called post-COVID syndrome, long hauler COVID, and other names. This is when you have new, returning, or ongoing symptoms for weeks, months, or years after recovering from COVID. According to the
A 2022 study looked at how often a group of people with long COVID had disturbed sleep. Researchers found that over 40% of study participants had moderate to severe sleep disturbance issues. A prior history of anxiety disorders increased their risk for insomnia. Black people and people having obesity also were more at risk.
It’s not clear what causes long COVID or why insomnia is a common symptom. One theory is that the inflammatory and immune responses caused by COVID-19 infection can alter your circadian rhythm. That’s your sleep-wake pattern for each 24-hour day.
How common is insomnia as a symptom of COVID?
According to two large studies (
If you’ve spent countless nights staring at the ceiling, you’re probably wondering how long this may last. There isn’t enough data yet to determine the potential duration of sleep issues related to COVID.
Acute (short-lived) insomnia can last for several weeks. Chronic (long lasting) insomnia may last for many months or longer. Insomnia may also come and go.
People with COVID-19 infections and long COVID have reported experiencing insomnia for widely varying amounts of time.
Insomnia, circadian rhythm disorder, and other sleep issues have become so prevalent that people have coined the term “coronasomnia” to categorize them. Coronasomnia loosely refers to symptoms such as:
- trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- disturbed sleep
- inability to naturally maintain a sleep schedule
- extreme fatigue or exhaustion
- brain fog and trouble concentrating
- feeling stressed
You can have all the symptoms of coronasomnia without ever having COVID. Living through these challenging times can disrupt not only sleep but also quality of life. Data indicate that around 20% of people have had insomnia due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frontline workers, particularly those dealing with COVID patients, have been found to have higher than average rates of coronasomnia. People under stress of any type, including parents, teachers, and caregivers, are also at risk.
It’s important to remember that researchers haven’t yet proved a link between COVID infection and sleep disorders. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It simply means that we don’t yet know of a mechanism that causes one to lead to the other.
Insomnia and other sleep disorders may be due to COVID-19. They may also be due to pandemic life.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a rare neurological condition that causes poor nighttime sleep, daytime drowsiness, and hard-to-resist “sleep attacks” during the day. Scientists identified an increased risk for narcolepsy in people who received the
The CDC does not list narcolepsy as an adverse reaction to COVID-19 vaccines. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the vaccines approved for use in the United States is linked to narcolepsy.
If you have symptoms of acute insomnia, these tips may help alleviate it:
- Establish a solid sleep routine.
- Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping the lights dim and the temperature cool.
- Eliminate distracting noise or use white noise to mask it.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages in the evening.
- Try not to eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime.
- Shut off electronic devices, including your phone and computer, several hours before it’s time to sleep.
- Read or meditate in bed before trying to sleep.
- Avoid sleeping overly late in the morning or napping during the day.
You may also consider discussing with a doctor if there are any medications or supplements, like melatonin, that could help.
If you have chronic insomnia, you may need the input of a healthcare professional.
A therapist may be able to guide you through cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that can help you sleep effectively. Talk therapy may be beneficial for working out emotional issues that might be causing insomnia. A medical doctor may prescribe medications that can help.
COVID-19 and long COVID may cause or worsen sleep disorders, such as insomnia. Researchers don’t yet fully understand how or why this happens.
Dealing with pandemic life and ongoing fears about the virus can also cause emotional distress, which can negatively affect sleep.
More research is needed into the many ways COVID may hurt sleep quality. Until then, there are healthy habits you can incorporate, or medications or supplements you can take that can help. You can also reduce your risk, and possibly ease your mind, by keeping up with your vaccinations.