Dr. Joe Ojile is busy. As founder and CEO of the Clayton Sleep Institute, Ojile is among the many physicians whose workload increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In his case, more patients have been seeking help with sleep issues caused both directly and indirectly by the novel coronavirus.
“We’re seeing quite a lot of people who are reporting problems getting to sleep and staying asleep or who feel unusually tired, sleepy and fatigued all the time,” he says.
Both ends of the spectrum can be a result of COVID-19. People who had COVID-19 may be “long-haulers,” experiencing sleep problems along with other lingering symptoms. In some cases, COVID-19 patients have lasting neurological or anatomical issues that affect sleep. For instance, being on a ventilator can cause both psychological and physical trauma, Ojile notes. Those who did not contract COVID-19 still may find their sleep disrupted after months of stress and anxiety.
Most CSI patients are referred from a primary care physician or specialist. “In most cases, some testing has already been done, and we make sure nothing new is going on from a disease standpoint,” Ojile says. “Then, it’s largely a matter of helping people reorder their behaviors to promote healthy sleep patterns. Medication is an option for a narrow group if other interventions don’t prove to be helpful.”
The tactics used to help patients regain a good night’s sleep focus on routine and healthy sleep hygiene. Ojile says that creating and sticking to a set bedtime and wake time can give people a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation. “We can’t control the pandemic, but we can control our own behaviors,” he says. That sense of control helps reduce anxiety, which in turn can improve sleep.
In fact, Ojile encourages patients to consider the pandemic a time of opportunity in terms of creating an overall healthier lifestyle. “There’s a chance to take what is a really unfortunate situation and make it a force for good on a personal level,” he says. “Of course, COVID is bad. But let’s try to turn the paradigm around and work on healthy habits. I’ve seen patients do this, and it’s inspirational.”
Ojile’s general advice is not new: abide by a routine, even on weekends; don’t eat late at night; keep technology out of the bedroom and turn off screens a couple of hours before bed; and get some outdoor exercise each day, if possible. The information might be something you’ve heard before, but Ojile says the pandemic has highlighted the absolute need for remembering these strategies.
“Take control of what you can,” Ojile says. “And then take these habits into the future with you.”
Clayton Sleep Institute, 2531 S. Big Bend Blvd., Maplewood, 314-645-5855, claytonsleep.com