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Why Can't You Sleep During COVID? Answers From A Sleep Expert

Why Can't You Sleep During COVID? Answers From A Sleep Expert

Is staying home more than usual throwing your sleep schedule totally out of whack?

Do you find yourself waking up during vampire hours?

Are the never-ending changes of the past year weighing on your mind when you should be resting?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, one thing is certain:

You aren’t the only one.

The torpedo-of-a-past-year has led to what doctors are now referring to as Coronasomnia.

Ugh, Coronasomnia?

Yeah, that was our first thought too. As if we need yet another thing to be on the lookout for right now.

But it is true:

We are seeing a significant uptick in sleep-related issues with COVID being the culprit.

But we should be quick to point out one important thing:

You don’t have to have COVID to experience COVID-somnia. Rather it’s possible your sleep isn’t as great as usual due to stress around the pandemic.

Menlo Park Sleep Specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu notes:

“Indeed insomnia has become an issue in the time of COVID. Due to the loss of structure and working from home, the boundaries between work and play have become increasingly blurred. This is problematic for sleep, which always benefits from structure and regularity.”

Is COVID-somnia A Real Thing?

Again, we hate to say it - but it looks to be the case.

How do we know?

Well for starters:

Here’s the kicker:

This isn’t exactly a surprise.

In many ways, the pandemic is piggy-backing on an insomnia problem that already existed. In fact, before things like social distancing, masking in public, and the word “COVID” became our new norm researchers were calling sleeplessness a simmering public health crisis.

Now insomnia has been completely unleashed and enabled to run rampant due to an entirely new layer of unsettling and potentially life-changing questions we’re currently facing:

Is my job safe?

Should I have seen my friend?

Are my kids learning enough from home?

And on a particularly haunting note - even once we fall asleep, COVID often continues to plague our dreams.

Literally.

Turns out coronavirus-related nightmares are a thing - and a pretty common one at that, even among kids and teenagers.

And this totally makes sense. There are so many things that are making us susceptible to sleep issues right now:

  • Constant COVID reminders on the news and social media
  • More time spent indoors and less exposure to natural, outside light
  • Increased isolation
  • New responsibilities like homeschooling kids, setting up a home office, and taking extra precautions to complete otherwise basic tasks

And as Dr. Dimitriu notes, “the loss of structure is perhaps the most significant impact COVID has had on sleep schedules”.

Without our regular routines, many of us are working longer hours, staying up later than usual, or losing all boundaries that once stood between our home and work lives.

And while getting healthy, restorative sleep is crucial, even during non-COVID periods, it’s that much more important now.

As Dr. Dimitriu states:

“There are close ties between sleep and immunity, with recent evidence that the immune response to the vaccine is better when we are well rested on the nights prior. Beyond improved immunity, good quality sleep has the effect of improving mood, concentration, memory, anxiety, and impulse control- all of which are beneficial during a stressful time as the present.”

What Should I Be On The Lookout For?

The first hint that stress related to COVID might be affecting your sleep is...well, not sleeping.

We all experience sleep troubles a little differently but most of us fall into two categories:

  • Trouble falling asleep, or
  • Trouble staying asleep

Either way, your sleeplessness will likely be prompted by a swelling of anxiousness and a feeling like you just can’t relax.

Here are the symptoms to keep one eye open for:

  • Poor sleep 3 or more nights in a week for at least 3 months
  • Feeling tired all of the time, even after a night of sleep
  • Waking up often throughout the night
  • Having low energy and motivation levels
  • Having difficulty functioning personally or professionally
  • Experiencing anxiety-inducing dreams

How Can I Avoid Coronasomnia Altogether?

Here’s the part where we deliver a bit of good news:

There are things you can do to keep this pandemic and all of its byproducts from intruding in on your sleep.

Dr. Dimitriu notes that his recommendations for better rest haven’t varied all that much over the past year: “Sleep will always benefit from regular bed and wake hours, exercise by day, and no screens in the last hour or two before sleep”.

However, he does mention that extra emphasis should be placed on maintaining some structure during your day.  

It’s so important to:

  • Know when to start and stop work
  • Keep a set sleep schedule
  • Set aside time for regular meals and physical activity

Now might even be the time you start experimenting with a personalized sleep routine, implement healthier sleep hygiene habits, or improve your bedroom to act as a better sleep environment.

Last but certainly not least:

Speak with your doctor.

Yes, sleep is incredibly important to your overall help. And yes, COVID is making it that much harder to get the rest you need to maintain your health and be at your best.

So if you’ve found that your sleeplessness has been plaguing you - don’t just sit on it!

Even in a pandemic environment, a doctor can recommend tried-and-true solutions, including:

COVID has disrupted so many parts of our lives already. Don’t let it take over your sleep too.