The Cleveland Clinic presented research on long COVID’s effects on sleep during 2022 Sleep Week (the annual meeting of Associated Professional Sleep Societies). The researchers found sleep disturbances prevalent in post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC). PASC or “long COVID” is characterized by prolonged COVID symptoms, and sometimes the emergence of new ones, after recovery from the initial phase of illness. Sleep neurologists call it COVID-somnia, and some PASC patients refer to themselves as long haulers.
The Cleveland Clinic researchers collected survey data between February 2021 to April 2022 from 962 patients with PASC in the Clinic’s reCOVer Center. The patients had recovered from acute COVID-19 and reported their sleep disturbance and fatigue levels in the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System. The study found that a majority of long COVID patients report moderate to severe sleep disturbances. Eight percent of patients reported severe sleep disturbances while 41.3% reported moderate sleep disturbances. Over 67.2% reported they struggled with moderate fatigue, while 21.8% of patients indicated severe fatigue.
Some researchers suspect sleep disturbances may be caused by the effects of lingering inflammation from the body’s immune response to COVID. Common symptoms can linger for months or years and interfere with daily life. Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, brain fog, cough, chest pain, fast-beating or pounding heart, brain fog, headache, dizziness, pins-and-needles feelings, change in smell or taste, depression, anxiety, diarrhea, stomach pain, joint or muscle pain, rash, and changes in menstrual cycles.
The study also found that participants with moderate-to-severe sleep disturbances had higher body mass indices than participants with less extreme sleep disturbances. Those with moderate to severe sleep disturbances were also more likely to be African American. Future research will study racial and gender differences in long COVID effects in order to develop effective targeted interventions.