The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in some necessary but drastic changes to our lifestyles, social distancing, quarantines, and remote working among much more. If you find yourself suffering from sleep difficulties or your sleeping pattern has gone awry, you are not alone. The coronavirus pandemic not only brings with it stress and anxiety that so often disrupt sleep but a plethora of other factors that can impede upon a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, these sleepless nights can have a negative effect on our wellbeing, causing a vicious circle of sleep-deprivation that can be tricky to break. Disrupted sleep is not only indicated in short or long term insomnia but also in fragmented sleep patterns, oversleeping and disturbing dreams.
Stress, Health Anxiety
Anxiety and stress are leading causes of sleep disturbance and the outbreak of a global pandemic will naturally cause heightened stress and panic levels across the population. The COVID-19 virus is a very real threat that has, directly and indirectly, affected almost every aspect of our lives. We worry about our safety and that of our loved ones, we fret over the impact on our jobs and the loss of our livelihoods and stress over washing our hands and following social distancing protocols amongst much more. Stress and anxiety are natural reactions to perceived threats, known as the ‘fight or flight response.’
In terms of sleep, the increase in stress levels causes the brain to produce more chemicals such as adrenaline. This is a very instinctual survival mechanism, which keeps our bodies in a vigilant state and in primitive times, safer from threats such as predators. Alongside rolling thoughts, this increase will keep us awake and aware at night. However, as the coronavirus threat is not relenting, the amygdala (the small almond-shaped section of our brain responsible for processing emotions) will keep signalling these natural ‘fight and flight’ responses that can cause sleep disturbances.
Some have sadly also had to deal with the coronavirus disease directly and may have lost loved ones. The grieving process or loneliness from isolation can trigger or exacerbate depression and also has the potential to impact on sleep and wellbeing. If possible, try to reach out to loved ones and socialize to lift your spirits.
If you are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, a cruel irony is the more you stress and attempt force it, the more sleep Is likely to evade you. If, after 20 minutes you have not managed to get to sleep, get up and do something else relaxing. Even leave your bed and read a book or do a puzzle in another room. Other techniques include winding down before bed with relaxation techniques or meditation.
Routines and Quarantine
One of the main responses to tackle the virus is the implementation of social distancing and isolating inside our homes. Whether this is mandatory or advised, it means that many of our daily routines have been disrupted. Not only are we unable to see friends and family at social events, but many of us are also forgoing the daily commute, working from home and shopping for groceries online. Inevitably, we are not exposed to as much fresh air and natural light which can have an impact on our body clocks.
This, alongside the change in our routines, can mean that some are sleeping-in in the mornings, taking naps or staying up later into the evening. We may be snacking more and not be doing as much exercise as we used to, even if that was walking around the office or to the car. We may also overcompensate when working from home, by working later into the night. Some may have greater home stresses as they try to home-school their children or keep their business afloat.
Further, the increased use of digital screens will also have a negative effect, as we try and socialise from our sofas, entertain ourselves with Netflix and check work emails. According to The Sleep Foundation digital screens ‘stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.’
Where possible it is important to keep a routine. Try not to sleep over eight hours a day (unless you feel your body regularly needs more than eight hours). Oversleeping can actually cause us to become more lethargic, according to some research. Attempt to keep a routine, set your alarm, and get up at the same time every day, perhaps even wind down before you go to bed. Take time to exercise as this has been proven to aid sleep, spend time outside in the garden, or even sitting in the window if a garden is not available to you. If you need to nap, try to limit it to twenty minutes. Finally, take the time to relax and do things that you enjoy.
In the Harvard Gazette, Donn Posner suggested: “Keep a rhythm, even if it’s a different time of day than it used to be… Once awake, however, try to get some sunlight, whether by taking a walk or sitting by a window. Keeping a regular schedule for meals and exercise helps, as does avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and electronic devices for several hours before bed.”