Saskatchewan

'It was like I was a zombie': Sask. woman says COVID-19 wreaked havoc on sleep schedule

Leanne Thompson-Hill says she's had a lot of sleepless nights since she got COVID-19 last year.

Leanne Thompson-Hill got coronavirus last year

Leanne Thompson-Hill says COVID caused huge disruptions to her sleep. (Submitted by Leanne Thompson-Hill)

Leanne Thompson-Hill says she's had a lot of sleepless nights since she got COVID-19 last year.

On top of all the other terrible symptoms, Thompson-Hill said one of the most awful aspects was the havoc it wreaked on her ability to get a good night's sleep.

"I didn't sleep. I'd just stay up. It was like I was a zombie," she said. "I wanted to sleep. I couldn't get out of bed."

Before she even knew she had COVID-19, she had extreme insomnia for six weeks, never sleeping more than an hour at a time.

"At first I honestly thought I was dying,' she said. "It felt like I had glass in my lungs."

That was in March 2020. Now many of her symptoms are much better, but she said if she doesn't get at least eight hours of sleep, her COVID-19 symptoms come back.

"I make sure of it. As soon as I know I'm tired I go to bed."

Thompson-Hill, who is from Aberdeen, Sask., is part of a COVID-19 support group on Facebook for the Lung Association of Saskatchewan. She said sleep problems are common among group members like her who have "long-haul" symptoms.

She said it's a comfort to share stories. She said some members have strange things in common, such as terrible nightmares when in the grip of COVID-19.

She said some group members describe insomnia, while others sleep without feeling rested.

A Regina woman who is still dealing with symptoms after having COVID-19 is trying to find out if the virus has caused her body any long-term damage. 7:45

"When I got COVID, I thought, this is b------t, I don't even want to live. It was so much pain day after day. I think the lack of sleep really makes you think that."

She said mental illness and thoughts of suicide are not unusual in the people she knows with chronic COVID-19 symptoms. She said the sleep deprivation stops people from thinking clearly.

"Lack of sleep is horrible for anyone's well-being," she said.

Doctor says stress can also contribute to sleep struggles

Dr. Colin Ellis, a respirologist and sleep medicine specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, said there's not a lot of research yet into sleep deprivation and COVID-19 but that anecdotally it seems that people are struggling with getting a good night's rest.

Ellis said there is research about how people slept after contracting SARS. He said there was a high prevalence of insomnia. He said that even after physical symptoms ended, people had sleep loss due to the stigma and stress of contracting the disease.

"I wonder if that's what we'll see with COVID. It can be a traumatic experience."

Dr. Colin Ellis is a respirologist and sleep medicine specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Dr. Colin Ellis)

Ellis said anxiety is high in these unprecedented times — even for those who don't contract COVID-19 — and that in itself can cause insomnia.

"A lot of people have been struggling with their mental health. This is what I'm hearing when I'm speaking on the phone with patients," he said.

"You hear those stories and it saddens you to hear that someone is having a hard time."

Ellis said there are some potential positives to the pandemic on the sleep front. He said more people than ever are working from home, which might mean skipping the commute and sleeping instead.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said Leanne Thompson-Hill is from Regina. In fact, she is from Aberdeen.
    Mar 18, 2021 11:47 AM CT

With files from CBC's Morning Edition.

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