Recent studies have found that factors like exposure to air pollution or consumers’ diets may impact the severity of COVID-19 infection. Now, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic have found that more severe forms of the virus may cause sleeping disorders.
According to their findings, sleep disorders may increase the risk of developing more serious cases of COVID-19.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the disease remains highly variable from patient to patient, it is critical to improve our ability to predict who will have more severe illness so that we can appropriately allocate resources,” said researcher Dr. Reena Mehra. “This study improved our understanding of the association between sleep disorders and the risk for adverse COVID-19 outcomes. It suggests biomarkers of inflammation may mediate this relationship.”
Health risks associated with sleep disorders
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 5,400 patients at the Cleveland Clinic who had been tested for COVID-19 and also completed sleep studies. The team tracked the patients’ health outcomes over time and paid close attention to the severity of their COVID-19 infections and any sleep disturbances.
Ultimately, the researchers learned that participants with sleep disorders weren’t more prone to COVID-19 infection. However, even after accounting for risk factors like obesity and smoking, sleep disorders were linked with more severe infections once the patients tested positive for the virus.
For participants with any kind of sleep apnea or sleep hypoxia, which is when blood oxygen drops significantly during sleep, there was a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection. These patients were 31% more likely to be hospitalized and had a 31% higher risk of mortality after testing positive for COVID.
Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings can help lead to potential treatments for patients struggling with sleeping disorders and a COVID-19 infection.
“Our findings have significant implications as decreased hospitalizations and mortality could reduce the strain on health care systems,” said researcher Dr. Cinthya Pena Orbea. “If indeed sleep-related hypoxia translates to worse COVID-19 outcomes, risk stratification strategies should be implemented to prioritize early allocation of COVID-19 therapy to this subgroup of patients.”