Studies in many countries show a rise in cases of insomnia, disturbed sleep, or disrupted sleep—awakening several times a night. “Having insomnia can add to the risk of chronic conditions, such as psychiatric and cardiovascular disorders,” says Dalva Poyares, physician and professor of sleep medicine at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo. She notes that robust immune system function includes a regular sleep routine.
This could be particularly relevant for patients battling COVID-19. A research at Wuhan Union Hospital surveying COVID-19 patients’ sleep after hospitalization showed that patients suffering from inadequate sleep had less immune cells in their blood, required more time to recover, and were at higher risk of needing intensive care. Decreased sleep quality can be explained in part, by lifestyle changes brought on by home-stay orders and social distancing—including less exercise, more closely monitoring news, and spending more time on screens near bedtime.
Some people tend to be more at risk than others. The financial crisis resulting from the quarantine pandemic has left many unemployed, and the financial pressure that resulted has also had an effect on sleep quality. Those facing financial difficulties experience sleep problems about twice as much as people who do not face those problems. However, working can also be a risk factor. One in three frontline health employees has signs of insomnia.
Women face more sleep problems than men do. “Women’s reaction to stress is different from that of men. Often, depression and anxiety associated with sleep disturbances are more common in women,” explains Poyares. In the United States, the prevalence of depression and generalized anxiety disorders is higher in women than in men. People with a prior history of sleep problems may be the most likely to suffer.
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