Covid-19 and Sleep
The newly discovered coronavirus had killed only a couple of dozen people when Feixiong Cheng started trying to find a treatment.
He knew time was of the essence: Cheng, a knowledge analyst at the Cleveland Clinic, had seen similar coronaviruses tear through China and Saudi Arabia before, sickening thousands and shaking the worldwide economy. So, in January, his lab used AI to look for hidden clues within the structure of the virus to predict how it invaded human cells, and what might stop it. One observation stood out: The virus could potentially be blocked by melatonin.
Melatonin's Effect on Coronavirus
Melatonin, best referred to as the sleep hormone, wasn’t a clear think about halting an epidemic. Its most familiar role is within the regulation of our circadian rhythms. Each night, as darkness falls, it shoots out of our brain and into our blood, inducing sleep.
After he published his research, though, Cheng heard from scientists around the world who thought there could be something there too. They noted that melatonin acts as a moderator to assist in keeping our self-protective responses from going haywire—which happens to be the essential problem that will quickly turn a light case of COVID-19 into a life-threatening scenario.
Cheng decided to dig deeper. For months, he and colleagues pieced together the info from thousands of patients who were seen at his center. In results published last month, melatonin continued to show itself. People taking it had significantly lower odds of developing COVID-19, and significantly lower odds of dying from it. Other researchers noticed similar patterns.
In October, a study at Columbia University found that incubated patients had better rates of survival if they received melatonin. When President Donald Trump was flown to Reed National Military center for COVID-19 treatment, his doctors prescribed—in addition to a plethora of other experimental therapies—melatonin.
Eight clinical trials are currently ongoing, around the world, to see if these melatonin correlations are consistent. Few other treatments are receiving this attention.
If melatonin actually proves to assist people, it might be the most cost-effective and most readily accessible medicine to counter COVID-19. Unlike experimental drugs like Remdesivir and antibody cocktails, melatonin is widely available within the US as an over-the-counter dietary supplement. People could start taking it immediately.
How Covid Affects Our Sleep
Several mysteries of how COVID-19 works converge on the question of how the disease affects our sleep, and the way our sleep affects the disease. The virus is capable of altering the fragile processes within our nervous system, in many cases in unpredictable ways, sometimes creating long-term symptoms. Better appreciating the ties between immunity and our nervous system might be central to understanding COVID-19—and preventing it.
Throughout the pandemic, the department of neurology at Johns Hopkins University has been flooded with consultation requests for people affected by insomnia. Roughly three-quarters of individuals within the UK have had a change in their sleep during the pandemic, consistent with the British Sleep Society, and fewer than half are becoming refreshing sleep. “In the summer, we were calling it ‘COVID-Somnia,’” Salas says.
Many people’s sleep continues to be disrupted by predictable pandemic anxieties. But more perplexing symptoms are arising specifically among people that have recovered from COVID-19.
When nerves are invaded and killed, the damage is often permanent. When nerves are miscommunicating—in ways in which come and go—that process is often treated, modulated, prevented, and quite possibly cured.
Although sleep cycles are often disturbed and damaged by the post-infectious inflammatory process, radiologists and neurologists aren’t seeing evidence that this is often irreversible. And among the arsenal of the way to aim to reverse it are basic measures like sleep itself. Adequate sleep also plays a neighborhood in minimizing the likelihood of ever getting into this whole nasty, uncertain process.
A central function of sleep is maintaining proper channels of cellular communication within the brain. Sleep is usually likened to a kind of anti-inflammatory cleansing process; it removes waste products that accumulate during each day of firing. Without sleep, those by-products accumulate and impair communication.
Breaking the Cycle
Here the advantages of sleep extend throughout the body. “Sleep is vital for effective immune function, and it also helps to manage metabolism, including glucose and mechanisms controlling appetite and weight gain,” Miller says. All of those bear directly on COVID-19, as risk factors for severe cases include diabetes, obesity, and apnea.
Even within the short term, getting enough deep, slow-wave sleep will optimize your metabolism and cause you to be maximally prepared do you have to fall ill. These effects may even bear on vaccination. Flu shots appear to be simpler among people that have slept well within the days preceding getting one.
All of this leads back to the essential question: Should we simply inform people to get more sleep?
The only health advice was given more than being told to scrub your hands is being told to sleep more. But it’s a cliché for a reason. Sleep fortifies and prepares us for any given crisis, but especially when the times are short and cold, and other people have little else they could do to empower and protect themselves. Monotonous days can slip people into depression and substance abuse. Depression and anxiety make insomnia worse, and therefore the cycle degenerates.
This may be where melatonin—or other approaches to enhancing the potent effects of sleep—could be consequential. Russel Reiter, a cell-biology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is convinced that widespread treatment of COVID-19 with melatonin should already be standard practice. In May, Reiter and colleagues published a plea for melatonin to be immediately given to everyone with COVID-19.
Treatments for Insomnia
Acute insomnia often requires no treatment and symptoms usually go away on their own or can be cured by practicing better sleep habits. People who regularly suffer from insomnia and feel that their symptoms are impacting their daily lives should seek treatment by scheduling an appointment with their primary care physician. Oftentimes treatment for secondary insomnia requires treating the underlying medical/psychiatric condition that is causing insomnia as a side effect.
Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia
Cognitive and behavioral approaches may be taken that help a person change behaviors that are causing insomnia and others that help promote better sleep practices including relaxation and meditation techniques, breathing exercises, learning to associate the bedroom with sleep and sex only, keeping a regular bedtime/wake schedule, and other sleep hygiene practices.
Medical Treatments for Insomnia
There are over-the-counter and prescription sleep aid medications available to help with symptoms of insomnia. However, it is not recommended to use over-the-counter medications as their effectiveness and side effects may vary and be undesired. It is best to discuss possible sleep aids with your primary care physician. Typical medications for insomnia include benzodiazepine hypnotics, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, and melatonin receptor, agonists.
If another sleep disorder is the underlying cause of your poor quality sleep troubles, a sleep study may be necessary to diagnose and treat the sleep disorder.
If you live in the state of Alaska and believe that a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or narcolepsy made be causing you to experience insomnia, schedule a call for a free consultation by clicking the link below with Alaska Sleep Clinic.
As the quest for sleep falls only more to individuals, many are left to think outside the box. That has included, for some, dabbling in hypnosis.
Hypnotherapy is meant to slow down the rapid firing of our nerves. Similar to a guided meditation or deep breathing, the intent is to stop people from overthinking and allow sleep to happen naturally.
Regardless of whom you trust to help relieve you of consciousness, now seems like an ideal time to get serious about the practice. Draw boundaries for yourself, and sleep like your life depends on it. Hopefully, it won’t.