It’s not just a runny nose and cough! Covid can cause insomnia too, claim scientists

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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It might be best-known for causing a dry cough and robbing you of your taste and smell. 

But Covid may also leave you suffering from sleepless nights, scientists say.

A new study found three in four people with a mild infection suffered insomnia.

Researchers at Phenikaa University, in Vietnam, surveyed over 1,000 Covid patients who, while ill, never became sick enough to be hospitalised.

All were asked about their sleeping patterns following bout of illness.

A study from Vietnam suggests people infected with Covid can suffer insomnia as a result (stock image) 

Of the three-quarters who developed insomnia, one in five had a ‘severe’ form.

Results also revealed that 50 per cent of Covid patients who reported insomnia woke up more often at night.

Additionally, one in three found it harder to get a good quality sleep, slept for shorter periods and struggled to fall asleep in the first place.  

Patients with anxiety or depression were more likely to experience insomnia while ill, researchers also found.

Lead author Dr Huong Hoang said while previous studies had looked at insomnia and hospitalised Covid patients, none examined the impact on sleep on those with minor infections. 

Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system and significantly raises your risk of developing numerous forms of cancer. Even moderate reductions in sleep for just a week can disrupt blood sugar so profoundly you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping also increases the risk of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path towards cardiovascular disease, stroke or heart failure. Perhaps you have noticed you crave junk food when you’re tired? Too little sleep swells concentrations of a hormone that makes you feel hungry, while suppressing a companion hormone that signals food satisfaction

Compared to those studies, patients with minor infections were more likely to report insomnia than both the general population and hospitalised Covid patients, the team claimed. 

This, they said, could be due to patients recovering from Covid being more stressed and sensitive to changes in their physical health, leading them to perceive their sleep as worse. 

However, they said more research investigating the relationship between Covid infections, mental health problems, and insomnia is needed.

Dr Hoang said: ‘If insomnia does not bother you much, you can take some simple actions, such as taking a warm shower before bedtime, shutting your phone down at least one hour before going to bed, doing 30 minutes of exercise per day, and avoiding caffeine after 4pm. 

‘In case insomnia really troubles you, you can try some sleep aids. If they don’t help, go to see a sleep therapist.’

She added: ‘As a sleep researcher, I received many questions and complaints from relatives, friends and colleagues about their sleep disturbances after recovering from Covid.’

The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, was based on an online survey of 1,056 Covid patients who had been infected within the last six months.

Dr Hoang acknowledged that the nature of the survey may have influenced the type of patients who participated, in turn affecting the results. 

She added the time gap between infection and when the survey was held may have also impacted the accuracy of patient recollection regarding their sleep patterns. 

HOW MUCH SLEEP SHOULD YOU GET? AND WHAT TO DO IF YOU STRUGGLE TO GET ENOUGH

Preschool (3-5 years): 10-13 hours

School-age (6-13 years): 9-11 hours

Teen (14-17 years): 8-10 hours

Young adult (18-25) 7-9 hours

Adult (26-64): 7-9 hours

Older adult (65 or more) 7-8 hours

Source: Sleep Foundation 

WHAT CAN I DO TO IMPROVE MY SLEEP? 

1) Limit screen time an hour before bed

Our bodies have an internal ‘clock’ in the brain, which regulates our circadian rhythm. 

Mobiles, laptops and TVs emit blue light, which sends signals to our brain to keep us awake.

2) Address your ‘racing mind’

Take 5-10 minutes before you go to sleep to sit with a notebook and write down a list of anything that you need to do the following day.

3) Avoid caffeine after 12pm

If you want a hot drink in the afternoon or evening, go for a decaffeinated tea or coffee.

4) Keep a cool bedroom temperature

Keep bedroom thermostats to around 18°C. During spring/summer try sleeping with your bedroom window open to reduce the temperature and increase ventilation.

5) Limit alcohol in the evenings

While you might initially fall into deep sleep more easily, you then wake up frequently during the night and have poorer deep sleep overall.

6) Supplement vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a role in sleep. Vitamin D is widely available online and from most pharmacies.

If you are unsure if this is appropriate or how much you need, seek advice from your GP.

7) Ensure sufficient intake of magnesium and zinc

Foods high in magnesium include spinach, kale, avocado, bananas, cashews, and seeds. 

Foods high in zinc include meat, oysters, crab, cheese, cooked lentils, and dark chocolate (70%+).

 

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