It seems a well-known truth that the COVID pandemic has greatly upset the sleep schedules many Americans hold. I know in my own life I now alternate between going to bed at 11pm and waking up around 9am to falling asleep at 2am and waking up after 11am. Even though I remain well aware of the fact that my new sleep patterns are horribly unhealthy for my body, my mind is so confused by the sense of time during this pandemic that I can barely break out of it. This is an incredibly common issue- so much so, in fact, that doctors and scientists have lovingly nicknamed this “coronasomnia”, and it is estimated that one in four Americans currently suffer from this new sleep disorder.
Why, you’re probably asking, are Americans suddenly having sleep issues where they may not have before all this? The answer, according to UC Davis Health professor Kimberly Hardin, is pretty straightforward. “COVID-19 is causing a huge amount of anxiety for so many people. People worry about jobs, about their kids being home, and about getting sick. There’s a lot more anxiety, fear, and depression- and those can cause insomnia.”
Couple that with the fact that our schedules have all drastically changed, and you have a pretty miserable mixture. “As human beings, we need some stimulation.” Says UC Davis Health clinical professor Angela Davis. “When our lives become so repetitive, the lack of stimulation and activities contributes to poor sleep.”
So how do we combat this vicious sleeping problem to get full nights of rest and keep our immune systems strong? There are several steps you can take to improve your odds of getting a good, comfortable night of sleep. First, leave the screens off when you go into your bedroom. (I know, I’m telling myself this too). The blue light coming off of the screens signals your brain to stay awake longer, so if you’re going to keep your phone on, turn on a blue light filter to reduce the harmful light. Try creating a bedtime routine as a way to prompt your body to wind down when it gets closer to bedtime. Avoid using your bedroom as an office- using it for any sort of work tells your brain that your bedroom is a place to be awake and productive.
If you try all these things and still find yourself awake for hours on end, the best thing to do is actually get up and do something repetitive in dim lighting out of your bedroom. Sort the mail, clip coupons, knit, read a book. Whatever requires low light and repetition is a smart idea to help your brain burn some of the energy and relax faster.