How to treat post-COVID fatigue

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By now, we know that while some cases of COVID-19 are mild and short-lived, others are not. In fact, the term “COVID long-haulers” has become familiar vernacular, explaining symptoms such as brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, headaches and shortness of breath that persist long after the initial COVID-19 infection.

 

Long COVID, as it’s often called, impacts some 10% to 30% of people who get infected with the coronavirus, some research finds. One of its main symptoms is a tough one to battle day-in and day-out: chronic exhaustion.

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Researchers are still studying long COVID and its symptoms to figure out what causes it, who gets it and—most importantly—how to recover.

 

One of the best ways to avoid it is to reduce your risk of contracting a serious case of COVID-19, to begin with—and that’s through vaccination. One study published in The Lancet found that two vaccine doses lowered the risk of having symptoms post-infection by half.

 

As for what else we know? Here are just some of the discoveries that have come out of a few years’ worth of research on the topic.

What causes post-COVID fatigue?

The short answer: Even though fatigue seems to be the most common symptom among people with long COVID, we don’t know what causes it, says Vivek Cherian, MD, a Chicago-based internal medicine physician.

 

Research does, however, suggest a constellation of factors that can increase the risk of long COVID, as outlined in a recent New York Times (NYT) feature: a high level of viral RNA early on in the infection, the presence of specific autoantibodies, a reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis), and a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

 

People with long COVID also seem to have “disrupted immune systems,” as the NYT article points out, leading researchers and scientists to suspect that chronic immune dysfunction can set off a “chain of symptoms throughout the body.”

 

Of course, this doesn’t explain everything. “Even individuals who are young and had relatively mild courses have developed long COVID symptoms,” confirms Cherian.

 

While we now know that COVID-19 can have long-term effects on the brain, we still don’t know the exact mechanism, adds Cherian. “There have been some studies that demonstrated that the SARS-CoV-2 virus [which causes COVID-19] can lead to loss of gray matterbut we still need more time for a definitive cause,” he says.

 

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine, pain and chronic fatigue syndrome, says that post-viral chronic fatigue is a common problem caused by numerous viruses. “Certain viruses can trip an almond-sized circuit breaker in the brain called the hypothalamus,” he says, leading to a whole slew of symptoms from fatigue and insomnia to widespread hormonal deficiencies despite normal testing.

 

There is a lot of overlap in the exhaustion of long COVID and other conditions too, including myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), a complex disease categorized by “overwhelming fatigue that is not improved by rest.”

 

To this extent, some researchers point out that long COVID isn’t just one disease. Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, for example, told NPR, “It’s looking like what has been grouped together as ‘long COVID’ is actually two or three different groups of disorders.”

 

In short: There’s still a lot to be learned. “The virus that causes COVID-19 was identified only in December 2019, which is still quite recent,” says Cherian. “It is going to take time to learn more details as to how the virus affects people in different ways and who are more predisposed to developing long COVID symptoms including post-COVID fatigue.”

How long does fatigue last after COVID?

Fatigue is common after all viral infections, COVID included. Usually, it evens out after about two or three weeks. In long COVID? It lingers.

 

Most of the research on the timeline of long COVID has focused on people who have been hospitalized and is limited to 30 to 90 days post-infection, noting some lingering symptoms throughout this timeline.

 

But some studies find that north of 60% of people has at least one COVID-related symptom six months after getting sick initially. One recent study published in JAMA also found that nine months after falling ill, about 30% of people were still experiencing symptoms.

 

“Some individuals after recovering from COVID-19 will have absolutely no symptoms at all whereas other individuals can have symptoms that last anywhere from weeks to six months after initially testing positive for the virus,” says Cherian.

 

Symptoms of long COVID can be frustrating and persistent. But Cherian also says that “oftentimes, patients do get better over time, particularly with symptoms such as fatigue.”

 

The timeline of long COVID, as is true for its symptoms and who it impacts, varies.

How do you treat long COVID fatigue?

It’s a challenging question that the medical and scientific communities are currently grappling with. “Unfortunately, most physicians have no training in how to address long haulers or post-COVID symptoms,” says Teitelbaum.

 

That said, if you’re currently managing symptoms, some strategies can help, including the below options that both research and experts alike point people toward.

See your doctor

If you feel like your fatigue is getting worse and not better, if you’ve been having symptoms for more than a month that don’t seem to be improving or if you’re worried or have new symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor.

 

“They can take a full history and start referring you to specialists if needed,” says Cherian. “Treatment for long COVID requires a multi-disciplinary approach from different specialties such as cardiology, pulmonology, as well as rehabilitation services.” Your doctor can work with you on an individualized plan that is best for you.

Seek support

Feel like you have few answers as to what’s going on with your body and what you should do? You also might feel as though you’re experience isn’t valid—especially because, unlike physical symptoms, post-COVID fatigue isn’t visible. But it’s important to remember that fatigue is a very real and debilitating condition.

 

“Group therapy and support programs can be helpful,” says Cherian. There are even specific support groups for long COVID. You might find validation and support via these resources. Sometimes, mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, occur in tandem with fatigue, and therapy can help you feel better.

Look at your lifestyle

There are a lot of different factors that contribute to and prolong fatigue: a lack of exercise, lack of (or disturbance of) a daily routine, irregular sleep patterns, stressful jobs, caregiving responsibilities—the list goes on.

 

Research Teitelbaum has published suggests that optimizing sleep, hormones, immunity, nutrition and exercise as you’re best able to has been linked with a 90% increase in quality of life.

 

Some of these factors might feel (and likely are) outside of your control. But try honing in on what you can change—your bedtime routine, for example.

 

Ensuring you’re getting adequate sleep gives your body a chance to rest and work toward healing itself, says Cherian. He specifically calls out physical activity too, suggesting to aim for close to 30 minutes a day (if you don’t have exercise-induced fatigue).

 

“There is a fair amount of data that supports exercise improves our overall brain health,” he says.

 

Learn more about the most common reasons why you might be waking up tired in the morning.

 

 

This article originally appeared on Saatva.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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You should be napping every day. Here’s why

 

It’s hard to get my mind to stop racing at night, so to make sure I’m tired enough to fall asleep at bedtime, I’ve always avoided daytime naps at all costs. But it turns out napping does have some pretty sweet benefits that could actually help me — and you — sleep better at night.

 

Here, learn all about the benefits of napping, the best amount of time to nap and how to take a daytime nap without ruining your sleep at night.

 

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Is taking a nap good for you? According to research, there are plenty of reasons to squeeze a daytime nap into your schedule.

 

The top health benefits of taking a nap include the following.

 

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According to one study published in Frontiers in Psychology, participants who took a nap performed better and faster in a 5-meter shuttle run. For the athletes studied, a 45-minute nap proved to be the most effective, over 25- and 35-minute durations. This may be because athletes need more recovery time than non-athletes.

 

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According to a study that examined 40 participants and categorized them into nappers vs. non-nappers, the participants who napped were able to tolerate frustrating scenarios slightly longer than those who didn’t nap. Participants who napped also reported feeling less impulsive.

 

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After learning both single words and word pairs, one study had half of the participants nap after their lesson, while the other half watched DVDs. While item memory (remembering a single word) decreased for both groups, associative memory (remembering the relationship between unrelated items) ranked higher in participants who had napped.

 

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How long is an effective nap, exactly? A nap of around 20 minutes can be beneficial and restorative, says Daniel A. Monti, MD, founding director and CEO of the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and author of Tapestry of Health.

 

Sleeping longer than that during the day can “reinforce a negative cycle of improper sleep at night,” he says, adding that “the majority of sleep should happen during the night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to circadian rhythms.”

 

In general, shorter naps are more efficient than longer ones. Your circadian rhythm has been carefully calibrated by millions of years of evolution, as well as more recent adaptations to cultural practices.

 

Therefore, timing your naps is crucial if you want to extract the maximum benefit. Taking a nap under 30 minutes prevents you from entering deep sleep and suffering sleep inertia (a feeling of drowsiness) upon waking.

 

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Now you know the benefits of napping and how long a daytime nap should be. Next, let’s delve into the different types of power naps that can be good for you, depending on your lifestyle.

 

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Taking a mid-day power nap (sometimes called a cat nap) between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. can help boost your energy and mental performance in the latter part of the afternoon. Anyone can benefit from this type of nap.

 

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Naps are an excellent way to improve your athletic performance. If you have an important sports competition coming up, try taking a power nap beforehand to get yourself in the game, mentally and physically.

 

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Working the night shift can do a number on your body clock. Strategically power napping before heading to work can help keep your schedule on track.

 

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Also known as the “nap-a-latte,” a coffee nap involves drinking a cup of regular or decaf coffee and then setting a timer for a 20-minute siesta. The theory is that the caffeine will kick in once you wake up so you’ll be raring to go.

 

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Caring for a newborn means skipping out on sleep for yourself. Consider napping during the day while your child sleeps to minimize sleep deprivation.

 

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Ready to get napping? Follow this advice to reap the benefits of taking a nap without ruining your ability to sleep at night.

 

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As we’ve mentioned, shorter naps are better. But what happens if you nap for longer than 30 minutes or even 90 minutes? One study shared by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) looked at just that.

 

It found—alarmingly—that napping for 40 minutes or longer was “associated with a steep increase in the risk of developing metabolic syndrome—a collection of health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess fat around the waist, and high blood sugar that all increase a person’s risk for heart disease.”

 

The ACC also pointed out a study published in the June 2015 issue of Sleep that “tied naps longer than an hour to an 82% increase in cardiovascular disease,” furthering the theory that longer naps are not good for your health.

 

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Per the Mayo Clinic, taking a nap later than 3 p.m. will interfere with your nighttime sleep. So, it’s best to nap earlier in the day if you can. With so many of us working from home these days, you might finally have time for that early afternoon nap.

 

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Try to mimic your sleep environment as best you can. Make sure the room you’re napping in is cool (60-67 degrees is the optimal sleep temperature) and dark.

 

You may want to wear a sleep mask and put on a white noise machine or app to block out distractions. Listen to your body: When you feel that afternoon slump hit (before 3 p.m.!), try napping during this time since your body is already in drowsy mode.

 

Need more tips? Here are a few commonly asked nap questions!

 

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Taking naps is good for your health. Research shows people who take naps experience better athletic performance, better moods and better memory and cognitive function than those who don’t nap.

 

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Shorter naps are better for you. The best amount of time to nap is roughly around 20 minutes. Napping daily for longer than 30 minutes can make you feel groggy upon waking and is associated with higher instances of health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

 

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Longer naps aren’t good for your health. Research shows napping for an hour or more can lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease. Short daily naps of about 20 minutes are ideal.

 

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Taking a nap later than 3 p.m. will make it hard to fall asleep at night. Aim to take a power nap earlier in the day if you can.

 

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No. In fact, many experts agree the best time to take a nap is right after lunch. That’s because most of us experience a post-lunch dip in energy around 1 p.m. Take advantage of your body clock and enjoy an afternoon siesta.

 

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Yes. Taking a nap after working out can help support muscle recovery. When you snooze, your pituitary gland releases growth hormone, which your muscles need to repair tissue. Just keep in mind that it can be hard to fall asleep after exercising since working out increases your body temperature and endorphins.

 

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Yes. Taking a nap before studying can be beneficial. That’s because research shows a power nap can boost your memory. The next time you have a test coming up, try taking a 20-minute nap before you crack open your textbook.

 

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Yes. In general, you shouldn’t take a nap with your contact lenses in. Sleeping with contacts can lead to a risk of infection and irritation. Note there are extended wear contact lenses you can wear while you sleep. Ask your eye doctor before adding any new products to your routine.

 

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The right mattress can help you reap all of the benefits of taking a nap. There are a wide range of high-quality mattresses that suit all sleep styles so you can easily find your perfect match. Look for cozy bedding to upgrade your bedroom and make it as comfortable as possible for napping.

 

Take Saatva’s online mattress quiz to determine which mattress will help you get the most out of your daytime naps.

 

This article originally appeared on Saatva.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org

 

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