Circadian misalignment is associated with Covid-19 infection

Sleep Med. 2022 May:93:71-74. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2022.03.015. Epub 2022 Mar 26.


Background: Circadian system contributes to the regulation of inflammatory processes, but the role of circadian misalignment as a risk factor for contracting Covid-19 has up to now been poorly studied. The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between circadian misalignment (chronic disturbance of the circadian system) and the risk of Covid-19 infection in a population of subjects suspected of contact or infection with SARS-CoV-2.

Methods: Cross-sectional single-center study conducted during a period without lockdown in winter 2021. Recruitment took place in a Covid-19 outpatient testing center. Subjects between 18 and 45 years old were included whether they were symptomatic or not, healthcare workers or not, in contact with a Covid-19 case or not. To determine social jetlag, a proxy of circadian misalignment, they were asked about their usual sleep-wake behaviors. Usual sleep duration and sleep-wake timing were explored on workdays and free days. Social jetlag was defined as at least 2 h shift of circadian alignment (defined as the difference between mid-sleep on workdays and mid-sleep on free days, mid-sleep as the median between bedtime and rise time).

Results: One thousand fourteen subjects were included (sampling rate: 10.8%, 39% men, mean age 28 ± 8) with 56 subjects positive for Covid-19 (positivity rate: 5.5%). Usual mean sleep duration was equivalent in both groups (7h47 versus 7h49, p = 0.733). Social jetlag greater than 2 h comprised 33.3% of subjects in the Covid-19 group versus 20.6% in the control group (p = 0.026). After adjustment on age, gender, BMI and work schedules, subjects presenting with social jetlag greater than 2 h had a 2.07-fold higher likelihood to test positive than subjects who had identical sleep-wake timing on workdays and free days (OR = 2.07, 95%CI = [1.12-3.80], p = 0.024).

Conclusion: Circadian misalignment not only is present in subjects infected by Covid-19 but could also be responsible for a higher likelihood of being infected. The chronobiological impact on the immune system or a higher likelihood of being exposed to social contacts during nocturnal activities could explain our findings, which need to be confirmed in a future large cohort study. Regular sleep-wake timing could ultimately become a target for preventing Covid-19 infection.

Keywords: COVID-19; Epidemiology; Immunology; Sleep medicine specialty.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Circadian Rhythm* / physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Jet Lag Syndrome
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult