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Does Covid cause insomnia? Link between lack of sleep and severe coronavirus symptoms explained

Disrupted sleep and burnout can be linked with a heightened risk of becoming infected with Covid, as well as suffering more severe disease and a longer recovery period

Covid infections have fallen across much of the UK after hitting record highs over the last few weeks.

A total of 4.4 million people in private households were likely to have had coronavirus in the week to 9 April, latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

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This is down from 4.9 million the week before which was the highest total since estimates began.

The fall suggests the recent surge in infections, driven by the highly infectious BA.2 Omicron variant, may now have passed its peak, although experts warn it is still too soon to know if infections are on a clear downwards trend.

Disrupted sleep and burnout may increase the risk of becoming infected with Covid (Composite: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)

The ONS has warned that prevalence of the virus still remains high across the country, meaning many people will be dealing with the symptoms that come with Covid infection.

For most, symptoms will be mild and should start to improve within a few days, with the majority of people making a full recovery within 12 weeks. However, in some cases symptoms can be severe and may persist for several months.

The chances of developing long-term symptoms does not appear to be linked to how ill you are when you first get Covid, but it is thought that some factors could heighten the risk of having a more severe disease and a longer recovery period - including sleep.

Can lack of sleep increase the risk of severe Covid?

Insomnia, disrupted sleep and daily burnout have been linked to a heightened risk of becoming infected with Covid, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Researchers also suggest that these symptoms can increase the risk of suffering more severe disease and a longer recovery period from coronavirus.

The international study of healthcare workers found that every one hour increase in the amount of time spent asleep at night was associated with 12% lower odds of becoming infected with Covid.

The peer-reviewed study surveyed 2,884 healthcare workers across France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA, and asked respondents about various lifestyle factors, including how much sleep they got.

Out of the total surveyed, 568 caught coronavirus and one in 20 of those infected said they had three or more sleep problems. This included difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or needing to take sleeping pills on three or more nights of the week.

Around 1 in 4 (137;24%) of those with Covid reported difficulties sleeping at night compared with around 1 in 5 (21%;495) of those who were not infected.

Compared with those who had no sleep problems, those with three had 88% greater odds of coronavirus infection.

The study added: “Proportionally more of those with Covid-19 reported daily burnout than did those without the infection: 31 (5.5%) compared with 71 (3%).

“Compared with those who didn’t report any burnout, those for whom this was a daily occurrence were more than twice as likely to have Covid-19.

“Similarly, these respondents were also around three times as likely to say that their infection was severe and that they needed a longer recovery period.”

Researchers also pointed to studies linking burnout to a heightened risk of colds and flu as well as long term conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disease and death from all causes.

Dr Minha Rajput-Ray, Medical Director of NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition & Health, said: “This study spotlights an often neglected area of wellbeing: the need for quality sleep and recharge time to prevent burnout and its consequences.

“From an occupational and lifestyle medicine perspective, a better understanding of the effects of shift work and sleep is essential for the wellbeing of healthcare staff and other key workers.

“Disruptions to the sleep-wake cycle can affect metabolic, immune and even psychological health. And sleep deprivation can make calorie dense foods, higher in fat, sugar and salt, more appealing, particularly during times of stress and/or difficult shift patterns, all of which takes a toll on overall health and wellbeing.”

Is insomnia linked to Long Covid?

Health experts also believe there is a link between insomnia and Long Covid, with sleep disturbance being listed as one of the most common long-term symptoms post-infection.

One study found that people with Long Covid had a significantly higher rate of insomnia than those who never had coronavirus, while another found between 21.7% and 53% of people with Long Covid complain of sleep disorders or insomnia.

The reason for increased rates of insomnia post-Covid is thought to be caused by the body’s efforts to recover from the inflammation caused by the virus during infection.

Sleepstation says: “When you’re ill, your immune system’s response to an infection can have a profound effect on your sleep. Likewise, getting adequate, good quality sleep is crucial for your immune system to work at its best and can strengthen your immune system.

“In Long Covid, if the immune system is still not functioning normally, the body will be constantly trying its hardest to reduce the inflammation. This could explain why so many people with Long Covid report fatigue as a major symptom.

“It’s also thought that inflammation can come and go during Long Covid, which would mean that the body is constantly having to work to keep everything in balance.

“When your body is having to deal with chronic inflammation, your sleep can also be affected. Sleep can be reduced and sleep quality can be compromised. This is thought to be why levels of insomnia are so high in people who have had Covid-19.”