Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on obstructive sleep apnea: recommendations for symptom management

J Clin Sleep Med. 2021 Mar 1;17(3):429-434. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.8922.


Study objectives: In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, we address the following important questions: (1) How can patients be identified for possible OSA while sleep clinic testing is temporarily unavailable or limited? and (2) What measures can be suggested to improve sleep health until proper diagnosis and treatment become safe and available again?

Methods: As a proxy for home or in-laboratory testing, validation of a symptom-based measure of OSA risk is presented, based on an ongoing larger prospective study of 156 family medicine patients with OSA (88 women, 68 men; mean age, 57 years) and 60 control participants (36 women, 24 men; mean age, 54 years) recruited from the community. Participants completed the Sleep Symptom Checklist (SSC) and a range of other self-report measures; primary care patients also underwent a polysomnographic sleep study.

Results: Results showed that (1) individuals with OSA reported more symptoms on the SSC related to insomnia, daytime symptoms, sleep disorders, and psychological maladjustment than did the control group (all P < .001), and (2) their sleep-related symptoms were significantly more severe than those of the control patients. In addition, several polysomnographic indices in recently diagnosed untreated individuals with OSA were significantly correlated with SSC measured sleep disorder symptoms, and SSC scores significantly distinguished participants with OSA from control participants.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that family practitioners can effectively prescreen patients for possible OSA by inquiring about 5 items that form the SSC sleep disorders subscale. If OSA is suspected, then we can recommend a range of behavioral techniques to improve symptoms. The current pandemic causes us to reflect that the provisional targeting of symptoms and guidance regarding mitigation strategies while waiting for specialist care could serve patients well at any time.

Keywords: COVID-19; OSA; behavioral interventions; family medicine; screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Checklist
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Care / methods
  • Self Report
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / therapy