It’s been almost a year since SARS-COV-2 was declared a pandemic, and what a year it has been. Between the stress of losing our job to not being able to leave the house, and the looming threat of getting seriously sick, most of us had our entire lives turned upside down, and we had to live with one form of stress or another at the back of our minds. But this constant stress has its consequences, and one most common one these days is acute insomnia.
Scientists have given it a name – coronasomnia – and it’s a phenomenon that appeared all over the world. According to the World Health Organization, getting lots of sleep is vital for strengthening your immune system and coping with stress, but that’s easier said than done. One UK study found that sleep loss is affecting young children, working moms, and essential workers, while in China, during peak lockdown, insomnia rates rose to 20%. In Italy and Greece, nearly half of adults reported having chronic insomnia, and, between April and May, Google searches for “insomnia” increased by 58%. Over 2.77 million people searched for ways to fall asleep between midnight and 5 am, with peak searches reported around 3 am. But we’re no longer under complete lockdown, and vaccines were rolled out, so why are we talking about this, you might ask? Well, coronasomnia might be more serious than we think.
According to Angela Drake, health professor at the University of California, pandemic-induced sleep disorders are becoming chronic and long-lasting because most people delay seeking medical treatment for non-emergencies. At the same time, even if things are looking somewhat better, most people haven’t been able to release all the stress that’s built up in the past twelve months, and it’s becoming increasingly harder to shake off the bad habits we formed in the first lockdown.
The three factors that favored coronasomnia
The dangers of insomnia aren’t breaking news. Scientists have been talking for years about its negative effects on physical and mental wellbeing, and there was talk of rising insomnia rates before the pandemic. But COVID-19 grew the issue to astronomic proportions. But what exactly made the pandemic such a great period for insomnia to thrive in? Scientists have suggested three key factors:
- Disrupted schedules. Before the pandemic, most of us had a routine. Wake up, commute, work, lunchbreak, more work, commute again, come back home, have dinner, relax, then go to sleep. That routine kept us grounded and regulated our circadian rhythms. But that changed when lockdown started and work and personal time collided. Without that familiar structure, most people started waking up later, combining work with house chores and staying asleep until late at night. In time, that messed up the circadian rhythm, and insomnia started to perpetuate itself.
- The pressure to work harder. Working from home has its perks during the pandemic, but many people struggled to separate personal and professional life. That led to situations where people would forget about taking breaks, stayed online after work, or answered emails at night.
- Constant stress. Stress in general fuels insomnia, and we got a lot of it in the past year. Apart from the constant fear that a loved one or we could get sick and the generalized uncertainty about the future, there’s also the stress caused by excessive news consumption, or “doomscrolling.”
How can you fight coronasomnia?
The tricky thing about insomnia is that it’s like a vicious circle. The more you can’t sleep, the more you worry about it, and when you’re constantly fatigued, every minor inconvenience feels like the end of the world. So, how can you break this circle?
During the pandemic, many people discovered that natural solutions such as those from Pure Hemp Farms could help them cope with stress and fall asleep faster. Online yoga courses also become more popular, as did meditation apps and self-help books. All of these can be efficient, but doctors point out that in serious cases, they might not be enough.
Recently, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has released a new set of guidelines for the treatment of chronic insomnia: multi-component cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), stimulus control, sleep restriction therapy, and relaxation therapy.
In addition to these therapies, AASM also advocates for the importance of sleep education and encourages everyone who has been having trouble sleeping to implement several lifestyle changes:
- Set boundaries: separate work from personal life. Find time for breaks during the day, refrain from answering calls and emails after work, and don’t work at night.
- Avoid short-term, unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking alcohol because they make the problem worse in the long-run. Avoid naps during the day, too, because they make it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Reduce news consumption, especially before bedtime. It’s enough to get your guidance from official news sources once per day; constantly checking your feed for news will only exacerbate anxiety. If you can’t sleep, it’s better to get out of bed and do something around the house than check your phone.
- Your bed is not an office. Get out of bed, and don’t work in your pajamas. Set up a separate workspace; it doesn’t matter if it’s not an entire room. This way, it will be easier to disconnect from work, and you’ll see your bed as a space for relaxation.
- Don’t eat dinner late. Lockdown has also disrupted our meal schedules, moving breakfast at lunch and dinner at midnight. But scientists warn that eating late at night, right before bedtime, prevents us from falling asleep and reduces our sleep quality. Have you ever had a restful sleep after eating an entire pizza?
- Exercise, preferably outdoors. Not only does it strengthen your immune system and keeps you active, but it also helps you keep your sanity and fall asleep faster.
When chronic insomnia is also accompanied by anxiety, depression, and negative thoughts, you might also consider seeking professional help. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on mental health, and you don’t have to fight the pressure alone.
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