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‘Alarming’ new data on disordered sleep after COVID-19



Moderate to severe sleep disturbances and severe fatigue affect up to 40% of patients with long COVID, or post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). Such disturbances are especially common among Black people, new research shows.

The “high” prevalence of moderate to severe sleep disturbances is “alarming,” study investigator Cinthya Pena Orbea, MD, sleep specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, said in an interview.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Dr. Pena and colleagues analyzed data on 962 patients with PASC seen at the Cleveland Clinic ReCOVer Clinic between February 2021 and April 2022.

More than two-thirds of patients (67.2%) reported at least moderate fatigue, while 21.8% reported severe fatigue, Dr. Pena reported.

In addition, 41.3% reported at least moderate sleep disturbances, while 8% of patients reported severe sleep disturbances, including insomnia, “which may impair quality of life,” Dr. Pena said.

Obesity, mood disorders, and Black race emerged as contributors to problems with sleep and fatigue after COVID.

Notably, after adjusting for demographics, Black race conferred threefold higher odds of moderate to severe sleep disturbances.

“We don’t know why this is, and one of our next steps is to better understand race-specific determinants of sleep disturbances after COVID and create targeted interventions,” Dr. Pena said.

How long after COVID the fatigue and sleep problems last “remains uncertain,” Dr. Pena acknowledged. However, in her clinical experience with therapy, patients’ sleep and fatigue may improve after 6 or 8 months.

Ruth Benca, MD, PhD, cochair of the Alliance for Sleep, is not surprised by the Cleveland Clinic findings.

“Sleep disturbances and fatigue are part of the sequelae of COVID,” Dr. Benca, who was not involved in the study, said in an interview.

“We know that people who have had COVID have more trouble sleeping afterwards. There is the COVID insomnia created in all of us just out of our worries, fears, isolation, and stress. And then there’s an actual impact of having the infection itself on worsening sleep,” said Dr. Benca, with Wake Forest University and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, both in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The study had no specific funding. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Benca is a consultant for Idorsia Pharmaceuticals.

A version of this article first appeared on

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