COVID-somnia. It’s a great term isn’t it and I wish I could take credit for it but someone else (sorry I can’t remember who) did.
Has Covid affected your sleep pattern?
I’ve been asking my clients how they’ve been sleeping since the onset of the global pandemic.
Some have reported no change.
Some people are sleeping less.
Others are sleeping for longer.
Some are experiencing fragmented sleep.
While others report an increase in vivid dreams.
With around 30% of the adult population chronically sleep-deprived even before the arrival of the global pandemic, reported sleep difficulties have soared since the arrival of Covid-19.
In the UK , The British Sleep Society found around 75% of adults have experienced a change in their sleep during the pandemic with 50% reporting getting less refreshing sleep.
This is worrying because sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing and very survival.
Meanwhile, new research suggests that sleep evolved independently and BEFORE the development of our wonderful brain. Weird huh! Studies on hydra, aquatic creatures similar to jellyfish, which have nerves, but no centralised brain have been found to exhibit 4-hour cycles of active and sleep-like states.
Fascinating stuff and if you’re wondering… so what…
The so what is that the findings also included the discovery hydra experience similar sleep regulatory functions similar to ours, where our sleep depends on our circadian rhythm, that includes the daily cycle of hormones and exposure to light and dark.
Meaning regardless of the fact you’re not a hydra or a jellyfish how you go about your daily life, the choices you make around when to go to bed, how much sleep you get and whether you work night shifts will influence YOUR regulatory systems and not necessarily for the better.
Now add in the impact of lockdown, working from home, binge-watching Netflix late into the night, exercising less, relying on alcohol or cigarettes or comfort food to make ourselves feel better, living with high stress and feelings of anxiety, uncertainty or frustration. All these things have impacted our ability to get a good night’s sleep and disrupt normal regulatory functions.
Other research has reported how those people directly impacted by the virus, especially those with the Long-Covid syndrome have been had ongoing difficulty sleeping following their recovery from the infection.
Researchers in the US believe the reason is due to inflammation caused by the virus leading to cellular injury or miscommunication in the brain.
Insufficient sleep hinders the brain’s self-cleaning process to get rid of metabolic waste. And let’s not forget how sleep is essential for regulating metabolism, glucose and hormones concerned with controlling weight. Poor quality and insufficient sleep plays havoc with this too.
The good news (if there is any) is the assumption that the sleep disturbance associated with the Covid pandemic is temporary and can be managed, modulated and possibly overcome. Phew.
Sleep professor Michelle Miller from the University of Warwick UK explains it’s the same mechanism as when we are fighting any form of illness including Covid 19. It’s normal to feel more tired than usual. This is your body’s way of telling you, you need more rest and sleep to heal.
The message about getting a good night’s sleep has never been more important and especially now because getting enough good quality sleep strengthens the immune system.
Previous studies have shown that the efficacy of immunisation relates to how well you slept the night before you receive your shot. A bad night’s sleep may reduce the vaccine’s efficacy.
Which means consistently getting a good night’s sleep as the Covid-19 vaccination programs are rolled out is especially important.
This is where lifestyle factors come into play.
- Be sufficiently active across the day to improve the quality of your sleep.
If online gym sessions aren’t your thing, dancing to your favourite music around the living room is fine as is getting out for a brisk walk (not a dawdle) around the block where allowed.
- Get outside into daylight whenever possible and especially in the morning.
Daylight is far more stimulating to keep you aroused and attentive than even the brightest of light indoors and that holds true even on overcast days. This supports a better sleep pattern at night.
- Go to bed when you’re tired, not when the next episode of your Netflix series ends.
If you feel better when you get to bed between 10 and 11 pm aim for consistency in your bedtime routine. Wind down with a book, cup of herbal tea and dim the lights as part of your pre-bed ritual. And turn off your phone and other technology at least 90 minutes before you want to go to sleep.
- Avoid sleep poisons including smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
These all disrupt the quality of your sleep.
- Think about those activities that bring you joy and pleasure.
This helps to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and keeps you in a more positive state of mind. Try keeping a gratitude journal, jotting down three things you’re grateful for and why. Smile when you’re with other people, when you’re on your phone and seek to ensure you have regular daily contact with other people whether virtually or face to face where allowed, to counteract feelings of loneliness.
And importantly DON’T stress about not sleeping properly as that merely compounds the problem!
If your sleep pattern is causing you to function at less than your best, making you tired during the day, and you’ve noticed you’re more grouchy, irritable and less productive, it’s time to talk to your health practitioner about what else you can try to improve your sleep (without the need for medication). There are a number of effective strategies that can help including CBT-insomnia.
As for why we’re having those vivid dreams, well, that’s another story for another time.
Do you have COVID-somnia?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.