Sleeping Woman

Metabolic Health, Sleepless Nights, and COVID-19

Are we anxious? Judging by a huge leap in people filling prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds, the answer is clearly yes. Before COVID-19 was on our minds, those prescriptions were growing by a by a few percentage points, year over year. Once COVID-19 grabbed our attention, they jumped by 34 percent right away. Likewise, Rxs for sleep meds are up. COVID-19 is bringing sleepless nights for many people.

As this continues, missing our sleep will surely be messing with with our metabolic health.


Sleep experts are recognizing that the pandemic is bringing us an epidemic of sleep disturbances. Coronasomnia, they call it. Neurologist Alon Avidan, who directs the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, says:

Patients who used to have insomnia, patients who used to have difficulty falling asleep because of anxiety, are having more problems. Patients who were having nightmares have more nightmares. With COVID-19, we recognize that there is now an epidemic of sleep problems.

Sara Tibebu tells the Washington Post that she’s tried everything, but “the lack of sleep is just driving me crazy.” Anxiety about the pandemic and related concerns has her lying awake and staring at the ceiling of her bedroom most nights.

Chenlu Gao and Michael Scullin report in Sleep Medicine that the biggest impact on sleep has come to shift workers, care givers, and people with high pandemic stress.

A Serious Public Health Concern

Folks who deal with sleep disorders see a significant threat to public health from this disruption. Charles M. Morin, of the Sleep Research Center at Université Laval in Quebec, says:

Insomnia is not a benign problem. The impact of insomnia on quality of life is enormous. We hear a great deal about the importance of exercising and good diet, but sleep is the third pillar of sustainable health.

The link to metabolic health is especially important. While the popular media is promoting concerns about pandemic weight gain, the anxieties they stir can be quite counterproductive. Better sleep is important for maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep disruption is a real threat to metabolic health.


If there’s any good news in this report of sleepless nights and COVID-19, it’s all about adapting. Gao and Scullin found that some people actually found an opportunity for better sleep quality in the midst of the pandemic. These were not shift workers, of course. Rather, they were people who took advantage of more flexible work schedules for better sleep routines.

As with so many other aspects of the pandemic, it turns out that sleep health might be a story of haves and have-nots. For those who have flexibility, life is good. For so-called “essential workers” and folks with other pandemic stressors, challenges are all around. Healthy sleep is one that deserves more attention.

Click here for further perspective from the Washington Post and here for the study by Gao and Scullin.

Sleeping Woman, sketch by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin / WikiArt

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September 6, 2020