Millions of people suffer from insomnia and disturbed sleep under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has presented new challenges – even for those who previously had no problems sleeping.
How has the pandemic affected sleep?
Not everyone has been affected the same way, or to the same extent. But the consequences of the pandemic have posed significant barriers to sleep for everyone.
- Disruption of routine
Many people’s normal routines have been drastically affected by the pandemic. Social distancing, schools being closed, confinement, and working from home have suddenly become part of our lives. Furthermore, as the situation progresses, new changes and restrictions make it difficult to adjust to a new daily schedule or a complete lack of a schedule.
- Worry and anxiety
The pandemic can be a continuous source of worry. Naturally, many people fear falling ill. Many have close friends or family who are in high-risk groups, causing worry about their health and safety. There are also economic concerns about income, savings, and making ends meet, and, as economic activity stalls, there are also growing concerns about the after-effects of the pandemic. There’s still much we don’t know about this pandemic, and uncertainty often brings about anxiety that disrupts sleep – as a racing mind keeps the body tossing and turning.
Isolation when living alone can worsen anxiety and other mental health conditions, such as depression. This is made worse for people who have a loved one who is sick and who they can’t see or care for, or who has passed away. Grief and depression can both cause significant sleeping problems.
- Family and work stress
Many families are under serious stress as a result of quarantine. Cancelled trips, not being able to see other family members and friends, and spending extended amounts of time in the same space can place a strain on anyone. Keeping up with work while trying to manage children who are accustomed to being at school can pose real problems, generating stress that affects sleep.
- Increased screen time
Quarantine has increased the amount of time we sit in front of a screen. Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.
How can you sleep better?
Stick to your routine
Establishing a routine can facilitate a sense of normalcy even in abnormal times. It’s easier for your mind and body to acclimatise to a consistent sleep schedule, which is why it’s recommended that where possible, you avoid variation in your daily sleep times. Try and set times to wake up and to go to sleep, and keep them consistent as the situation progresses and changes, to avoid your routine being affected in the future. Avoid oversleeping on the weekends, and try to avoid naps during the day as both can disrupt your schedule.
Make your bed a sleep-only zone
Associating certain spaces with specific actions helps the mind stay organised. Avoid working or eating on your bed. Wherever possible avoid using technology in bed or watching TV.
Mind the light
Exposure to light plays a crucial role in helping the body healthily regulate sleep and prevent us from feeling sleepy during the day.1 You can use light-based cues to regulate your circadian rhythm. Keep your blinds open during the day to let in as much natural light into your home as possible. You can also use natural light to wake up more easily and naturally in the morning. If you can, spend some time outside in natural light. As a bonus, it’s a great opportunity to get fresh air.
Try to reduce your screen time overall. This may be difficult when working from home and when our entertainment is mostly screen-based, but it’s important to stop using technology about an hour before bed. However, the more time spent away from the screen, the better.
Exercise may not seem as important in the middle of a global health crisis, but regular physical activity can benefit you in several ways, including improving your sleep.
If you can go outside where you live, going for a walk or a jog within your allowed distance while maintaining social distance from other people is a great option. There is also a wealth of online resources for all kinds of exercise and levels. Live-streaming of classes has become especially popular during this period of social distancing.
 Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side. Published May 2012. Reviewed 13 August 2018. Accessed 20 May 2020.