Getting enough sleep at night can help reduce people’s risk of getting COVID-19, as well as developing more serious illnesses, new research suggests.
The study included more than 2,800 frontline healthcare workers in six countries who were regularly exposed to COVID-19 from last spring to last fall. It found that for every additional hour of sleep that workers got at night, their risk of COVID-19 dropped by 12%.
And those who said they were battling self-reported exhaustion had a higher risk of contracting the virus. They also tended to stay ill for a longer period of time and were more likely to become seriously ill than those who said they were not burned.
“Lack of sleep, severe sleep problems and exhaustion can be risk factors for COVID-19 in healthcare workers,” said Steven Holfinger, sleep medicine expert at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. , who was not involved in the new study.
Holfinger added that he believes that “further research would be useful to better define this risk,” and cautioned against jumping to conclusions based on the new study, which was published recently in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention, and Health.
For one thing, the study didn’t necessarily take into account all the reasons that exhausted healthcare workers may be more likely to contract COVID-19. For example, they may have just been seeing more patients. Holinger also noted that the pandemic has evolved so much since last spring, particularly with the emergence of new variants, that the “data must be interpreted with caution” today.
However, the new research is not the first to suggest that there is a link between sleep and COVID-19 risk.
A small study in China found that people who did not get much sleep the week before contracting COVID-19 appeared to have more severe results. Researchers are also exploring the possibility that melatonin, the hormone that plays a crucial role in the sleep-wake cycle, may help prevent COVID-19.
Again, those investigations, and others, are inconclusive, and experts caution against overinterpretation. It’s not like getting regular rest at night is all that is needed to avoid COVID-19.
But sleep is an important factor in immune function.
“As our bodies fight infection, we release sleep-promoting cytokines, causing increased sleep during infections,” Holfinger said. “We assume this is advantageous for our immune system to fight infection, so the current hypothesis is that sleep is beneficial for our immune health.”
And during a pandemic when so many factors that determine individual risk for COVID-19 are completely beyond anyone’s control, it is tempting to consider that there could be another health habit that many (although certainly not all) have some direct agency on. .
As writer James Hamblin, a board certified physician who specializes in public health, asked in a recent Atlantic article on sleep and the connection to COVID-19: “It is one of the most glaring omissions in health guidelines. public right now just telling people to get more sleep? “
Unfortunately, even in non-pandemic times, millions of Americans do not get enough rest. A third of adults fall short of the recommended seven hours or more per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and estimates say that 1 in 4 Americans develops insomnia during a given year. The CDC declared sleep disorders a public health crisis, even before COVID-19.
And during the pandemic, Americans sleep even less.
Experts have coined a new term for the sleep problems of the coronavirus era: “coronasomnia” (also “COVID-somnia”). Prescriptions for sleeping pills have increased. People are dealing with significant chronic stress and are isolated. Emerging evidence also suggests that the virus itself makes it difficult to sleep among those who have recovered, particularly long-haul COVID-19 carriers.
Of course, the main means of preventing COVID-19 transmission remain the same as ever: masking, hand washing, social distancing, and widespread vaccination.
But to the extent that people can, they must also prioritize sleep. Even if ongoing research on sleep and the COVID-19 link does not show a linear connection, sleep is in many ways the foundation of physical and mental health.
“It is very common for people not to allow themselves enough time in bed at night. Therefore, people who intentionally deprive themselves of sleep (staying up late watching TV or getting up early to be productive) are likely to reduce their immune system’s response to infections, ”Holfinger said.
“Avoiding sleep deprivation will not only help your immune system, it will also help your overall quality of life.”
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but the orientation may change as scientists discover more about the virus. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date recommendations.