This week’s COVID Catch-up: Insomnia lingers after COVID

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Though her COVID is gone, sleepless nights still plague Carrie Steinweg

COVID Catch-up is a weekly column featuring Lansing Journal journalist Carrie Steinweg’s personal experience with COVID-19 and things she learned from others who shared their experiences. Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss any COVID Catch-ups. Last week’s column is available here.

By Carrie Steinweg
COVID
Carrie Steinweg (photo provided)

LANSING, Ill. (April 15, 2021) – Now that I’m nearing the six month mark from the onset of symptoms of COVID and I’m nowhere close to feeling like I did before that point, I guess that I’m one of the unfortunate people that would fall into the category of being a “long hauler.”

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A usual night owl

One of the many effects of my COVID experience that has been ongoing since early November is the disruption in sleep patterns. I’ve always been more of a night owl than a morning person. My bedtime used to hover around midnight, give or take a half hour or hour. Sometimes it might be later. But it was rarely earlier.

No matter what time I would lay down in bed or turn off my phone, I was almost always snoozing within a few minutes. It usually took very little time to fall asleep and once I fell asleep, I was pretty much asleep for the night and wouldn’t wake up until the sun was shining. I’ve slept through many loud thunderstorms over the years. It always perplexed my husband, who after more than 20 years in the fire service, has become accustomed to sleeping lightly and who had to learn to survive on nights of broken sleep with frequent disruptions.

When I was hospitalized in November with COVID pneumonia, I was not sleeping well. That’s understandable. You’re in a strange place. As soon as you get comfortable and doze off, someone is coming in your room and flipping on the lights to check vitals, do rounds, take blood, or give medications.

Sleepless hours

Once I was home, I was barely sleeping. There were a few nights in those early days back at home that I slept only 90 minutes at night. And then I might be up with painful leg cramps going on for hours. I had never experienced insomnia before and I thought it might be linked to the steroids I had been prescribed. As I finished the steroids and time went on, I was sleeping more at night, but still having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

Now I long so much for the days of being able to fall asleep once my head hit the pillow and have a good night’s sleep. I can lay down in bed at 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. or 1 a.m., but I am then awake for a long time and I now wake up often at night. I typically lay in bed for three hours or more before I fall asleep. There have been nights I have been in bed awake for six hours before falling asleep.

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I have developed a bad habit in recent years of using my smartphone while I’m laying in bed — to scroll social media or watch something on a streaming app. Sometimes that may keep me up longer than I’d like. Sometimes I turn off the phone but still lay there awake for hours. Sometimes I lay there for hours and then turn on the phone to occupy me since I’m already awake.

I’m not keen on the idea of using medication to try and fix it. I’ve tried a few other ways to lull myself to sleep, but nothing has seemed to have made much of a difference. It’s one of the things that I just keep hoping will go back to normal eventually. But, like many other things about this virus, it is exhausting and seems never-ending.

Insomnia not uncommon

Sometimes I spend these wee hours of the morning when I can’t sleep reading articles from medical sources on links between COVID and insomnia. Many touch upon the reported increases in insomnia in general during the pandemic and not necessarily how it has affected COVID patients. There’s really not much information on how it’s related or how common it is. The CDC doesn’t recognize it as a symptom or side effect of COVID.

But when I change the search keywords a bit and look for “long haulers with insomnia” or other similar phrases, I find no shortage of stories of those who have had long-term effects that include insomnia. It’s happening to many, many people while they are battling COVID and after.

It’s currently 1:48 a.m. After three hours in bed without a bit of sleep, I got up and decided to do something productive. So here I am — writing this column and about to head to bed and try again.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. My heart aches for you. I do hope you will find sleep in the near future…This is the worse feeling in the world…. I ‘m not comparing myself to you but, there are nights when I have trouble sleeping and believe me, it’s the worst. Good luck with the improvement in sleeping 101 .
    Rosalie

  2. I’ve not had Covid, but the stress of the pandemic caused my insomnia to become chronic. I am now in the process of going thru CBTi, (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia)at a sleep clinic in Orland Park. If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes you are supposed to get out of your bed and go and do something boring like reading an uninteresting book till you feel tired and go back to bed and try again. You have to retrain your brain that the bed is for sleeping only. Also try mindful meditation, it too helps you to relax to sleep.

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