March 2020 marked a pivotal moment across the world, when nations closed borders, city-wide lockdowns were enforced, and everyday use of masks were encouraged. The Coronavirus changed the lives of millions of people across the world and impacted the way we now view our health and well-being. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, sore throat, and more (CDC). Yet, there is still much to be discovered about this novel virus, and research shows that your sleep health may play a significant role in one's susceptibility to contracting COVID-19.
Sleep Apnea is the involuntary and temporary cessation of breathing during sleep. This serious sleep disorder also may include momentary awakenings throughout the night that are often forgotten. Approximately 1 in 20 adults are diagnosed with this disorder in the U.S. alone, making sleep apnea as common as Type 2 diabetes.
This sleep disorder has three common diagnoses, and the most frequently seen variation of these three is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
OSA is caused by a blockage in the airway. This blockage is often soft tissue that falls in the back of the throat, closing the airway during sleep. This blockage in the upper airway results in difficulty breathing and forces chest muscles and the diaphragm to work even harder to draw in air while opening up the blockage. Often times, the soft tissue blockage is caused by severe weight gain, which is why obesity is considered a factor in OSA.
To read more about Sleep Apnea & How to Treat Sleep Apnea, click here.
How Are COVID-19 & Sleep Apnea Related?
Recent studies have found that patients with OSA could be at increased risk for adverse effects of COVID-19. And while there needs to be more research done on this area of study to determine whether OSA is an independent risk factor, or an effect that is only associated with the more serious symptoms of COVID-19, it is important to take extra caution and ensure that a patient with OSA takes the necessary precautions to prevent unwanted effects of the novel virus.
According to a study by BMJ Open Respiratory Research, "OSA has been identified as a potentially prominent factor contributing to COVID-19 hospitalization" (AJMC 2021). This could be due to several factors, which include the fact that most sleep apnea patients are older in age, have a BMI of 30.0 or above, and may also have other underlying conditions that contribute to a decrease in overall health.
Despite speculations about causality between sleep apnea and COVID-19, researchers at Kaiser Permanente Southern California have found that longer use of CPAP leads to decreased risk of hospitalization and less serious symptoms of COVID-19. A CPAP is a form of therapy for sleep apnea patients that continuously supplies positive air pressure to the airway during sleep. Findings also show that untreated sleep apnea is associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 infection.
To read more about CPAP and other forms of sleep apnea therapy, click here.
How To Take Action
It is important, now more than ever, to pay attention your sleeping habits and patterns. With all that is unknown about the coronavirus, taking preventative steps to ensure your well-being is the best way to take your health into your own hands. If you're concerned that you may suffer from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, consult with your doctor about what measures to take and what your next step should be.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Symptoms of covid-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html.
2. Gavidia, M. (2021, January 18). Obstructive sleep apnea linked with higher risk of covid-19 hospitalization, complications. AJMC. https://www.ajmc.com/view/obstructive-sleep-apnea-linked-with-higher-risk-of-covid-19-hospitalization-complications.
3. Hariyanto, T. I., & Kurniawan, A. (2021). Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and outcomes FROM CORONAVIRUS disease 2019 (COVID-19) pneumonia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine, 82, 47–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2021.03.02
4. Kaltwasser, J. (2021, May 25). Sleep apnea appears to increase risk of covid-19 infection. AJMC. https://www.ajmc.com/view/sleep-apnea-appears-to-increase-risk-of-covid-19-infection.
5. WebMD. (2021, May 18). Sleep apnea raises odds for severe covid-19. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20210518/sleep-apnea-raises-odds-for-severe-covid-19#1.