Reviewing Sleep Science as COVID-Based Exhaustion Spreads

patients complaining of brain fog and fatigue on the rise, doctors say

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Stress causes exhaustion and affects our ability to get high-quality sleep. As we make our way through a stressful period, our energy is used up more quickly. When we do sleep, it’s seldom deep sleep. As society is stressed by COVID-19, getting our rest matters now more than ever.

Woman sleeping in bed under covers
During the highly stressful times of COVID-19, we need adequate, restful sleep at night to counteract pandemic-caused fatigue. Photo By l i g h t p o e t / Shutterstock

Most Americans say that the novel coronavirus pandemic has been a significant source of stress for them. More and more medical professionals and health experts say that whether considering the possibility of death or lifelong health complications, mourning a loved one lost to COVID-19, or facing pandemic-caused unemployment or eviction, patients are exhausted and stressed due to the coronavirus.

Stress often causes fatigue and exhaustion in those who suffer from it, which in turn lead to poor job performance, impaired judgment, and even signs of schizophrenia. In her video series How to Boost Your Physical and Mental Energy, Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, a fitness and wellness consultant, said sleep helps more than we think.

Sleep and Physical and Mental Health

“One way that sleep helps promote health is through growth hormone,” Dr. Bonura said. “In kids, growth is a primary factor in growth; in adults, it’s critical to maintaining and repairing tissues and organs.”

According to Dr. Bonura, growth hormone is primarily secreted at night while we sleep, during slow-wave or deep sleep. Of course, if our nightly period of deep sleep is interrupted—for example, if stress keeps us up or in less restful states of sleep—we secrete less growth hormone. This makes it more difficult for our bodies to recover and repair as we age.

Sleep deprivation also causes functional problems similar to alcohol consumption.

“A blood alcohol level of 0.08 is considered legally drunk,” Dr. Bonura said. “By 18 hours awake, your alertness level is comparable to someone with a 0.05 alcohol level—not legally drunk, but certainly tipsy. By 24 hours awake, your alertness level and reflexes are comparable to someone who has a 0.10 blood alcohol level—drunk past the legal limit.”

Adults Need Naps, Too

In addition to pointing out the need for proper restful sleep, Dr. Bonura also said that naps can give us an energy boost when we feel fatigued, if we can manage to make time for one.

“Different naps have different purposes, and you should choose a nap based on what you need,” she said. “Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that a 90-minute nap clears the brain’s short-term memory storage—it helps make room for you to learn new information.

“That’s different from a 20-minute power nap, which helps boost alertness.”

According to Dr. Bonura, one effective strategy to boost alertness is to drink a cup of coffee just before taking a 20-minute nap, since caffeine takes about 20 minutes to enter the bloodstream. If the napper times it just right, they’ll wake up feeling revved up and ready to take on the rest of the day.

“If you only have a few minutes though, and you need a quick boost, a German study has found that a micro-nap as short as six minutes can boost your energy,” Dr. Bonura said. “Naps can help take the edge off when you’re worn down, but a consistent schedule of sufficient sleep is what you need to improve your health.”

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily