Are you finding it harder and harder to fall asleep these past months? Are you twisting and turning more often in the minutes after hitting the hay? If yes, don’t fret, because you’re not alone. In fact, there are too many people in the same predicament that scientists have already pinned a name for it: COVIDsomnia.
You’ve heard of insomnia, but what exactly separates those who suffer from COVIDsomnia? According to sleep neurologists, this is a kind of insomnia whose triggers distinguishably developed as a result of COVID-19’s emergence.
Rachel Salas, associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, said that such triggers include fears about getting the virus, worry over the welfare of loved ones, and anxiety from job loss, social isolation, and overall depression due to the state of the world.
When we go to bed anxious or stressed, our heartbeat accelerates. This increased flow of blood sends a signal to the rest of our body that it’s not time to rest just yet, even if we’re all prepped and ready to sleep.
“Some of them now meet the diagnostic criteria for chronic insomnia: not being able to fall asleep within 30 minutes more than three times a week for more than three months,” Dr. Salas explained. “They get into bed, the brain kicks in, they start worrying if they’re going to lose their job, if their family member is going to survive, and they literally cannot fall asleep.”
In short, COVIDsomnia sets itself apart by being the worst kind of insomnia, both in terms of the causes as well as the effects.
According to Dr. Salas, this conscious and dogged dread towards the contagion causes not just a hard time falling asleep, but also disruptive sleep, shifting sleep patterns, and unsuccessful sleep, or the kind of sleep from which you wake up still feeling tired because your body didn’t undergo its natural restorative process.
People suffering from more severe cases of COVIDsomnia cite hypersomnia, or excessive sleeping at different parts of the day, as well as drug-induced night terrors by those who have started misusing their sleep medications.
Have you resonated with most if not all of these things so far? Don’t worry — fixing COVIDsomnia may not be an overnight task, but these steps are worth giving a shot if it means getting your sweet dreams back.
Stick to your normal routine
If you used to wake up before daybreak or went to bed before midnight when there wasn’t a pandemic, do that now. It may not feel the same, but the structure that your body is used to (or used to be used to) will help establish a schedule that you’ve already proven you can follow.
In terms of where your routine takes place, this would mean designating spaces for specific tasks. Sleep in your bedroom and do work somewhere else to train your brain that these two activities are separate.
In terms of your eating schedule, it helps a lot to avoid eating late at night too. Unless you used to do that, eating late will only force your body to work overtime to digest all that food.
Cut back on coffee and alcohol
We say “cut back” because we know how hard it is to completely ditch these drinks. But hey, baby steps, right?
Curbing your caffeine and alcohol intake goes a long way during the pandemic because we want to get the best sleep possible to combat all our daily stressors. Caffeine contributes to our insomnia, and alcohol, while helpful to falling asleep, contributes to a disruptive or ineffective sleep cycle.
A healthier substitute? Drink a glass of water right before going to bed. This helps your hormone levels stabilize and your muscle and joints to relax.
Stop scrolling by bedtime
There are two reasons for this: first, the blue light imitates the natural light that kick-starts our circadian rhythm into motion. This suggests to your body that it’s daytime, pulling it out of “rest mode.”
And second, you’re not helping your anxiety by feeding yourself with more negative news just as you’re about to go to sleep. Even if it isn’t explicitly bad news, rummaging through your Instagram feed still gives you stimuli that keep your gears grinding past bedtime.
Here’s a bonus tip: set a “worrying hour” during the day. Purge all your inhibitions at a specific time so that you only feel physically tired, not psychologically, when you get to bed.
Get some sun
Instead of blue light, get some natural light during the day instead. Go outside, take a walk, stretch your feet — not only are you getting your daily suggested vitamin D which motivates cell growth, but you’re also getting your much-needed serotonin that uplifts your mood, and melatonin which helps you fall into a deeper slumber at night.
Sweat it out
Hey, you’re outside anyway, so why not do something to keep those joints active? Anything that uses your energy stores will also help improve your sleep because the resulting exhaustion gives it more reason to fall asleep faster.
Plus, aerobic exercises lead to the release of endorphins, a.k.a. your body’s “feel-good” hormones, and who doesn’t like to feel uplifted these days?
Keep your friends closer
Last but not certainly not least, have a steady source of support. Family, peers, and interest groups all help in reducing the anxiety levels that hinder you from getting a good night’s sleep. Just be sincere about your situation and how these people can help you move through your day-to-day.
Chances are, they look to you for the same solutions too!
If you’re ironically reading this while dealing with your own case of COVIDsomnia, then let this be the last time that sleep is stolen from you. As this health crisis continues to hamper life, the least we can do is take care of our bodies, and that starts with getting the rest we deserve.
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