COVID and insomnia: Can COVID cause insomnia?

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD
Oct 11, 20214 min read
Masks hanging on wall

The emergence of the COV-SARS-2 virus has changed everything. From work to simple everyday activities such as food shopping, nothing is the same.

While some effects of COVID are apparent, others are not. This is why it's easy to overlook the influence of COVID on sleep.

Read on to learn more about how COVID can affect your sleep and what you can do about it.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as any or all of the following;  trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, or feeling tired during the day. Acute insomnia or short-term insomnia can last for a few days or a few weeks. Chronic insomnia is when you have trouble sleeping three or more nights out of seven for three months or longer.

You probably have insomnia if you see yourself in these statements:

  • You struggle to fall asleep, even though you feel sleepy when you go to bed, and often stay awake 30 minutes or longer before you fall asleep,
  • You wake up during the night and struggle for 10-15 minutes or more to fall back to sleep,
  • You wake up earlier than you would like to and cannot fall back to sleep
  • You feel tired and unable to focus during the day,
  • You can't nap even though you are tired and try to do so.

Can COVID Cause Insomnia?

COVID Insomnia or “Coronasomnia” describes sleeping problems caused by COVID. This is not to say that insomnia is a symptom of COVID, because it's not! COVID does, however, directly and indirectly influence sleep.

COVID, like other viral illnesses, can affect your body’s ability to have restorative sleep. The blocked nasal passages, difficulty breathing, fever spikes, and chills, etc. interfere with the body’s ability to go into the deeper stages of sleep. Fortunately, for patients that recover, these are short-lived.

Since this pandemic is a source of stress and anxiety,  insomnia even affects those not diagnosed with COVID. In fact, the incidence of depression and anxiety has more than quadrupled over the last year. This correlates with the rising 'insomnia levels' worldwide as everyone’s constant stress causes hyperarousal, which prevents the body from relaxing for sleep. A study estimates 40% of the population is currently struggling with insomnia - a 50% increase over previous years.

Additionally, spending most of the time indoors and irregular work routines disrupts the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body's internal clock responsible for physical, mental, and behavioral changes.  This means the body produces the hormone that cues sleep, melatonin, at odd times.

How Insomnia Can Impact Your Health

The negative impact of insomnia on health is well-documented. Short term, it affects mood and the ability to function and perform. In the long run, it increases the risk for heart, brain, and endocrine system diseases. Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are also common in patients with chronic insomnia.

Importantly, insomnia weakens the immune system increasing susceptibility to infections such as COVID-19. This creates a vicious circle – COVID can lead to insomnia which in turn can create a higher susceptibility to catching viruses such as COVID.

How To Treat Insomnia

Insomnia is entirely treatable. A variety of treatment options exist, from lifestyle modifications to sleeping pills. Not all treatments are equally effective, though.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the gold standard treatment that addresses underlying issues such as stress causing insomnia. It is a form of talking therapy that focuses directly on the link between thoughts, behaviors, and habits.

CBT-I is so effective because COVID insomnia, like many other forms of insomnia, is thought to be perpetuated long after your body heals due to your associated thought patterns and subsequent behaviors. Thus, by challenging unhelpful beliefs, and changing your habits, CBT-I can help you sleep better.

Learn More

To learn more about CBT-I and how it can treat your COVID insomnia, visit Dawn Health.

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Dr. Ehrnstrom is not a medical provider and is not providing any recommendations regarding medications. Rather, she is sharing and reviewing the research as it relates to education when learning how best to treat insomnia.

It’s time to stop blaming the night monsters.

Let’s work together to transform your sleep for the better.