Adults on average need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Persistent lack of sleep, or insomnia can lead to a significant decrease in quality of life. It limits your focus and daily productivity, affects your mood and can lead to relationship problems.
Although insomnia is not uncommon, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many, causing a spike in sleep-related issues.
Can Covid-19 cause insomnia?
The pandemic undoubtedly has taken a toll on mental health, preventing many from getting a good night’s rest. Sleep medication prescriptions in the US increased by 14.8% during the first few weeks of the 2020 lockdown.
In fact, insomnia caused by the pandemic has become so widespread that it’s been dubbed as ‘coronasomnia’.
Sleep-related issues due to coronavirus anxiety (in anticipation)
Coronavirus anxiety has a negative impact on mental and physical health. It can result in many physical symptoms, including sleep-related issues.
Many people around the globe live in constant fear of contracting the infection. And various others have disturbed daily schedules while caring for their loved ones who’ve already been infected.
Signs and symptoms of insomnia due to coronavirus anxiety include:
- Having difficulty falling asleep
- Having difficulty staying asleep during the night
- Having difficulty sleeping long enough
- Having difficulty waking up refreshed
- Light shallow sleep/ failure to get deep sleep
- Feeling stressed out and anxious
- Sleeplessness due to shift work and changes in schedule
Insomnia while having Covid-19 infection
Some Covid-19 patients and survivors with long-term symptoms have reported experiencing insomnia. However, insomnia is not usually listed as a primary Covid-19 symptom.
It is rather a secondary problem, where other symptoms such as breathlessness, dry cough, and fever make sleeping difficult. Other accompanying issues like increased heartbeat, body pain, etc can also lead to disturbed sleep. Fear of being sick with Covid can also put the body on high alert and make it hard to sleep.
Insomnia after recovering from Covid-19
There are many who report a change in their sleeping patterns after recovering from Covid-19. Some reasons that have been attributed to it include:
- Being in a hospital setting can disrupt natural sleep cycles. Hospitals are busy and noisy places, and there may be a lack of natural daylight in hospital rooms. Additionally, medications can also have an impact on your sleep.
- If you had a distressing experience when you were sick, these fears can replay in your mind, making it hard to sleep.
- Anxiety and worry as a result of being sick from Covid can also jeopardize your sleep.
- Extreme weakness or persistent cough, even after you’ve recovered from Covid and finally tested negative may disrupt sleep.
Why is sleep important during the Covid 19 pandemic?
Sleep has always been an essential biological process.
High-quality sleep improves our well-being and as such, is worthy of our attention especially during this pandemic when many things are out of our control.
Here are some reasons why you should make sure that you get good, solid rest:
- Sleep is needed to strengthen our body’s immune system. In fact, studies show that the lack of sleep can even affect the immune system’s response to vaccines.
- Sleep plays a role in our mental health wellbeing. A good night’s rest can enhance our mood while the lack of sleep is related to mental health conditions such as anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder.
- Sleep is important for our brain function. We are better able to think, learn and make decisions when we are sleeping well.
Reasons for insomnia and sleep disorders during the Covid-19 pandemic
Insomnia is not a new condition. However, the pandemic has multiplied the challenges that come with it.
The economic, mental and emotional consequences of the pandemic can be extremely stressful, especially for those who have lost their loved ones, their jobs, are in isolation or have had to adapt to new routines and environments.
These challenges are a threat to good sleep even for those who previously did not have sleep issues.
To combat the coronavirus pandemic, many changes and regulations have been put in place. Social distancing, quarantines, school closures, working from home, and limited travel have caused profound changes to schedules and routines for everyone.
It is not easy to adjust to new routines and without time ‘anchors’ such as arriving at the office or picking kids up from school, it can be hard to keep track of time.
Having to stay home may reduce light-based cues for our sleep and wake cycle, interrupting our circadian rhythm and causing insomnia. This is especially true for homes with low levels of natural light.
Sleep issues can also be caused by oversleeping. Staying home and not working because of the pandemic can tempt you to sleep during the wrong hours.
However, oversleeping can cause you to feel groggy, lethargic, moody and unfocused for the rest of the day. Falling asleep at night and getting up on time the next day will thus be much harder.
Anxiety and worry
The Covid-19 pandemic comes with a whole lot of uncertainties. Many are worried about catching the coronavirus and are anxious about going out. Many are also concerned about their family who is older and in high-risk groups.
With economic activity stalling, a large number of people have lost their jobs and are worried about their income, and are anxious over how to make ends meet.
Not knowing how long lockdowns will last, how to manage to stay home and whether the healthcare system will crumble can also bring anxiety and worry. This anxiety often disrupts sleep and causes many to suffer from insomnia.
Depression and isolation
The pandemic lockdowns to keep everyone safe trade social contact for isolation. Being alone for long periods of time can take a toll and result in depression. The isolation is even worse for those who have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus.
One study shows that depression rates are 3 times higher during the pandemic and another showed that depression rates spiked with the onset of Covid-19 due to the lack of sleep and increased consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
The uncertainty and worries of the pandemic can weigh us down and in turn, disrupt normal sleep patterns.
Greater work and family stress
As a result of the coronavirus, many families are having to stay home to keep safe. Working from home while managing a household of children and cooking every meal can be indeed stressful for parents.
The situation for those who have lost their jobs while still having to provide for their family is even worse. This stress and worry can be a great threat to getting solid rest.
Increased screen time
Staying at home can mean an increase in screen time. While the internet has enabled us to work remotely, it also means having multiple Zoom meetings or conference calls and staring at the computer screen to get the work done. The extra screen time can also come from binge-watching Netflix or just checking the news or social media on your phone.
Being on the phone, or other digital devices constantly means extra exposure to blue light. As blue light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps us to sleep, this can have a negative effect on sleep.
The continuous stress of having to live through the pandemic can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues and sleep problems.
In fact, stress-related fatigue is not uncommon in those who are stressed out over the current situation.
Being constantly worried will reduce your energy, motivation as well as concentration. It can also cause disrupted sleep, leaving you tired when you wake in the morning.
Tips to help you overcome insomnia due to Covid 19
Although getting a good night’s rest can be challenging during these uncertain times, there are some steps that you can take to promote better sleep.
It might take some time for you to adapt to these changes so don’t get discouraged if you do not see an immediate improvement in your sleep quality.
1. Get into a routine
Establishing a schedule and getting yourself into a routine can help you to avoid major changes in your daily sleep times. Ensure that you have a consistent wake-up time, wind-down time and bedtime.
Wake-up time should be fixed. It might be tempting to hit the snooze button in the morning but try your best to get your day started as soon as the alarm rings. Wind-down time can help you get ready for bed. You can do something relaxing that will get you ready for bed. Similar to wake-up time, bedtime should also be fixed. Turn off the light and try to fall asleep at the same time every night.
Besides this, getting showered and dressed for the day, setting aside specific time for work and exercise as well as incorporating consistent meal times can also help with establishing a daily routine.
2. Your bed is for sleep
Experts recommend that your bed should only be used for sleep. Working from home doesn’t mean working from bed. Avoid bringing your laptop into bed for work or to watch movies.
Clean sheets on a made-up bed with fluffy pillows can help make your bed inviting for rest. If you find it hard to fall asleep, don’t stress yourself out by tossing and turning in bed. Get up and do something relaxing in a low-light environment. Once you feel more relaxed, head back to bed and try falling asleep.
3. Spend time in natural light
Light is important when it comes to sleep regulation. Because our body’s circadian rhythm takes cues from natural daylight and is positively affected by it, it’s good to spend some time outdoors if you can.
If you can’t go outside, open windows so that there is some daylight in your home. It’s also a good opportunity to let some fresh air circulate in your home.
4. Be mindful of screen time
Electronic devices such as laptops and mobile phones produce blue light, which can disrupt sleeping patterns. It’s best to avoid these devices at least one hour before bedtime. If you must use your devices before bedtime, adjust your screen settings or use special apps to help reduce blue light and its effects.
5. Napping schedules
It can be tempting to take a nap when you are home the whole day. However, you may find yourself having difficulty going to bed at night if you nod off in the afternoon. If you must nap, consider having a napping schedule. Ensure that your naps are intentional and no longer than 20 minutes.
6. Get some exercise
Regular daily activity doesn’t just help you to stay fit. It also reduces stress and helps our bodies to regulate sleep. However, try getting the exercise in a few hours before bedtime so that it does not have a reverse effect.
If going outdoors or to the gym is not an option for you during this pandemic, there are plenty of resources online that can help you stay active. In fact, many fitness classes now have live-stream classes that you can join. Choose one that suits you and get moving.
7. Have a healthy diet
A healthy diet helps to promote good sleep. While it’s tempting to snack on sugary and fatty foods when staying home, it is important to aim for a nutritious, well-balanced diet. If you must snack, choose healthy snacks such as fruits and nuts.
Additionally, monitor your intake of alcohol and caffeine as they can disrupt both the quality and quantity of your sleep.
8. Use relaxation techniques
The coronavirus pandemic can cause both anxiety and stress and disrupt our sleep. Deep breathing, stretching, meditation, and calming music can help us to relax and get better sleep.
Another strategy that can help prevent sleep disorders during these times is keeping yourself from being overwhelmed by news related to Covid-19. You can try bookmarking trusted and reliable news sites and limit your time spent reading corona-related news.
9. Use natural and safe sleep supplements
Natural sleep supplements can improve sleep quality and promote relaxation so that your body is able to wind down and get some much-needed restorative sleep. Dietary supplements can help fight insomnia by reestablishing your circadian rhythm, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed.
Insomnia due to Covid-19 can lead to numerous health issues. While many people try to self-medicate by taking over-the-counter sleeping pills or having that extra glass of wine, sleep is incredibly important and insomnia should not be taken lightly.
Rilax, is a natural, effective and safe sleep supplement that promotes relaxation and helps you get the quality sleep that your body needs.
Y. M. Khoo
PhD, MSW, MPPA, LCSW
Y. M. Khoo has over 20 years of experience in the mental health field. She obtained her master’s degree in social work, specializing in mental health, from Washington University in St. Louis, and her doctorate in social work from Saint Louis University. A licensed clinical social worker, Y. M. has experience working with adults with mental health and substance abuse issues in inpatient, outpatient, and residential settings, as well as forensic patients, and individuals with co-occurring developmental disabilities and mental illness. Y. M.’s research interest focuses on cognitive and mental health of older adults, and minority health disparities.
You can view Y. M. Khoo’s list of published works here.