Experts launch first Czech Covid sleep disorder study

Covid-19 can leave side-effects that persist long after people have recovered from the initial symptoms of the virus. Scientists at the Czech National Institute of Mental Health are currently conducting an extensive research project investigating one specific issue that has come to be associated with Covid-19 infection – sleep disorders.

Illustrative photo: Martin Sanchez,  Unsplash,  CC0 1.0

Lingering sleep problems can be some of the most unpleasant after-effects of Covid-19. But not much is yet known about why the virus can cause sleep disorders, or about how people affected by these disorders should be treated. Research underway at the Czech National Institute of Mental Health is the first comprehensive study of these issues in Czechia. Doctor Tereza Dvořáková, a researcher at the institute, told Radio Prague more about the project.

“We started the study by conducting a survey in the Czech population because there was pretty much nothing known about neurological and especially sleep symptoms in the Czech Republic. So we did a nationwide survey to get some initial data.”

Preliminary results from the survey, which was open to anyone who had recovered from Covid-19, were released last week. Sixty percent of the survey’s respondents said that they suffer from post-Covid insomnia. Another 30% have started having lucid dreams, and 17% are troubled by nightmares. Dvořáková says that these problems can go on for months in some cases.

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“There are huge differences in how long the duration can be. Most commonly, it lasts for a few weeks. However, we also see patients who have had Covid in 2020 or 2021 and their sleep problems are still persisting or just slowly starting to get better.”

Dvořáková explains that, although it is so far unclear how exactly Covid-19 can lead to sleep disorders, the most likely cause is nerve damage induced by the virus.

“There is evidence for the neuroinvasive potential of the virus, which is most commonly manifested through the loss of smell and taste. It’s likely that the sleep issues are caused by the same mechanism. There are actually two theories. One of them is that Covid causes direct damage to the body’s central nervous system. The second is that it is due to the response of the body’s own immune system. I actually think that the most likely scenario is that it is a combination of the two.”

And what should people suffering from these issues do to alleviate them? According to Dvořáková, there is currently no special remedy for sleep problems caused by coronavirus.

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“The recommendation would be basically the same as in sleep medicine in general. The first step is always sleep hygiene, maintaining a proper schedule and so forth. If none of those are helping and the issues are long lasting, then it is best to seek out medical care and tackle the issue differently, with professional help.”

Dr. Dvořáková’s team will seek to uncover more about Covid-related sleep disorders in the clinical phase of their project, which is just getting underway. As part of it, the scientists will closely monitor patients’ sleep patterns in a specialized laboratory. Since the sleep issues can linger for so long in some people, Dvořáková says that she expects that it may take five or even ten years for the project to be completed.