The National Institute for Health (NIH) has recently (12/09/23) started funding targeted studies on the prevalent sleep disturbances experienced by long COVID patients and how these connect to other symptoms like pain and brain fog, in order to better understand underlying mechanisms and identify improved treatment approaches. A key focus is distinguishing mild from severe initial COVID cases, since long COVID manifestations likely differ depending on initial severity.
About 40% of people with long COVID report sleep issues like insomnia, sleepiness, frequent waking, and feeling unrested. Two small NIH-funded studies are examining the sleep disturbances associated with long COVID and their connections to symptoms like pain and brain fog.
One study led by Dr. Monika Haack will assess sleep quality in long COVID patients compared to recovered patients, using sleep diaries, wrist monitors, and lab sleep tests. They will also test pain sensitivity and central nervous system functioning. The goal is to clarify the relationship between sleep disturbances and pain in long COVID.
Another study led by Dr. Kristen Knutson and Dr. Igor Koralnik will examine links between poor sleep, inflammation, and brain fog in older long COVID patients. They hypothesize sleep disruption and immune dysfunction may jointly contribute to cognitive symptoms. Blood markers, sleep monitoring, and questionnaires will be used.
The studies will provide insights on specific aspects of sleep that are impaired in long COVID and how this connects to other prevalent symptoms. Understanding the mechanisms underlying sleep disturbances could reveal better treatment targets beyond just sleep itself.
Dr. Koralnik notes the need to distinguish mild from severe initial COVID cases, since long COVID manifestations likely differ. Most current definitions do not account for this. The studies focus on non-hospitalized patients to isolate long COVID effects.
Improving sleep is likely an important component in alleviating broader long COVID symptoms. These projects exemplify how NIH is elucidating the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on sleep through focused research initiatives.
You can read the full report here.