More than half a billion COVID infections were reported to the World Health Organization by the end of the decade.

With the true number likely much higher, and the tally increasing by hundreds of thousands every week, the scientific community has been focused on understanding the impact of COVID.

Sleep scientists studied the costs and benefits of lockdowns on sleep patterns during the early stages of the Pandemic. The quality of our sleep was worse even though we slept more in lock down.

The second wave of data is starting to show how COVID can affect our sleep and even our dreams.

52 percent of people who contract COVID suffer from sleep problems, according to a recent meta-analysis.

Insomnia is the most common type of sleep problem. People with insomnia are more likely to wake up early in the morning.

Sleep problems can persist even after you have recovered from an illness. According to a study in China, 26 percent of people who were admitted to the hospital with COVID had insomnia two weeks after discharge.

A US study shows that people who have been exposed to COVID are more likely to have trouble sleeping than people who haven't.

Sleep difficulties and long COVID

Some people still have symptoms even after recovering from COVID. People who suffer from long COVID are more likely to have sleep problems.

More than 3000 people were surveyed for a study in 2011. Insomnia is the most common sleep problem reported by participants.

The study used smart wristbands to collect data on both sleep and quality. The people who had never had COVID got less deep sleep.

This type of sleep reduces how tired we are and strengthens our concentration and memory. Lack of deep sleep can be a factor in the reported brain fog.

Sleep helps our immune system to fight infections, so it's worrying that COVID can interfere with it.

Why does COVID affect our sleep?

Poor sleep may be caused by a COVID infection. A review identified a number of factors.

The areas that control wake and sleep can be affected by carbon dioxide. We don't have a clear understanding of how this works, but it is possible that the virus could affect the brain's blood supply.

There are a lot of symptoms of COVID. They are also known to cause insomnia.

Sleeping problems can be caused by poor mental health. There's a strong correlation between mental health issues and catching carbon dioxide. It can be caused by worries about recovery. It may be difficult to sleep because of such anxieties.

Hospitalized COVID patients can face additional difficulties trying to sleep in busy hospital environments where sleep is often disturbed by noise and other patients.

What about dreams?

A global research project involving sleep scientists from 14 countries recently released its findings into dreaming.

People with and without infections were surveyed about their dreams. The groups had more dreams after the beginning of the Pandemic.

There was no difference between the groups before and after the Pandemic.

There is no easy explanation for why catching COVID may increase nightmares. Poor mental health can lead to nightmares. There were more symptoms of anxiety and depression in the group that was exposed.

Getting help

The link between sleep and mental and physical health has never been more important and will require innovative solutions from governments and healthcare providers.

You are not alone if you have trouble sleeping or have more bad dreams than you used to.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to treat both short- and long-term insomnia.

Recommendations from the European Academy for Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Insomnia can be followed at home. These are included.

  • keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule
  • restricting thinking about things that make you feel stressed to specific times of day
  • using your bed only for sleep and sex
  • going to bed and getting up when you naturally feel inclined to do so
  • sharing feelings of stress and anxiety with family and friends
  • reducing sleep disruption due to light exposure by making sure your bedroom is as dark as possible
  • exercising regularly in daylight
  • avoiding eating close to bedtime.

Jakke and Rebecca are both PhD candidates in psychology.

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