Scientists find link between short sleep and higher risk of long COVID

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A new study proposes that sleep duration plays a pivotal role in modulating the relationship between pre-existing medical conditions and the risk of developing long-term effects following a COVID-19 infection, often referred to as “long COVID.”

Individuals with pre-existing conditions and a short sleep duration of less than 6 hours per night exhibited a risk of long COVID that was three times higher than those without pre-existing conditions and who slept an average of 6 to 9 hours per night.

Those with pre-existing conditions and an average nightly sleep duration had a risk of long COVID that was 1.8 times higher.

The analysis adjusted for potential confounders including age, sex, BMI, vaccination status, and ethnicity.

The study sourced its data from an online survey of 13,461 adults across 16 countries.

Implications of Sleep on Long COVID

“Habitual short nighttime sleep duration exacerbated the risk of long COVID in individuals with pre-existing conditions,” remarked Dr. Frances Chung, the senior author of the study and the ResMed Chair in anesthesia, sleep, and perioperative medicine research at University Health Network.

She further emphasized the substantial role of habitual sleep duration in potentially altering the risk of developing long COVID due to its proven adjuvant role in immunity.

Long COVID: An Ongoing Concern

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores that some individuals infected with COVID-19 encounter persistent, long-term effects, known collectively as long COVID.

This condition may manifest as a myriad of symptoms including persistent fatigue, difficulty in breathing, sleep issues, and “brain fog” (an impaired cognitive function).

In-Depth: Survey Data and Participant Information

From 13,461 survey participants, 2,508 reported having been infected with COVID-19, with 20% indicating the presence of at least one long COVID symptom.

Of 1,505 participants reporting long COVID symptoms, sleep duration, and pre-existing condition status:

    • 945 had pre-existing conditions
    • 560 had none
    • 121 (8%) were short sleepers
    • 1,257 (83.5%) had an average sleep duration
    • 127 (84%) had a nightly sleep duration exceeding 9 hours

Chung identifies sleep duration as a potential target for interventions aimed at mitigating the risk of long COVID, stating, “Restoring nighttime sleep to average duration represents a potentially modifiable behavioral factor to lower the odds of long COVID for at-risk patients.”

Looking Ahead: Further Investigation Needed

While the study sheds light on the plausible link between sleep duration, pre-existing conditions, and long COVID, the authors highlight the necessity of additional research to delve into the pathophysiology of long COVID, thereby paving the way for comprehensive understanding and the development of intervention strategies.

This research, available in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, draws attention to the potential utility of considering sleep duration as a variable in managing post-COVID-19 outcomes, especially among individuals with pre-existing conditions.

However, the multifaceted nature of long COVID implies that integrated approaches that consider various risk factors and management strategies will be instrumental in navigating this ongoing health challenge.

If you care about sleep, please read studies about the science on 3 traditional bedtime remedies, and this sleep supplement may help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline.

For more information about sleep, please see recent studies about how to sleep to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and results showing scientists find silent sleep danger for smokers.

The research findings can be found in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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