How COVID-19 Has Affected Our Sleep Patterns

As studies say, our sleep is the latest casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Too many sleepless nights can aggravate both physical and mental health problems, increasing stress and exaggerating outside circumstances, that are already out of our reach. Lack of sleep can lead to several anxiety disorders, episodes of depression, lack of productivity, and general malaise.

From the “Coronavirus, social distancing, and acute insomnia: How to avoid chronic sleep problems before they get started”- Harvard School of Public Health online forum - we found out some interesting facts about how this global crisis is influencing our sleep habits and what to do about it.

Sleep habits during the pandemic

Specialists say that disrupted daily routines worsen the sleep-robbing stress of the pandemic. We should consider this situation as a risk factor for our health in the long-term. They also mention that even in perfectly normal situations, about 30% of people struggle with insomnia, short-term.

According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), insomnia means difficulty going to sleep, maintaining sleep, or waking up too early, which has as cause a stressor, an event that changes our normal quality of life. This is different from the lack of sleep caused by our daily schedule, so work-related.

“If you can’t sleep do not try to force it. Good sleepers put no effort into sleep whatsoever.”

— Donn Posner

The effects of insomnia

The issues caused by insomnia are getting worse during these times and it can develop into some sort of chronic sleep disorder. This could have major consequences for our cognitive processes as chronic insomnia is related to other health issues like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and hypertension. Having a role in obesity, insomnia can make losing weight a more arduous process.

Mental health and mood disorders are getting even more complicated than they are by the lack of sleep. A considerable increase in anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses has been proven by studies done since the pandemic has begun.

Even the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet states that “ the general population survey, done by Ipsos MORI, revealed widespread concerns about the effect of social isolation or social distancing on wellbeing; increased anxiety, depression, stress, and other negative feelings; and concern about the practical implications of the pandemic response, including financial difficulties. The prospect of becoming physically unwell with COVID-19 ranked lower than these issues related to the social and psychological response to the pandemic.”

Why is sleep more important during this pandemic?

Sleep is a critical biological process, and the truth is, it’s always important, even if we take it for granted. When confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, though, good sleep becomes even more essential because of its wide-ranging benefits for our overall health.

  •  Sleep sustains an effective immune system. Good rest strengthens our body’s defense systems, and studies have even found that lack of sleep can make some medication less effective.
  • Sleep heightens brain function. Our mind works better when we get enough sleep, contributing to complex thinking, learning, memory, and decision-making. For adults and children adapting to work and school at home, a good night’s sleep can help them stay focused.
  • Sleep enhances our mood. The lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy level, and cause or worsen feelings of depression and anxiety, that are already through the roof these days.
  • Sleep improves mental health. Besides depression, studies have found that poor rest is linked with mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sleep routine best practices

There are a few simple adjustments to our already altered routines that may resolve our bedtime issues before they snowball. This requires some easy sleep behavior changes and the help of nature.

  1. Don’t nap! In this stage of fatigue, your body and your mind will accept any kind of rest. But, a nap in the afternoon or a short power-nap, after a night you haven’t rested properly can do more harm than good. It’s just like with snacks: they ruin your appetite and still leave you hungry.
  2. Set your routine. A routine is a powerful tool we have at our disposal during hectic times, like this one. Establishing a schedule keeps our minds organized, sleep experts have always recommended avoiding major changes in our daily sleep routines.
  3. Use your bed for sleep and sleep only. That means it’s not a good idea to turn your bed into your work-from-home-office, don’t binge-watch the new Netflix series from your bedroom bed. Why? Well, because in your mind it has to be a clear association between sleep and your bed. Also, if you’re having trouble getting to sleep and the tossing and turning last longer than 20 minutes, sleep experts advise you to get out of bed and do something else in a dim light before returning to bed.
  4. Take advantage of light and nature! Natural light has a major impact on our circadian rhythm, so spend as much time outside in nature, as you can. During the day, let the sun’s light into your house. Be aware of the not so beneficial screen light, as the blue light from our devices interferes with our body’s natural sleep process. As much as possible, reduce screen time, especially before going to bed at night. Take as many walks in nature as you can, as its powerful benefits for our mood can be immediately noticed.
  5. Use a natural sleep blend! As more nights go by and the quality of your sleep hasn’t improved, and your mood isn’t the greatest, you might be tempted to start using some sleeping pills. Besides the numerous side-effects of the pills, they can also become addictive, doing more harm than good. A natural alternative to sleeping pills, with no side-effects and no worries for addiction, is a sleep blend made out of natural ingredients, mostly natural essential oils from bio cultures, with proven effects on the quality of sleep. They also smell great, are easy to use, and relax your body and mind. For instance, the lavender essential oil has been studied for a while now, due to its benefits on other health issues, as well.

In this day and age, stress and sleep exist in a bi-directional relationship. Just as stress and anxiety trigger insomnia and other sleep problems, the lack of sleep increases stress and anxiety. Poor sleep makes us more vulnerable to the symptoms of anxiety and can have long-term effects on our general well-being.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels