Is not sleeping a symptom of COVID-19?

Is not sleeping a symptom of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus, so it will be around for a long time until we can eradicate it through vaccines. If an individual contracts COVID-19, you can experience either short or long-term COVID symptoms. However, most will make a full recovery without needing hospital treatment. It has been reported that up to 40% of those with long-term symptoms experience sleep issues such as insomnia. 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 can affect individuals differently, but below is a list of key symptoms to look out for:

  • High temperature (fever) or chills
  • New continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
  • Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • Aching body 
  • Headache
  • Sore throat 
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Feeling sick or being sick

These symptoms are similar to other illnesses, such as colds and flu. Most people will feel better within a few days or weeks of their first COVID-19 symptoms and fully recover within 12 weeks. For some, it can be a more severe illness, and their symptoms can last longer. Sleep issues are not a common symptom of COVID-19. Instead, these symptoms can cause poor sleep because of how they affect your body and health. 

Please seek medical attention as appropriate if you do not notice any improvements in your symptoms or have other concerns. 

Why does COVID-19 affect your sleep?

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder caused by COVID-19. Research has noted changes in sleep patterns, including altered bedtimes, difficulty falling asleep, and reduced sleep quality. These sleep disruptions, in turn, have been linked to daytime sleepiness during the pandemic.

Common ways COVID-19 can affect your sleep are

Disrupted routines: Restrictions on activities and changes to plans due to virus exposures can make it hard to maintain a normal routine. This can change your daily schedule and circadian rhythm, creating a risk of sleep disruptions. 

Isolation: If your COVID symptoms are particularly severe, you may need to isolate socially, which can negatively impact emotional health and sleep. 

Stress: Worries about health, family, work, and finances can increase mental pressure. While all individuals respond differently, stress may trigger sleep problems like insomnia for many. 

Pandemic fatigue: Associated with the breakout of COVID-19, this has been associated with poor sleep in some cases. 

Caregiving roles: Attending to those with COVID-19 can strain one and trigger poor sleep due to concerns or fatigue. 

Altered dreams: During the pandemic, individuals have been shown to have more dreams and nightmares. The latter, in particular, can cause night time awakenings, degrading sleep quality. 

Mental health challenges: The pandemic has led to higher levels of anxiety and depression, which are linked to insomnia and sleep problems. Studies have shown this to be the case worldwide. 

Undiagnosed sleep disorders: The pandemic caused a backlog of diagnoses and treatments due to restricted access to facilities and care. As a result, many individuals have not received appropriate treatment in time, e.g. CPAP therapy for obstructive sleep apnoea (linked to insomnia). 

Tips for managing COVID-19 insomnia

Below is a list of tips to help you tackle insomnia at home which we have seen work in other cases.

Sleep hygiene: Also known as sleep hygiene education (SHE), sleep hygiene covers relates to optimising various factors including:

  • Set a specific time to get up daily and avoid taking daily naps.
  • Avoid tea, coffee, alcohol and smoking shortly before going to bed.
  • Avoid large meals just before bedtime.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Make sure your bedroom environment is comfortable in terms of bedding and temperature.
  • Avoid associating your bedroom with anything other than sleep and sex.

Chamomile: Drink it as tea or use it as an essential oil. 

Lavender oil: Use as a pillow spray or in a patch, massage oil, or aromatherapy diffuser.

Stop drinking caffeine or alcohol before bed: Alcohol and coffee may both cause you to stay up at night. Coffee contains caffeine, which blocks the adenosine receptors responsible for making you feel sleepy. Thus, avoid having any form of caffeine at least six hours before bed

Mindfulness and meditation: These techniques often combine mental and physical aspects of our health. Thus, by targeting anxious, stressful thoughts alongside a physically stressed body, meditation can help us reach an overall state of relaxation. 

Change your body position: This can influence how well you sleep. Read more about the best position to sleep in

Breathing techniques: You can use a variety, such as the 4-7-8 or belly breathing methods. Learn more about the different breathing techniques to help fall asleep at night

Avoid using a screen before bed: Electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, PCs, tablets and TVs emit blue light. Avoid using any electronic devices at least an hour before bed.

Try weighted blankets: This is a personal preference but is known to provide better comfort whilst asleep. Learn more about weighted blankets

Yoga: There are various yoga techniques, but most focus on a core set of principles: mindfulness meditation, diaphragmatic breathing and stretching poses. New evidence shows that yoga nidra, a type of yoga that induces a sleep-like state, may improve sleep quality and reduce time spent awake in bed

We recommend trying a variety of methods to see what suits you best. If you would like to learn more other techniques that can be tried at home to help tackle insomnia and get you a better night’s sleep read our article here: How to fall asleep quickly.

When to see a sleep specialist?

Sleeping 7 to 9 hours every night can sometimes be elusive. As discussed, there can sometimes be an underlying health cause, that needs to be addressed to allow you to return to good-quality sleep. If this is the case, it is essential to identify the root cause as soon as possible and take the proper steps to ensure the best treatment and care is given. 

As a leading sleep physician and psychiatrist, we offer consultations for those struggling to sleep. Please contact us if you require further advice on methods to help fall asleep at home or, after a trial of these methods, are still unable to fall asleep.



The articles in the Sleep Psychiatrist blog have been written by Dr Dipesh Mistry. They are for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be regarded as medical advice. Always seek advice from your sleep physician, personal physician, psychiatrist, or any other suitably qualified healthcare professional in relation to any interventions or treatment for your sleep, mental health or physical health.

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