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COVID-19: The Sleep Connection

COVID-19 could have important links to sleep. A new article from The Atlantic details how COVID-19 affects sleep patterns — and how better sleep could lessen the severity of the virus and potentially prevent it.[1]

Long-Term Insomnia

COVID-19 survivors have reported, among other persistent symptoms, long-term insomnia.[2] While researchers are still investigating how infection could cause ongoing insomnia, a leading hypothesis blames inflammation.[1] Researchers speculate inflammation from COVID-19 may disrupt the nervous system’s communications pathways and, thus, interfere with the body’s ability to fall asleep. Sleep deprivation prevents the body from “cleaning out” the pathways of the nervous system, which would reduce inflammation.  This prompts a vicious cycle: inflammation causes insomnia, which worsens inflammation — which causes further insomnia. The result is a protracted affliction with sleeplessness.

Infection Prevention

As COVID-19’s connection to long-term insomnia undergoes further study, research suggests good sleep patterns may be key to lessening the severity of COVID-19 — or preventing infection altogether.

Melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep cycle, may help prevent COVID-19. Research shows people taking melatonin have a much lower risk of COVID-19 infection.[3] In addition, intubated COVID-19 patients have higher survival rates when receiving melatonin.[4] Already, research has demonstrated that melatonin helps calibrate the immune system.[5]

Although melatonin supplements can help us achieve optimal levels of the hormone, a simpler solution is to embrace a regular sleep schedule. By going to sleep and waking up at regular times each day, we help our bodies naturally produce a steady supply of melatonin.[1] Adequate sleep allows the body to refresh the nervous system and, working in concert with melatonin, strengthen the immune system.[1] Good sleep patterns forge a strong immune system and, perhaps, the ability to better resist COVID-19.

However, good sleep can be fleeting. The nonstop distractions of modern life have been compounded by an anxious social climate beset with health concerns, lockdowns, job loss and more. In 2020, the British Sleep Society reported less than half of people in the United Kingdom have refreshing sleep.[6] In these trying times, good sleep may require a truly concentrated effort.

Keys to Better Sleep

So, how can build better sleep patterns?

First and foremost, it’s essential to set a regular routine. Maintain a regular time to wake up and go to sleep — and follow it regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend. Research shows a regular sleep cycle can help you fall asleep easier and enjoy more restful sleep.[7] Small habits like listening to music before bed can enhance your routine with valuable relaxation time.

It’s also important to stay away from screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Blue light can suppress melatonin secretion and disrupt your sleep cycle.[8] Consider reading a good book rather than your smartphone as you drift off.

As growing research suggests COVID-19 heavily influences sleep — and that sleep may be a key tool in fighting the disease — it’s more essential than ever to develop better sleep patterns.