This site is intended for health professionals only

Covid-19 Primary Care Resources

How important is the role of sleep in immune function and should this influence prescribing for patients in high risk groups?

Advice from a Consultant Psychiatrist in Behavioural Sleep Medicine

This information is sourced from Dr Nicholas Meyer, Consultant Psychiatrist in Behavioural Sleep Medicine


​​How important is the role of sleep in immune function? Should we change our threshold for prescribing for insomnia if a patient is in a high risk group for Covid-19?


Sleep that is of good quality and quantity is essential for all aspects of our mental and physical health. However, although insomnia can be very debilitating and distressing, it is unlikely that insomnia will affect immune function to the extent that it increases the risk of becoming infected with Covid-19, and I am aware of no evidence that insomnia confers an increased risk. Studies examining sleep and impairments in immune function have generally been in animals, and have used prolonged sleep deprivation, which is different from insomnia. Also, drug treatments for insomnia are not risk-free, and risks may outweigh any benefits, particularly in high-risk groups.

Given that insomnia develops through worry about sleep, their sleep problem may be compounded by worries that they may become unwell with covid. Therefore, it is important to reassure patients that insomnia does not put them at increased risk of major illness, including contracting covid, and that effective treatments are available.

Although identifying and treating insomnia is a priority, I would not let this change thresholds for prescribing in this group.