Malaysians with long Covid plagued by insomnia, sleepless nights as virus’ long-term effects linger on

24 August 2021

Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t as easy as it used to be for Lim Chi Weng. The 32-year-old fell ill with Covid-19 in May and although he only experienced mild symptoms at his worst, he started having insomnia 10 days after he tested positive. He went on to suffer sleepless nights for eight weeks long after he recovered from the virus.

“I was having insomnia and I couldn’t sleep at night or even during the daytime. I tried to rest but I could feel something was different as my brain was always on alert. Even a minor sound would wake me up immediately,” Lim told Malay Mail.

As a salesperson who is always on the go, Lim’s long-haul symptoms had a major impact on his daily routine. Lack of sleep caused him to feel extremely fatigued throughout the day and he had to constantly settle down for power naps.  Even then, he was so sensitised to small noises to the point where it was impossible to get proper rest.

It’s a similar dilemma for Abdul Aziz Yusof who tested positive for Covid-19 in early May. The 55-year-old’s condition deteriorated rapidly from category one to four and he had to be warded in the intensive care unit (ICU) for six days when doctors found that his lungs had been affected.

Aziz managed to get better thanks to medical staff who supplied him with oxygen and monitored his condition carefully to ensure he did not slip into category five. Surviving Covid-19 can feel like waking up from a bad dream but for Aziz, the nightmare continues beyond the point of recovery.

Aziz said he’s now “nocturnal” and is often awake against his will from 1am until morning.

“I think (the long-term symptoms) started immediately after I was discharged from the hospital. Since I cannot really sleep at night, it causes me to feel sleepy and tired in the daytime. It affects my work,” he told Malay Mail.

A follow-up doctor’s appointment on June 28 showed that Aziz still had traces of inflammation in his lungs almost a month after being discharged. He continues to take steroid medications to manage his condition and has been doing his best to rebuild his stamina with simple exercise routines.

What is long Covid?

Aziz and Lim are some of the many former Covid-19 patients who continue to feel the virus’ lingering effects on their bodies.

The Health Ministry defines long Covid, also known as post-Covid syndrome, as a condition where Covid-19 patients have symptoms up to 12 weeks during or after infection which cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

Insomnia, fatigue, loss of concentration or memory loss, breathlessness, and anxiety are just a few of the long-haul symptoms former patients have reported experiencing.

It’s more common than you think too, as a clinical study by the Health Ministry showed that 66% of 1,004 category four and five Covid-19 patients who required oxygen or intubation suffered from long Covid.

In a statement from early June, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said further studies are being done to understand and identify the effects of long Covid.

Consultant respiratory physician Dr Kow Ken Siong told Malay Mail that long Covid is most likely caused by multiple factors including a continued inflammatory response by the body’s immune system and lingering viral activity.

“Our understanding of long Covid is limited and more research is needed to study the causes. (The cause) is probably multifactorial and may be due to a combination of a continued inflammatory response, lingering viral activity, and blood clotting abnormalities,” said Dr Kow.

He added that Covid-19 patients with co-morbidities and those who require hospitalisation and prolonged ICU stays are more prone to developing long-haul symptoms.

Can vaccines help with long Covid?

According to Dr Kow, vaccines can help prevent long Covid by reducing the severity of the illness in infected individuals and lowering their chances of developing long-term symptoms.

He also said that vaccinations could abate symptoms in those who already have long Covid, though the link between vaccines and improvement in such symptoms has not been fully supported by existing research.

Medical experts are now studying the possible benefits of monthly vaccinations for long Covid patients to manage the virus’ long-term effects.

“Real-world studies have shown that vaccinated individuals tend to have milder symptoms if infected with Covid-19 and are less likely to experience long Covid.

“There are also studies that suggest that patients with long Covid have an improvement in their symptoms following vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine. 

“However, the effects were not sustained and studies are now being conducted to assess the outcome of monthly vaccination for these groups of patients suffering from long Covid,” said Dr Kow.

Source: Malay Mail