Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic say they’ve found that a substantial number of people who have long COVID have sleep problems.
Researchers looked at a group of 682 patients from the Cleveland Clinic’s Recover clinic, which helps long-COVID patients, and found that 41.3 percent reported at least moderate sleep disturbances, including 8 percent who reported severe sleep disturbances.
“The prevalence of moderate to severe sleep disturbances reported by patients presenting for [long COVID] was very high,” the researchers said in an abstract published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep. Researchers were laying out their findings Monday and Tuesday at a meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
Dr. Cinthya Pena Orbea, a sleep specialist at Cleveland Clinic, who was the lead author, said, “Sleep disturbances and fatigue are pervasive symptoms in long COVID that affect quality of life ... so we need to try to understand why these happen in order to address them.”
The researchers also found that Black people were three times more likely to have long-COVID sleep problems. Orbea said it was key to understand why that was happening so “targeted interventions” could be developed.
Problems with sleep are just one of a host of symptoms reported by people with long COVID. “Post-COVID conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems; these conditions can last weeks, months, or years,” the CDC says.
Other common symptoms include: fatigue that interferes with daily life, fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, fast-beating or pounding heart, brain fog, headache, dizziness when you stand up, pins-and-needles feelings, change in smell or taste, depression and anxiety, diarrhea, stomach pain, joint or muscle pain, rash, and changes in menstrual cycles.
The Cleveland Clinic researchers, who analyzed data from February to November 2021, also asked patients about fatigue and found that 68.6 percent of patients reported at least moderate fatigue, including 22.6 percent who reported severe fatigue.
Orbea said it’s not clear what the cause of the sleep problems is, what the cure is, or how long it will last. She said she has seen some of her own patients improve after six or eight months.
A paper in March in the journal Sleep Medicine said there was little data on sleep complaints among COVID long-haulers, but it noted a study of 1,733 patients discharged after COVID-19 hospitalization in Wuhan, China, that found 26 percent of patients were still having sleep difficulties. The median follow-up time was about six months after the patients had symptoms. Fatigue and muscle weakness was the other most common symptom, with about 63 percent experiencing it. “The optimal treatment strategy in these patients, including for sleep complaints, remains to be elucidated,” the study said.
Dr. Naina Limbekar, a sleep neurologist at Boston Medical Center, said she has seen post-COVID patients in the sleep clinic with a range of different sleep disturbances, including insomnia and “feeling wired all the time,” as well as excessive sleepiness.
She said she suspected that sleep problems in long-COVID patients may be caused by the effects of lingering inflammation from the body’s response to the virus. “What we do know is there’s inflammation at play ... and inflammation can impact things in the brain,” she said.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.