Have you had trouble sleeping during quarantine? Or started to suffer from insomnia that you haven’t had before? You aren’t alone. COVID-related insomnia is real and has affected many of us.
The main drivers of COVID insomnia are stress and a change in habits. During quarantine, as people are out of work and kids are out of school, the habits and behaviors we are used to have been undeniably altered. The tendencies to sleep in, nap and stay up late have significantly increased as have drinking more alcohol and caffeine, eating near bedtime, changing or reducing exercise, and ruminating (worrying in the middle of night).
Sleep is very complex and patterns that are disrupted can take time and consistency to fix. One of the strongest circadian rhythm clock setters is having set wake-up time. Circadian rhythms are the internal clock in brain that help determines sleep patterns. We have heard our whole lives that bedtime should be about eight hours prior to when you need to wake up. But did you know that spending more than eight hours in bed will decrease the chance of good sleep consolidation? Those eight hours are the total time recommended – not the minimum.
Many joke about increased alcohol and caffeine intake during quarantine, but these habit changes will also affect your sleep in different ways. Alcohol will decrease sleep latency (how long it takes you to fall asleep) or help you fall asleep, but drinking increases sleep fragmentation (short, repeated interruptions during the night) and dreaming in second half of night. Dreaming is not necessarily bad for sleep, but depending on the type of dreams can negatively impact movement through sleep cycles.
Caffeine may stay in your system for 12 hours or more depending on age and metabolism and may affect your ability to stay asleep, especially depending on how late in the day you drink it.
Now that we’re moving into the “new normal,” we will not only have to go back to old habits but also form new ones. Sleep affects all aspects of our lives.
There are a few easy steps that can help you get back into a routine. Start by setting an alarm or daily wake-up time and go to bed eight hours prior while avoiding watching the clock throughout the night. Avoid napping during the day for more than 15 minutes because prolonged napping can decrease nocturnal sleep in some people. However, you can experiment with naps once you are sleeping well and through the night.
Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake can help reduce insomnia and create healthy sleep patterns. Participating in exercise daily can help you have a more restful sleep and establish healthy patterns.
Stress and depression can also impact sleep, and counseling and online support can help to get you through these difficult times. Other stress reduction techniques can also aid in better sleep, such as prayer, poetry, art, meditation, yoga, and interacting with family and friends remotely.
Staying home during quarantine can also mean more time inside and in front of screens, whether it is TV, computer or phone. Fresh air is always better and can help aid in a more restful sleep. Try a screen-free day if you have an opportunity and limit news and TV if it causes or increases stress or anger.
If you have become more sleep-deprived, take caution while driving and seek medical support.
Remember that bad habits developed now may take time to remedy and despite how it sometimes may feel, the world will reopen again.
See a licensed therapist face-to-face from the comfort of your own home ochsner.org/ochsner-anywhere-care.