Can’t sleep at night and have COVID or recovered from it? You might have what’s known as COVID-somnia or coronasomnia. It’s the name given to any sleep problem related to the coronavirus.
But COVID-somnia doesn’t just affect people who are currently battling the infection or have recently recovered. You might have trouble sleeping due to issues related to the pandemic in general — thanks to things like heightened anxiety, loss of routine, and lockdown and social isolation.
If this is you, you’re not alone. COVID-related sleep disorders are thought to affect 30% to 40% of us — and for those who are currently infected, it’s a whopping 75%.
Below, we’ll dive into what COVID insomnia is, what causes it, and — most importantly — what you can do to get a good night’s sleep if it’s affecting you.
COVID insomnia is the catch-all name for the sleep problems that SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, can cause. It can also cover sleep dysfunction caused by simply living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Common symptoms include:
It’s thought that rates of insomnia symptoms and insomnia disorder were about twice as high during the first wave of the pandemic than in pre-pandemic times.
It’s hard to know for sure which sleep problems COVID and the pandemic cause, and how many people it's affecting, though.
Studies comparing sleep during the pandemic to sleep pre-pandemic use different sampling methods, definitions, and survey methodologies, so it’s tricky to see whether insomnia rates have truly risen or not.
Sleep problems related to COVID may be common, but can they be classified as full-blown insomnia?
According to the third edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-3), insomnia is confirmed when all four of the following criteria are met:
ICSD-3 differentiates insomnia to be either less than three months (acute) or three-plus months (chronic).
Therefore, COVID insomnia when you have COVID may not be classified as full-blown insomnia. But it could creep closer to fitting the traditional definition once you’ve recovered or if your sleep issues are from the pandemic, not the illness.
Of course, even if your sleep problems aren’t classed as true insomnia, this doesn’t make them any easier or any less damaging to your health.
In fact, we argue that any sleep problems — be they insomnia or not — are worth finding a fix for as they can seriously impact your energy, mood, and mental and physical health.
While every study on the topic defines it differently, one study surveyed more than 22,000 people during the first wave of the pandemic and found clinical insomnia symptoms were reported by 36.7% of them, while 17.4% met the criteria for probable insomnia disorder. So, while many had sleep problems, a smaller proportion of them had insomnia.
There are a few problems with studies on COVID insomnia, though. These include:
Many factors can cause insomnia. And things get even more complicated when you throw COVID into the mix. Here’s what could be keeping you up at night.
Sleep issues are common if you’ve got the COVID-19 infection itself. One paper states 75% of those with COVID reported poor quality sleep, and a meta-analysis and systematic review found sleep problems were found in more than 52% of COVID-19 patients.
The symptoms of COVID — like a cough, fever, and breathing difficulties — can easily keep you up at night.
The effects of COVID-19 can also impact areas of your brain that control your sleep and respiratory regulation, which cause an increased risk of sleep-disordered breathing such as snoring or sleep apnea — not a recipe for a restful night.
COVID may also affect blood flow to the brain, which can contribute to sleep disturbances like an inversed sleep-wake cycle.
If you’re in hospital, you’ll have the additional difficulties of trying to sleep in a busy ward or while being interrupted throughout the night. Even if you’re at home, side effects from the medication you’re taking to treat COVID may contribute to sleep problems.
You may also be out of sync with your circadian rhythm (your roughly 24-hour biological clock) as you’ve been sleeping and eating whenever you can or feel like it. But now your body can’t fall asleep at your usual bedtime.
Sleep issues while battling COVID are particularly frustrating. It’s a cruel fact of life that it’s often when you’re ill that sleep is the hardest to come by, but it’s also when your body needs it the most.
Not getting enough sleep weakens your immune system, can make you suffer from an infection for longer, and it also makes you feel pain more intensely. Even if you’re not sick, you need sleep for everything from general health and wellness, to energy and productivity.
You may experience sleep problems long after the initial COVID infection has cleared up. This is called long COVID, and it may last weeks, months, or even years.
The most common symptoms of long COVID include:
Research is still being done to find out what exactly causes some patients to develop long COVID, how long it lasts, and how best to treat it.
A 2022 study found about 41% of those with long COVID reported at least moderate sleep disturbance, and about 7% reported severe sleep disturbances.
Another 2022 study found those who had recovered from COVID showed changes in many areas of their brain, including the area associated with regulating your circadian rhythm. This research was done within six months of recovery, and the researchers are conducting more studies to see whether these brain changes persist.
You might be feeling anxious about catching COVID, worried about how long it’ll take you to recover if you’ve got it currently, or feeling stressed about the health of loved ones. Beyond the illness itself, the pandemic may be spiking your anxiety levels due to loss of income and financial worries, or feeling confined and isolated.
Whatever’s causing it, anxiety and sleep don’t play nice together. Insomnia symptoms often present themselves after acute stress or life changes — and catching COVID and simply living through the pandemic are both stressful events.
Research shows nearly a quarter of patients suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder during infection and until six months after — and all three are associated with disturbed sleep, especially insomnia.
Plus, if you had pre-existing insomnia symptoms before the pandemic, you’re more likely to be susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic, putting you at a higher risk of more sleep problems from the increased anxiety.
Psychiatric illnesses, unemployment, and frequent exposure to social media or news regarding COVID were found to be risk factors for insomnia.
You can learn more about the bidirectional link between anxiety and sleep here.
Even if illness or anxiety isn’t at play, the pandemic could still be behind your COVID-somnia in other ways. Research suggests the prevalence of insomnia increased significantly during the pandemic.
The pandemic may have changed your lifestyle in some way, such as:
One study found the risk of insomnia was higher in those who reported greater financial burden, were in confinement for a period of four to five weeks, and were living alone or with more than five people in the same household.
Research also found loneliness and intolerance to uncertainty during the pandemic also predicted insomnia.
Children and adolescents experienced sleep problems during the pandemic, too, potentially due to school closures, loss of recreational activities and social life, and fear of illness.
Insomnia is also common among healthcare workers: almost four in ten experienced sleep difficulties or insomnia.
Whether you’ve got full-blown insomnia or persistent sleep problems with or without a COVID infection itself, here’s what you can do to get more sleep.
Heads up, though: More research needs to be done into COVID insomnia and the possible treatments. As there are so many potential causes of the sleep disorder, what works for some people, may not work for others.
Sleep hygiene is the name for the daily habits you can do to help you fall and stay asleep at night. They’re important for everyone, pandemic or not, but they’re especially important if you’re suffering from COVID insomnia as you may find many healthy sleep habits have been sabotaged during the pandemic.
Here’s what to do:
To help you stay on top of it all, the RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective.
RISE can also predict your circadian rhythm each day, showing you when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep. You can then see whether your pandemic lifestyle has caused you to get out of sync, and work to get back in sync.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.
COVID isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we need to learn techniques to manage our COVID-related anxiety to stop it from keeping us up.
Here are some science-backed tips you can try:
You can learn more about how to sleep with anxiety here.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their Brain Dump Habit notification
The pandemic changed many aspects of our daily lives, and some of these changes may have contributed to your insomnia. If you can identify which ones are keeping you up, work on reversing them and reverting back to your pre-pandemic lifestyle.
Many of these changes come under good sleep hygiene including:
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is often the first-line treatment for insomnia. It involves changing your thoughts and behaviors around sleep and can include exercises like:
There’s not much research into CBT-I for COVID insomnia specifically, but it has been shown to be an effective treatment for those with insomnia during menopause, pregnancy, and in general. A 2023 study found even a one-week course of CBT-I delivered virtually helped reduce rates of chronic insomnia.
From the research that has been done, CBT-I has been shown to improve insomnia symptoms, sleep duration, sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), and sleep efficiency (the time you spend actually sleeping in bed) in those with COVID.
Reach out to a medical professional or sleep specialist to get help with your COVID-somnia, especially if it’s long-lasting or seriously affecting your day-to-day life.
They may be able to suggest medication to help or treatment options for your specific case such as:
Is your COVID insomnia leading to daytime fatigue? We’ve covered how you can get energy back after COVID here.
You could be struggling to sleep while suffering from COVID or long COVID, or simply due to changes in routine during the pandemic. But whatever’s causing it, it’s a problem.
Sleep is not only vital for our health, well-being, and quality of life, it’s needed for daytime energy, productivity, and mental performance. Plus, sleep loss impacts our immune response, increasing our risk of catching and then suffering more from COVID.
To help tackle your COVID-somnia, try improving your sleep hygiene, reducing your anxiety, reversing any pandemic changes in your lifestyle that could be impacting your sleep, and seeking cognitive behavioral therapy.
The RISE app can help by guiding you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and telling you the ideal time to do each one to boost their effectiveness. Plus, RISE can predict your circadian rhythm each day, so you can easily sync up your life to it, helping you drift off easier each night and enjoy more energy each day.
Insomnia can be a sign of COVID as sleep problems are common while infected. Other symptoms of COVID-19 include a cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, and a headache.
Insomnia while having COVID is common. It can cause sleep problems like trouble falling asleep, waking up often in the middle of the night, nightmares, daytime fatigue, and changes to the timing of your body clock.
How long COVID insomnia lasts all depends on what’s causing it. Acute insomnia may get better in a few weeks, whereas chronic insomnia may last for weeks, months, or even years. More research needs to be done into post-COVID-19 insomnia.
More research needs to be done to find out what helps with COVID insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia has been shown to reduce rates of chronic insomnia in those with COVID. Improving your sleep hygiene, lowering your anxiety, and reversing pandemic-related lifestyle changes that are impacting your sleep can also help.
If you can’t sleep post COVID, this may be caused by long COVID, anxiety, or pandemic-related lifestyle changes. Try improving your sleep hygiene, lowering your anxiety, reversing any lifestyle changes, and trying cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
Melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and change the timing of your body clock. However, more research needs to be done into whether melatonin supplements are suitable for those with insomnia or post COVID insomnia.
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential