You’ve gotten through the worst of it. The coughing is over, the fever is gone, and you’re finally back out in the world again after a COVID-19 infection. The only problem? Fatigue.
Whether you’ve just recovered from the coronavirus and fatigue is the last symptom to clear up or you’ve been COVID-free for weeks but still lacking in energy, it’s tough. But, there are a few things you can do to help you get your energy back after COVID.
Below, we dive into the reasons you might be feeling so tired after having COVID and how lowering your sleep debt and syncing up with your circadian rhythm can help improve your energy levels.
There are a few reasons why you may be testing negative for COVID-19, but still feeling tired.
The obvious symptoms of COVID-19 like a cough and fever may have gone, but your body may still be fighting off the viral infection, leaving you feeling tired as a result.
Post-viral fatigue occurs when your body has been fighting off a virus and you experience tiredness even when the infection is gone. Experts aren’t sure what exactly causes lingering fatigue, but it’s thought it could be due to the virus overloading the immune system and causing a reaction. Another theory suggests lingering fatigue may be due to inflammation in the brain.
Plus, as your other symptoms get better, it’s easy to get into a boom and bust cycle. You feel great one day, so power through your to-do list then go for a run. But this is way too much too fast, leading to a crash in your energy levels the next day.
As well as recovering from the physical illness, the stress of COVID — think missing work, struggling to take care of kids, isolating alone, the mental health impact of the pandemic — may have taken its toll, leading to extra fatigue.
Sleep debt is one of the key factors determining how you feel each day. It’s the running total of the sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. It’s measured against your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night.
It’s easy to build up sleep debt when you have COVID. Your cough may keep you up at night, a fever may wake you up during the night, and other symptoms — like a headache and muscle aches — generally make meeting your sleep need much harder to do.
You may have even had high sleep debt before COVID, and now it’s even higher, meaning your energy levels are even lower than usual.
To find out how much sleep you should be getting, turn to the RISE app. The app uses your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your individual sleep need. It then calculates how much sleep debt you’re carrying.
When your social clock is out of sync with your internal biological clock, or circadian rhythm, you’ll feel fatigue. Your circadian rhythm runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle, but sleeping and eating at irregular and odd times throws it out of whack.
And getting out of sync with your circadian rhythm is easy to do when you’re sick with COVID. You sleep when you can, eat when you have an appetite, and simply focus on recovering, rather than honoring your body clock.
RISE can give you a better idea of what your circadian rhythm looks like each day. The app predicts your natural peaks and dips in energy, and when your body wants to sleep and be awake, and shows you these in one handy visualization.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen.
Long COVID is when you still experience symptoms four weeks or more after the initial infection. Symptoms can last weeks, months, or even years (research is still being done), and they could even go away and come back again.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 13.3% of people who had COVID have long COVID symptoms a month or longer after infection, 2.5% have symptoms three months or longer, and more than 30% of those hospitalized have symptoms at six months.
Researchers are still finding out the effects of long COVID, so there’s a lot we don’t know about how the disease affects us, our sleep, and our energy levels.
For example, 2022 research found almost 70% of those with long COVID reported at least moderate fatigue, and almost 23% said they had severe fatigue. Plus, 41% of those with long COVID reported at least moderate sleep disturbances, and about 7% reported severe sleep disturbances.
As well as fatigue being a symptom in general, you may feel daytime sleepiness due to the sleep disturbances that make it harder to meet your sleep need each night.
Post-COVID tiredness can include:
Fatigue after COVID-19 may last a few days or weeks while your body is battling the virus. However, fatigue is also a symptom of long COVID and people can experience it for weeks, months, or years after recovering from the initial infection.
The worse the illness hits you, the longer it may take to recover your energy levels fully. So, those who experienced severe COVID or had to go to intensive care may feel fatigue after the illness for much longer.
Feeling ready to get back to daily life, but don’t have the energy levels to match? As well as eating well and focusing on hydration, take some time to get your sleep and circadian rhythm back on track. Here’s what to do.
You’ve likely built up sleep debt while you’ve been ill, and you may have even had high sleep debt before you COVID, too. To improve your energy levels, focus on paying down this sleep debt.
We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours to feel and function at your best. You can catch up on sleep by:
Bonus tip: Keeping sleep debt low may even protect you from catching COVID again. A 2021 study found every one-hour increase in sleep was associated with 12% lower odds of getting COVID-19.
Just like with sleep debt, you may have been out of sync with your body clock before the illness and made things worse while recovering, or you got out of sync and now need to readjust to get your energy levels back.
You can get back in alignment with your circadian rhythm by:
Don’t expect to go back to the energy or productivity levels you had before COVID as soon as you recover. You wouldn’t expect that from yourself after surgery, giving birth, or going through another major illness.
COVID-19 affects everyone differently, so while others may be able to jump right back into their work and daily activities, it may take you longer to shake off the lingering fatigue and get back to operating at 100% again.
Readjust your schedule while you’re battling post-COVID fatigue:
Slowly increase how much you do each day, both how much you do at work and your activity levels, to avoid the boom and bust cycle (overdoing it on the good days, leading to more tiredness the next day as you recover).
Compassion is hard to give yourself in today’s hustle culture, but it’s even harder when you’re sleep deprived. Research shows:
But it’s worth working on it (and keeping sleep debt low to help you do it) as self-compassion has been shown to support both psychological and physical wellness.
What’s more, research shows those with more self-compassion have lower inflammatory responses to stress, so compassion could even help to protect you from inflammation-related diseases.
Long COVID is a different game altogether. Symptoms may linger for months or years, and you may experience fatigue as part of this.
However, even if sleep debt and circadian misalignment aren’t the root causes of your fatigue, focusing on them can help to maximize the energy you do have.
Plus, as sleep disturbances are common in those with long COVID, pay particular attention to your sleep hygiene to help you get a good night’s sleep. This includes:
RISE can remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits and the best time to do them each day depending on your circadian rhythm. RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Speak to a healthcare professional if your symptoms linger for a long period of time. They may be able to identify other causes of tiredness or offer treatment options.
It can be frustrating to feel tired after having COVID, especially when the initial infection was weeks ago and you’re more than ready to get back to your daily routine. As well as giving yourself more time to recover and self-compassion to take things easy, focus on your sleep debt and circadian alignment to improve your energy levels.
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep debt you have and keep track of it as you work to pay it back. Plus, the app can show you what your circadian rhythm or energy schedule will look like each day, so you can work to sync up with it.
This way, you’ll have the best chance of boosting your energy levels and feeling better each day.
Yes, it’s normal to feel tired after recovering from COVID-19. Fatigue may be due to your body still recovering from fighting off the infection or from the sleep loss and circadian misalignment you got while sick. Fatigue can linger long after the initial COVID infection has passed.
Fatigue after a COVID-19 infection can last anywhere from a few days, weeks, months, or even years with long COVID (research is still being done).
You can cope with fatigue from COVID-19 by keeping your sleep debt as low as possible by taking naps or sleeping for a little longer at night. Sync up as best you can with your circadian rhythm with a consistent sleep schedule, and take more breaks than you usually would.
Fatigue is a common symptom of the COVID-19 vaccine and is a normal reaction as your body’s immune system learns how to protect you from the virus. Fatigue and other side effects should go away within a few days.
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