These days, if we’re not careful and we unwittingly catch COVID-19, it can manifest itself as either simple flu or, it could rapidly worsen over time and cause serious health consequences, or worse – death. That alone is enough to put a heavy toll on our mental health and disrupt our usual sleeping patterns by causing covid insomnia.
In fact, in a recent January 2021 sleep study designed “to capture the acute impact of the pandemic on sleep and psychological symptoms”, researchers were able to conclude (and not surprisingly) that:
So, if you are currently experiencing sleep problems because of the pandemic, you are not alone. As our way of helping you cope, this article offers comprehensive, expert-backed guidelines to help you sleep better in the time of COVID-19.
Disclaimer: This article is solely for informational purposes. Immediately seek professional help if you are experiencing any severe sleep health issues.
A Deeper Look Into Why Sleep Is Elusive During COVID-19
Sleep disorders have existed long before the first COVID-19 infection. However, since the spread of the virus, these issues have evidently worsened. Researchers have found that people who did not previously experience any sleep problems developed them either during the start of the pandemic or those that actually contracted COVID-19 and are now recovering. This section delves deeper into some new research and information that offers insights as to why sleep is escaping our grasp in these difficult times.
What is Covid Insomnia?
You may or may not have heard of it, but when you do – it just makes sense. In a nutshell, “Covidsomnia” is the combination of “covid + insomnia” or, other people may refer to it as “Coronasomnia”.
It’s not clear which sleep neurologist exactly coined the term for this phenomenon but, it’s also not difficult to imagine why the term came up in the first place. Sleeplessness seems to be a common condition that the world is facing.
In the year 2020, there were a recorded 2.77 million Google searches for “insomnia”, according to a sleep study published in November 2020 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It’s not just Americans either, it’s a global phenomenon that’s affecting millions.
Here is a glimpse at some recent international sleep statistics that suggest the prevalence of Coronasomnia:
Similar reports from almost all parts of the world show the same results: people are sleeping less and less during COVID-19. You can find exact statistics published by The Lancet here.
Who is more prone to Covid Insomnia?
Adjusting to life during a global pandemic has unfortunately made specific groups of people more prone to Coronasomnia than others. New information emerged towards the end of 2020 regarding a recovering group of Coronavirus survivors termed “long-haulers” because weeks or even months after they’ve been confirmed negative of COVID-19, they are still experiencing lingering symptoms including insomnia and sleep problems. We talk about it briefly here.
The Phenomena of Sleep Problems for Coronavirus “Long-Haulers”
According to a survey of almost 1,500 Coronavirus survivors in Survivors Corps, a Facebook Group of about 100k members created specifically as an online support group for COVID-19 long-haulers, about 16% reported issues with sleeping. One survey reportedly responded, “It felt like drowning” when trying to describe trying to fall asleep while recovering from COVID-19.
Dr. Meir Kryger, professor and sleep researcher at the Yale School of Medicine, said he’s seen recovering COVID-19 patients who have developed several types of sleep-related issues. According to Dr. Kryger, some long-haulers experience severe insomnia due to actual fear of sleeping due to being afraid of something worse happening to them – such as waking up with more severe symptoms of COVID-19 or worse, not waking up at all. He also reports that one of his patients developed depression and suicidal tendencies after his bout with COVID-19 due to the fear of dying in his sleep.
Because it has been found that the COVID-19 virus impacts most of the important functions of our body such as the nervous system, heart, the brain, kidneys, and the vascular system, Dr. Kryger notes that, “I think what they have is a problem in the way their brain is controlling their breathing during sleep. In those patients, the virus has interfered with the normal control of breathing.”
Dr. Kryger’s observation suggests that this might be why some long-haulers’ fear sleeping; thus developing insomnia and other symptoms including:
To date, Dr. Kryger and other sleep experts such as himself, still do not have all the definite answers as to the how’s and why’s of these COVID-19 sleep disorders and their symptoms. In the case of brain fog, for example, Dr. Kryger says, “We don’t know whether the brain fog is there because there’s something that has been damaged in the nervous system. Or do they have a sleep disorder where they’re not sleeping as much and therefore the brain fog is really a manifestation of severe sleepiness?”
For the moment, these are the suggested treatments:
Aside from long-haulers, other groups are also greatly affected by sleep-related issues:
Do you belong to any of the above? If you do, then the information we’ve included only tells you that you’re not alone. To find help and support, scroll down to the bottom of this article see some suggested COVID-19 resources, hotlines, and support groups.
Is anyone actually sleeping better these days?
Actually – yes. It’s also good to note that there are also some sectors of society that are sleeping better than they did before COVID-19. For example, some employees who usually need to travel 1 to 2 hours to get to work are now finding themselves able to cope better with working from home. The extra 2 hours they needed for commuting is now something they can use towards more sleep.
Also, recent studies show a rise in successful online businesses or “homepreneurs”. Usually locally-owned, many stay-at-home parents and individuals are now finding creative ways to earn money all in the comforts and safety of their own homes.
Most come from hectic corporate backgrounds and, with the onslaught of COVID-19, have had to slow down and find safer, more lucrative ways of earning more. While it’s certainly not easy knowing that you’re earning more while many more people suffer, it does help to sleep better at night knowing you are at least financially secure.
What’s The Connection Between Sleep & Mental Health?
Your mental health and the quality of your sleep are closely linked. To put it simply, if you lack sleep, this can cause mental health problems and, conversely, if you have any existing mental health issues, sleep disorders are common side effects. As an example, anyone who suffers from severe anxiety or depression often also develops insomnia, hypersomnia, or other sleep disorders as a side effect.
What happens when you’re sleep-deprived?
If you deprive your body of sleep, your mind and body simply cannot function properly. Science-backed evidence shows that you can suffer from the following if you’re not getting enough sleep:
In the time of COVID-19, it’s even more important to keep yourself active, alert, and healthy. Unfortunately, even with all the information saying how important sleep is, many people still continually suffer from sleep disorders. Have a look at these recent numbers:
So, if you’re simply tired of taking another ineffective sleeping pill or bingeing on the latest Netflix show only to get a couple of hours of sleep, then it might be time to do something different.
Let’s take a closer look at the main reasons for COVIDsomnia. We’ve also included some helpful guidelines with the goal of helping you sleep better.
Top Causes & Remedies for Sleep Problems During COVID-19
Reason #1: Worry and Anxiety
Worry is one of the leading causes of mental health issues and one of the most natural reasons why people are sleeping less during the pandemic. In fact, the simple act of worrying, if left unchecked, can lead to more serious mental health problems.
How do worry and anxiety cause COVIDsomnia?
People naturally fear for their and their family’s sake in the sense that they do not want to catch the virus and infect those surrounding them. Other worries are also economically-related especially for those who have lost jobs and their usual means of income. They take these worries with them to sleep and re-think worst-case scenarios.
Experts often say that insomnia is like a beast that feeds itself: your worries are causing you not to get enough sleep, and because you’re worried that you’re not getting enough sleep, you then become sleepless worrying about your own lack of sleep.
Yeah, it’s a vicious cycle.
What can you do?
Even as we give this advice to you, we first need to tell you to tread lightly on worry and anxiety treatments especially in the form of medication as these can sometimes be addictive or have other more serious side effects if misused.
The first thing we suggest for you to try is the simplest things. Oftentimes, these can be an easy balm to a worried, anxious heart:
If the above (or something similar) does not work out, then it’s time to bring in the big guns. Schedule an appointment with a sleep neurologist or sleep therapist and follow the prescribed treatment.
Reason #2: Self-Isolation
Worry, anxiety, and isolation are a disastrous combination. Being isolated for long periods at a time can be detrimental for the body and the mind. On top of that, isolation only worsens the effects of any worries that you might have.
Self-isolation during COVID-19 is caused by many factors – from self-quarantine to travel restrictions, it’s understandable that many people have grown sleepless with worry.
How does self-isolation cause COVIDsomnia?
Being self-isolated means that you are restricted from being with friends and loved ones. It means your usual routines and schedules are disrupted. And oftentimes, it means you are unable to go out of your home (or isolation facility) for the simplest activities such as going on walks, exercising, or simply to get something you need from a store.
Because of excessive time indoors, you are more likely to use electronic devices even more and take more naps during the day. As a result, your body clock is disrupted and you are unable to fall asleep at night
What can you do?
As much as possible, get some sunlight. This is true even if you’re in isolation or not.
According to Daniel A. Barone, MD, FAASM, FAAN, associate medical director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine, “Sunlight is our biggest zeitgeber—literally ‘time giver,’ If people aren’t leaving their homes because of fear of COVID-19, if they’re not going to work as they once did, then they aren’t getting that daily exposure to sunlight in the morning. That can disrupt their internal clock.”
Next, try to follow a consistent routine, every day. Fill your time with productive activities like work, exercise, working on a hobby, etc. You can use a free habit tracking tools and apps that you can easily search for using your smartphone.
If you do want to take generic sleeping pills – follow the dosage advice on the label. Never misuse these types of pills. We actually talk more about that in the next section.
If you feel that your insomnia is progressing to something that needs further treatment, consult your doctor immediately and wait for the right prescription before attempting to try other types of medication.
Try alternative, herbal approaches such as medical cannabis as a sleep aid, for example. You can also try melatonin supplements and calming teas like chamomile tea. WebMD shares more natural sleep aids for you to try.
Reason #3: Misuse of Sleep Medications
While there are long-term treatments for chronic insomnia, people who did not previously have any sleep health issues before COVID-19 often turn to quick, over-the-counter sleep medication without consulting a doctor.
Sleep supplements are generally just advised for irregular and fleeting bouts of insomnia and usually not prescribed for more than 2 weeks. Misusing these sleep-promoting medications can lead to disastrous results.
How does misuse of sleep medications cause COVIDsomnia?
Abusing or misusing sleep meds can cause many side effects, that in turn, may keep you up with worry or discomfort at night:
What can you do?
The answer to this is simple – never misuse sleep meds! Always get the right prescription and talk to your doctor if you feel that you need sleeping pills. Our body’s physiological needs are different and what may work for others, may not work for you.
More importantly, you may overuse sleep meds and you may feel the side effects listed above. So, the best thing to do here is consult your primary care physician first. You can also research your local hospital’s website and see if they offer telehealth services so you can consult with a doctor from home.
Reason #4: Depression
Depression is more than simply experiencing sadness. According to this article in 2020, depression cases in the US tripled. Clearly, the COVD-19 pandemic only intensified symptoms of depression. On top of that, the article also says that this is especially true for those that are having financial worries.
Other than the feeling of constant sadness, other symptoms of depression include:
How does depression cause COVIDsomnia?
In the same way that worry and anxiety affect sleep, depression and its symptoms can cause a person many restless and sleepless nights. In fact, sleep issues are oftentimes side effects of depression: insomnia, oversleeping, or waking up too early.
With the ongoing pandemic, it’s understandable that individuals diagnosed with mild to severe depression will find their condition worsen if they do not take any further treatment to help them sleep better.
What can you do?
Coping with depression has always been a tough road for many individuals. As with most causes of sleep issues, it’s best to start with small, simple steps:
If the above does not work, then you can consult your healthcare provider for antidepressants or a stronger form of sleep medication.
Finally, let’s not sugarcoat it – depression itself oftentimes brings thoughts of doom and suicide. In turn, sleeplessness can fuel thoughts of despair. If you or anyone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, please know that you can get help. Remember, we’d rather listen to your story rather than hear about your death.
We recommend for you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential support.
Reason #5: Stress
There’s nothing that draws out extreme stress more than facing the unknown. And that’s exactly what the Novel Coronavirus is – an unknown, unpredictable disease that, until today, is still continuously mutating.
Even with the new vaccines being developed, we still don’t really know precisely how to stop this disease. More importantly, the question that’s lingering in everyone’s mind – when will this be over? As of this writing, no one really has the answer.
That’s just what’s so stressful about this whole thing. Everything is new and uncertain.
How does stress cause COVIDsomnia?
As already mentioned, uncertainty and fear of the unknown stresses out lots of people and gives them lots of sleepless nights. But to be more specific about it, COVID-19 has brought about not just uncertainty, in general, but real, day-to-day reasons for stress that can cause most of us to lose a lot of sleep at night, including:
What can you do?
If you’re feeling more stressed than usual, then it’s time to slow down a bit. Your stress can just cause a domino effect of mental health disorders and worsen any sleep issues you might already be experiencing.
Here are some practical ideas for combatting stress during COVID-19:
Overall, we definitely say that sleep is the best form of self-care. When sleep is disrupted, then your whole life is disrupted, too. As sleep advocates, we have a couple more final tips for you:
Final Tip #1: Make Your Bedroom A Sleep Haven
In a time where lines are blurred between school, work and personal life, your bedroom can sometimes be your best refuge. For kids who are homeschooling, your living room has now turned into a classroom and, in the absence of a home office, your dining room is your new workstation.
But, the one place where you still have the most control is your bedroom – the very place where you can get deep, restful sleep amidst everything that’s going on. Follow these simple tips to create a wonderful sleep haven in the comforts of your own bedroom:
Final Tip #2: Happiness Can Be “Hacked” Naturally
The human mind and body are simply wonderful because almost everything we need to feel, we already possess. Our bodies produce chemicals that can cause a “natural high” which can ultimately help us feel better. Try these suggestion below to “hack” out the natural happiness chemicals in your body:
Dopamine – The Reward Chemical
Oxytocin – The Love Hormone
Serotonin – The Mood Stabilizer
Endorphins – The Pain Killer
Reliable Sources & References for COVID-19 Updates
With an abundance of information at our fingertips, it is vital that we stay connected to the right sources. That’s because we can easily spread the wrong information, which can be quite detrimental to those around us. We listed all the most credible sources for all updates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can also download this detailed COVID-19 document from the Association of Psychologists in Academic Health Centers (APAHC):
If you need immediate support, you can call up these hotlines or join these social media groups:
News outlets have reported that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, another pandemic is slowly raging on – a mental health pandemic. With a sharp surge in online searches for insomnia, sleep disorders and getting help for worsening mental health symptoms, it’s obvious that we need to take the first step in making sure that we are taking care of ourselves and one of the first few things that we should tick off in our self-care list is sleep. Sleeping well is the key to a healthier and happier quality of life. Follow our covid insomnia tips above and, hopefully, you’ll catch better and longer Zzz’s very soon.