New research findings suggest that the risk of long COVID in individuals with pre-existing conditions is higher among those with short sleep duration, and sleep could be a modifiable factor to reduce risk of long COVID. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
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The CDC has found that some individuals who were infected with COVID-19 can experience long-term effects, known as long COVID. Symptoms include tiredness or fatigue, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, sleep problems, and difficulty thinking or concentrating.
Compared with individuals who had no pre-existing conditions and an average sleep duration (6 to 9 hours per night), researchers found that the risk of long COVID was 3 times higher in those who had pre-existing conditions and a short sleep duration (<6 hours per night). In contrast, the risk of long COVID in those with pre-existing conditions was just 1.8 times higher among those with an average nightly sleep duration.
“Habitual short nighttime sleep duration exacerbated the risk of long COVID in individuals with pre-existing conditions,” said senior author Frances Chung, MBBS, FRCPC, the ResMed chair in anesthesia, sleep, and perioperative medicine research at the University Health Network and a professor in the University of Toronto Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, in a press release. “Based on its proven adjuvant role in immunity, habitual sleep duration may alter the risk for developing long COVID.”
The investigators analyzed data from an online survey of 13,461 adults from 16 countries. Participants were categorized as COVID-19 cases if they reported having been infected with COVID-19 and testing positive.
Pre-existing medical conditions were defined as medical conditions existing prior to the COVID-19 infection, and long COVID was defined as having a history of COVID-19 infection with at least 1 symptom lasting for more than 3 months. Participants also reported how many hours per night they sleep on average.
Among the 13,461 participants who answered the questions about COVID-19 diagnosis, there were 2508 individuals who reported having a COVID-19 infection and 20% reported at least 1 long COVID symptom. Of the 1505 participants with long COVID who also reported their sleep duration and pre-existing conditions, 945 had pre-existing conditions and 560 had none. Additionally, 121 (8%) were short sleepers, 1257 (83.5%) had an average sleep duration, and 127 (84%) had a long sleep duration of more than 9 hours.
Chung noted that sleep duration could be a target for interventions to reduce the risk of long COVID, although more research is needed.
“Restoring nighttime sleep to average duration represents a potentially modifiable behavioral factor to lower the odds of long COVID for at-risk patients,” she concluded in the press release.
Risk of long COVID in people with pre-existing conditions is higher among short sleepers. News release. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. October 4, 2023. Accessed October 23, 2023. https://aasm.org/risk-long-covid-people-pre-existing-conditions-higher-among-short-sleepers/