Is Insomnia The Real Nightmare Of This Pandemic?
At some point last week I got completely thrown off, schedule-wise. I’m not exactly sure what happened. It’s like those allergy medication commercials say, “You may never know what got you!”.
I’ve found it really comforting to lean into the mindset of “you can’t control what others do, but you can control what you do” over the last month and a half. I’ve been working really hard to maintain a sense of normalcy by eating well, exercising daily, getting out for walks and keeping my sleep schedule in check. It was all working, until last week sometime.
I went to bed at my usual time after doing my usual rituals (brush teeth, comb hair, 35-step skincare routine, water, etc). I plugged in my phone, set my alarm for the morning, and turned out the light. Then I laid there, waiting for the sleep to wash over me.
But it never happened. What did happen was a high speed run down of everything that happened at work that day, what was going to happen tomorrow, and the next day. A list of all the bad news stories I had read that day. Then came the existential questions, closely followed by the worry and dread. The next thing I knew it was 3 a.m. and I hadn’t slept a wink. I knew it was going to be a long day of work the next day but I tried to be easy on myself. I thought “sure, I’ll be tired, but then tomorrow night I’ll go to bed early and get a good sleep- I’ll be fine.”
The next thing I knew, it was nighttime and I was right- I had felt terrible all day and couldn’t wait for it to be bedtime. As soon as 11 p.m. rolled around I suddenly felt wide awake. The insomnia hit again. Ugh.
This lack of sleep had completely thrown off the rest of my routine. Getting motivated to exercise was harder and at times impossible, preparing a healthy meal felt like a lot of work and staying focused as I tried to complete any task that required the use of my brain was painful.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I need sleep! And so do all of us. I know I can't be alone in these anxiety-induced bouts of pandemic insomnia right now.
The overarching goal of this blog is to offer insightful content about making life at work better and healthier and in order to do that, we need a proper night's sleep.
Here’s what my tired brain learned about sleep this week:
1- Poor sleep makes us more vulnerable to the symptoms of anxiety, including:
- Irritability and short-temperedness
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Struggles with motivation
- Trouble with concentration and memory recall
- Lack of energy
- Increased emotional reactivity
2- Sleep is necessary for your immune system to run as efficiently as possible:
Sleep fosters T Cell production
o T Cells are white blood cells that play a critical part in the immune system’s response to viruses. Sleep deprivation, meanwhile, stops T Cells from responding efficiently — and makes it more difficult for the body to fight back against illnesses.
- The immune system’s response time is also improved by getting a good night’s sleep.
- By completing the four sleep cycles, you’re supporting the release and production of cytokine, a multifaceted protein that helps the immune system respond quickly to antigens.
- Poor sleep can be a major factor in succumbing to a cold virus
- Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco highlighted this last year. Their findings indicated poor sleep was the number one factor in determining whether someone would get sick after being exposed to the cold virus.
3- Sleep heightens brain function.
- Our mind works better when we get good sleep, contributing to the ability for complex thinking, learning, memory, and decision-making. For adults and children adapting to work and school at home, good sleep can help them stay sharp.
Among all of these insightful facts, I also learned that 35% of Americans suffered from insomnia before the pandemic with over 50% of adults claiming they experience symptoms of insomnia occasionally. I found these numbers unsettling. With many of us being removed from our regular routines and trying to maneuver around the day to day uncertainty we’re currently experiencing among all of the other stressful parts of our lives we’re continuing to have to juggle, it makes sense that not many of us are sleeping as soundly as we should be.
After doing a lot of reading this week on the subject I’ve compiled a list of the best ways to eliminate stress before bed so you can get a good night's rest and be able to feel your best during this pandemic.
- Give yourself an electronic curfew of 90 min prior to lights out: this means a screen time detox right before bed which will give your brain time to relax. Read a book or magazine, turn on some relaxing music or soundscape and let your mind slow down. Feel that you can’t do 90? Start with 20 minutes and build to your goal of 90.
- Consider meditation before bed or while falling asleep: Even if you’ve never meditated before (I’m not much of a meditator myself, but I’ve been giving it my best shot these past few nights) try your best to find your center and empty your mind. A good way to start is to sit and simply be aware of your breath entering and exiting your body.
- Compile a gratitude list in your mind (while lying in bed, in the dark): Many people think stressful thoughts as they fall asleep (which makes sense it’s the first time all day you get to think by yourself), but that causes increases in our fight or flight hormones. Thinking less stressful and more positive thoughts can help reduce stressful feelings and help with sleep (improves deep sleep and encourages more positive dreams). Count the things you're grateful for- even if they feel small.
- Keep your schedule consistent: the more consistent your bedtime and wake-up times are, the more consistent your overall body clock will be. Try your best to avoid naps
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake: This one is tough, I know. The truth of the matter is if you are already stressed out, adding caffeine to the mix is NOT a great idea, as it will only increase the unwanted side effects. Alcohol, even though it can help in making you feel sleepy, does NOT allow for quality rest. You will feel even more stressed if you have a hangover the next day.
- Take a Hot Shower or Bath 90 minutes before bed: wash off all those germs and increase your core body temperature. Your body temperature will decrease once you get out of the tub and help produce melatonin naturally which helps you get those good good zzz’s.
- Make sure your environment is clean: Keep your room clean and organized. Wash your sheets at least once a week and make sure your sleeping space feels calming. Put away those piles of laundry!
Every day we are faced with new challenges and everything feels more heightened in the presence of the pandemic. It’s up to us to make sure we get through this and in order to do that we need to take care of ourselves. The best way to start to take control of our well-being is through a good night's rest.
Have you been finding it more difficult to sleep since COVID-19? We’d love to hear from you about how you’re getting through it. Leave us a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sleep tight! Don’t let the insomnia bite!