COVID-19: The other symptom we need to get on top of - sleep

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COVID-19 has been messing with our sleep, from weird dreams to unusual sleeping patterns, to simply feeling exhausted.

And when research shows vaccine efficacy can be affected by a good night's rest, getting quality shut-eye becomes even more important.

The Detail looks at the ways the pandemic and lockdowns have changed our sleep patterns, and what we can do to get better at it.

Rosie Gibson is a senior lecturer at Massey University and leads projects at its Sleep/Wake Research Centre.

"A lot of what the research (overseas) has shown is that people have more disruptive sleep, so symptoms of insomnia… seem to have increased during the lockdown, and [there are] reports of more intense or frequent dreaming as well," Dr Gibson says.

That's also backed up by an online survey of more than 700 New Zealanders Dr Gibson conducted during our first lockdown last year.

"Just over half were defined as poor sleepers using our standardised questionnaires and certainly about 45 percent rated their sleep as being worse during lockdown than pre-lockdown," she says.

"Having said that, 22 percent reported an improvement in sleep."

Dr Gibson explains the phenomenon of crazy dreams - there are a few things at play, including increased stress and longer sleep cycles that aren't disrupted by needing to get up early to go somewhere.

As for the importance of sleep in a COVID world, well, it's widely accepted that shut-eye is good for health and for building our immune system in general.

But research into other vaccines like the Hepatitis jab found if patients were deprived of sleep the night after having the vaccine, their immune response was significantly less than those who had good rest.

"They found even a year later that their immune response was still lower for those who hadn't had sleep the night after the vaccine," says Gibson.

"It really gives us evidence that sleep has a really important role for immunological memory... deep sleep has a really important process for learning and strengthening our immune system."

Dr Gibson also gives The Detail’s Jessie Chiang tips on how to get a good night's rest and what things are unhelpful - that includes alcohol and caffeine.

"It takes up a third of our lives, so I think if we don't consider sleep alongside our waking lives, things could come pretty unstuck," she says.

RNZ

COVID-19: The other symptom we need to get on top of - sleep