After being unwell with COVID, you might notice that your sleep has changed and you might:
- Find it hard to fall asleep
- Keep waking up
- Wake up earlier than usual and cannot get back to sleep
- Wake up still feeling tired, as if you have not had any sleep
If you notice these problems, learn more about feeling tired all the time.
Why has COVID changed my sleep?
There are many reasons why your sleep might have changed after you had COVID.
- Medicine used to treat COVID can affect your sleep
- Your brain needs natural daylight to make you feel sleepy – being ill in bed at home or in hospital may mean that you may not have got any natural daylight
Individuals with long COVID may have persisting problems of COVID that make it difficult to sleep, such as:
- Being out of breath
- Dry cough
- Pain, in joints and/or other parts of the body
- Tinnitus (a constant sound in the ear)
- Fear and anxiety
You may also be fatigued which means feeling tired all the time. If you are feeling tired all the time, you might take naps during the day, which can affect your sleep or stop you from getting a good night’s sleep.
It is normal to feel worried after having COVID, but this can affect your sleep or stop you from getting any sleep at all. Find out more about managing mood here.
What does a sleep cycle look like?
Sleep is made up of several stages which vary from light to deep sleep with periods of rapid eye movement (REM). During REM sleep, your eyes move quickly under your eye-lids. This stage is when dreams happen. It is common to wake up during lighter sleep so this is not something to worry about.
What can I do to sleep better?
Things to try and remember in the evening before trying sleep:
- Drink plenty of water during the day and in the evening
- Drink less or no coffee, tea or fizzy drinks before bed
- Eat earlier in the evening rather than before bed
- Reduce smoking of cigarettes, e-cigarettes or vapes before bed
- Reduce alcohol consumption before bed
- If you are exercising, avoid any energetic exercise within 2 hours before bed
It might help to develop a sleep routine to prepare yourself for bed every night. You should aim for between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, and to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Things to help you sleep and develop a sleep routine:
- Read or listen to music
- Turn the lights down
- Keep the temperature cool in your room
- Keep the room quiet and peaceful – keep the TV or music at a low volume if you need to
- Try not to watch TV or use your laptop, tablet or smartphone when it is time to sleep
- Try to get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends and holidays
- Avoid taking naps if you can – if you are feeling fatigued, shorter naps earlier in the day are less likely to affect your sleep
During the night
If you wake up in the night, try not to check the time.
Keep a notepad by the side of the bed and write down any thoughts that come to mind which might be keeping you from sleeping – this will help you to get the thoughts out of your head and get back to sleep.
If you wake up for longer than 20 minutes, try to:
- Get out of bed and do something relaxing like reading or listening to music
- Go back to bed when you feel tired again
- Try not to worry – the more you worry, the less likely you will be able to get back to sleep.
What if I have bad dreams?
If you have been unwell with COVID, you might have bad dreams which can stop you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Bad dreams can:
- Wake you up
- Stop you from going back to sleep
- Make you worried to go to sleep
One method that can help with bad dreams is the Dream Completion Technique.
The Dream Completion Technique
If you are dreaming about when you were unwell, it is important to remember that it is in the past and what is happening is just a dream. They are your dreams and you are in charge of what happens.
If you do not remember the dream, just a horrible feeling when you wake up, you can still use this method by thinking about a different feeling that would make you feel better.
Think about your most recent nightmare. You don’t need to overthink too much about what it means or re-live it – just think about the point when you woke up.
What would you want to happen next in the dream that feels good?
- Take some time on this – what we are looking for is a new way for the dream to continue
- While bad dreams can feel very real, remember dreams do not follow the same rules as real life so your imagined way of fixing the problem does not need to be something that could happen in real life
- It could be a way of getting control in a way that you may not have been able to when you were unwell with COVID
Write down your way of solving the problem. Read it and imagine a different ending to your dream.
Your dreams themselves may or may not change through this method, but you can lessen their power over you by changing their ending when you are awake.
What do I do if the advice on this page does not help?
You could see your GP, a health professional or long COVID clinic and they might:
- Suggest some apps on your phone to help you relax and sleep better
- Refer you for some therapy such as talking therapies to help you relax
- Discuss ways to manage your pain and/or other symptoms at night to make it easier to sleep
- If available, refer you for CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – Insomnia)
- If necessary, give you some short-term medication to help you sleep
You may need some specialist help if you have had a very traumatic experience with COVID, your GP might refer you to a local service called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).
You can also get in touch with IAPT yourself for help – it is free through the NHS. Find your local psychological therapy service.