SARS-CoV‑2 is an insidious infection. Even if the disease was transferred in a mild form, a long trail of consequences can follow, one of which is sleep disturbances.
Healthyinfo talks about COVID-somnia, as experts have already called this phenomenon.
The impact of coronavirus infection on the nervous system
There is no doubt that such an impact exists. It is not for nothing that from the very beginning the disease was characterized by the appearance of neurological symptoms, ranging from the loss of taste and smell sensations. Those who have had COVID-19 also note deterioration in memory, hearing, vision, cognitive decline, difficulty concentrating, and even increased aggressiveness in behavior. According to various experts, from 30 to 80% of those who have been ill for a long time may suffer from sleep disorders. This phenomenon has received an unofficial name — COVID-somnia, or “covid-associated insomnia” (CAB).
It manifests itself in different ways.
Difficulties with falling asleep are possible, when you really want to sleep, but you can’t fall asleep. And when sleep comes, it turns out to be superficial and shallow, easily interrupted, after which it is impossible to fall asleep again. It takes a lot of time and effort to fall asleep again, so in the morning a person does not feel rested at all.
Experienced breathing problems do not pass without a trace: it may seem to especially impressionable people that there is not enough air, that they are suffocating. This fear, as well as the associated fear of suffocating in a dream due to the fact that the lungs stop working, do not allow you to fall asleep. People often complain that after covid, the habit of constantly controlling their breathing has developed, and now they are afraid that automatic breathing, such as before the illness, no longer “works”.
There are also completely opposite complaints — to irresistible daytime sleepiness. When a person literally turns off, and can fall asleep on the go, during a conversation or work.
It’s not just covid?
The temptation to write everything off as a “post-COVID loop” is present. Moreover, the virus really damages both nerve cells and blood vessels, including those supplying blood to the “central control organ” — the brain.
But in the course of research it became clear that not everything is so simple.
Those who did not get sick with covid began to complain more often about the occurrence of problems with sleep, that is, their body did not encounter the coronavirus, and it could not damage the nervous system.
Observations of those who have recovered have also shown another point: insomnia often occurs against the background of stress caused both by one’s own illness and by the pandemic as a whole. There is also such a thing that a person literally creates problems for himself — knocking down his own regime, not following the principles of a healthy lifestyle.
Some experts also express the opinion that not everything should be attributed to the consequences of the coronavirus. In particular, the well-known doctor Myasnikov, answering a question about post-covid insomnia of one of the viewers of his program, advised her not to look for a somnologist, but to check the functioning of the thyroid gland, to make sure that sleep is not hindered by apnea, that is, the most common snoring. And also to establish a healthier lifestyle, not to eat at night and move more.
According to psychologist Jennifer Martin from the USA, CAB can also be caused by stress factors: anxiety for loved ones, fear of a pandemic and its consequences, financial problems, and even quarantine due to illness. Moreover, most often, according to American scientists, men of the most socially active age, 35–44 years old, suffer from insomnia. J. Martin also admits that changes in lifestyle can have a negative impact on sleep: people spend more time at home, at the TV and computer, with a smartphone in their hands, more time than before. Because of this, the regimen can be disturbed — they go to bed later, get up at different times, which “confuses” the body and disrupts natural circadian rhythms.
Dr. Martin’s advice is similar to Dr. Myasnikov’s: maintain a consistent daily routine, try to sleep at least 7 hours a day, go to bed and get up at the same time, spend less time on the Internet and turn off all gadgets and TV 30 minutes before going to bed . It is helpful to take a warm bath or shower.
Professor Daniel Beisse, psychiatrist
In the spring of 2021, we conducted a survey among American adults. It turned out that during the pandemic, more than half of the respondents experienced difficulty falling asleep, as well as with the continuity and duration of sleep. In many cases, these complaints were also associated with daytime sleepiness, which is understandable: the body seeks to make up for the lack of night sleep.
However, in our opinion, sleep problems stem not only and not so much from the transferred COVID-19, and may be associated with medical problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure. Side effects of certain medications are also possible. Substance abuse should also be taken into account, as well as depression, the prevalence of which has recently been worrisome.
How to deal with insomnia?
This is what doctors offer, in addition to maintaining a rational lifestyle, proper nutrition and sufficient physical activity.
Eli Aung, psychiatrist, member of the American Psychiatric Association
Often the cause of insomnia is “anticipatory anxiety,” the worry that you may not be able to fall asleep again. It is not easy to deal with this problem: the more you drive this thought away from you, the more insistently it returns, disturbing you more and more.
And even if you still manage to fall asleep, anxiety can not go anywhere, and cause interruption of sleep. I recommend to my patients that they stop focusing on the problems of falling asleep and concentrate on being awake. That is, lie down in bed, close your eyes, and try not to fall asleep. When the mind is distracted from worrying about how to fall asleep, the body begins to do what it needs: sleep.
Vivek Jain, director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at The George Washington University
If you’re struggling with insomnia, try not to focus too much on making sure you get a certain number of hours of sleep each day, or sticking to your chosen daily routine to the minute. Looping like this only increases stress levels and exacerbates the problem. Just do things that can help you fall asleep: exercise, don’t have dinner late at night (the best time to eat is 2 hours before bedtime), reduce the amount of time spent in front of a computer screen or with a phone in hand.
Focus on what you can control and try to do it. And what is impossible to control — a pandemic, an economic crisis, bad weather — try to be detached. It may not be easy, but if it works, many sleep problems will disappear by themselves.
But what doctors strongly discourage is alcohol, which many drink in the evening to “relax and fall asleep.” The fact is that even a small dose of alcohol consumed in the evening, shortly before bedtime, disrupts the production of melatonin even in those who do not complain of insomnia. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 68% of American adults experience sleep problems due to the habit of drinking before bed. This leads to chronic fatigue, increased irritability, and starts a vicious cycle.
Neurologist-somnologist Elena Tsareva advises to adopt the “rule of 15 minutes”, that is, not to stay in bed without sleep for more than this time. This is necessary to develop the connection “bed — falling asleep and sleep.” If you just often lie in bed without sleep, then another, undesirable connection may form: “bed — insomnia.” To form the necessary connection, it is better to approach the bed with a feeling of drowsiness and readiness to fall asleep as soon as the head touches the pillow. And, of course, it is necessary to exclude watching television programs in bed, make the bedroom a forbidden territory for using smartphones.
Other experts agree with this. It is especially not recommended to watch the news feed before going to bed, which inevitably becomes a source of anxiety and stress.
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