When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March of 2020, governments quickly imposed state lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus.
This was how the year looked like for most people: cooped up at home, going out only to buy essential items. Others did not even bother and just bought groceries and goods from an online drugstore or door-to-door delivery markets. Many transitioned to remote work or homeschooling or started a business at home to recuperate from the pandemic's negative financial impact.
With all these changes, people's lives aren't the same as they were just in the beginning of the year. COVID-19 drastically affected people's daily schedules, and with it, their sleeping patterns. Sleep experts even coined a new term for it: coronasomnia1.
If you can relate to the disrupted sleep cycles during the months-long quarantine, you are not alone. In this article, you will learn about the science of sleep, along with tips on how you can improve your nightly rest.
How the Pandemic is Affecting Your Sleep
1. Blurred boundaries between work and personal life
The pandemic has forced people to bring work issues and stress into their homes. This makes it difficult to detach or turn off from work, and it crosses over with any other personal problems someone may be dealing with at home. A recent survey2 found that 42% of employees feel that their stress levels increased once they started working remotely during the pandemic.
The home has become a venue for all sorts of problems. When you need to take a break, there is nowhere else to go. As such, relaxing and going to sleep in the same place could be rather tricky.
2. A falling out with the circadian rhythm
When people had the freedom to go out, whether it was running an errand or coming into the office, most would start their day early. This is a good thing because it keeps you in sync with your biological clock or circadian rhythm3.
Changing your routine can affect your sleeping patterns, like eating at different times, exerting more effort, or doing less than what you would on a typical day. The pandemic is a prime example of this, with people staying at home and sitting more hours, not stepping out to commute or drive, and receiving way less sun exposure.
All these things can break your sync with your sleep-wake cycle, resulting in wonky sleeping hours.
3. Exacerbated feelings of fear and loneliness
Whether or not you live alone, one can develop feelings of isolation from environments they are most comfortable in. For some, this could be in a coffee shop surrounded by strangers, while for others, it's in the company of friends.
Gathering with family and friends has been quite tricky to do, as there is a constant fear of exposure to the virus. Sometimes, even so much as a cough could lead to worry. Constant panic about being exposed to or contracting the disease, coupled with the isolation it brings, can take a toll on your mental health4. The panic can lead to more sleepless nights or impact your ability to fall and stay asleep.
4. Nonstop exposure to gadget screens
As people try to seek new ways of connecting with others, it was reported that there had been a 50% surge5 in mobile data usage since the start of lockdowns. This isn't surprising, but its impact on your sleep hygiene can be alarming.
If you have found yourself glued to your phone more than ever before, especially before bed, this could be the cause of your sleep troubles. Blue light emitted by gadgets can suppress melatonin, the body's natural sleep hormone.
5. Magnified uncertainty for the future
Besides the pandemic, a lot of socio-cultural issues happened globally in 2020. Whether you are directly affected by them or not, the constant negative news can put a toll on readers and viewers. Too much bad news6 can make you feel uncertain about the future and make your environment feel unsafe, fuelling some of your nighttime worries.
10 Tips to Get a Good Night's Sleep
1. Stick to a routine.
As tempting as it is to get up any time you like, it will be best if you try to map out a daily schedule—and stick to it. Follow your eating, workout, and break times religiously so you can get into the habit of transitioning from one phase of your day to the next.
2. Get sunlight.
Receiving the right amount of sunlight can help you get back into sync7 with your circadian rhythm. The sun can tell your brain, body, and hormones when it's time to stay awake and fall asleep.
3. Go for a workout.
Countless studies prove that regular exercise is a way to beat insomnia. In one group of 48 insomniacs, exercise reduced their time to fall asleep by 55%8. Be mindful of your workout schedule, as it is not advised to do it so close to bedtime.
4. Set aside a time to worry.
Scheduling worry time is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique9 that involves the process of recognizing, acknowledging, and "organizing" your worries at a specific time. When worries start to enter your mind, list them down, and give yourself a schedule to think about them later in the day or tomorrow if it's late in the evening.
This can help get them out of the way of your tasks, such as sleeping, and program your mind that thinking about them can wait—and most of the time, there is no imminent threat if you engage in the negative thoughts right away.
5. Limit news consumption.
It's good to stay updated—but if it's causing you anxiety, it's also alright to detach. Schedule news reading times two to three times a week and only opt for highlights, so you don't overload yourself with too much information.
6. Ensure the lights are out.
Resist the urge to scroll on your phone at night by staying in a dark environment and reducing nighttime blue light exposure10. Turn off bright lights two hours before bedtime and block blue light on your devices when it's near bedtime.
7. Use the aid of white noise.
Customize your bedroom environment11 to your liking. If you can't fall asleep when it's too silent, white noise and relaxing ambient sounds like raindrops or flowing rivers at low volumes may help. While you're at it, you can also look for the ideal furniture arrangement, temperature, and external light settings that can make you feel most comfortable.
8. Don't work in bed.
Working in your bedroom or on the bed may make your brain associate these activities at a place where you should be winding down to rest. Have a dedicated workspace, or don't work inside your bedroom altogether, to avoid this.
9. Schedule your naps.
Long daytime naps can hurt your nighttime sleep. One study12 found that participants often felt sleepier during the day after taking a daytime nap. Schedule your naps in the afternoon for 20 minutes only. Anything longer than half an hour will disrupt your body clock and make it harder for you to sleep at night.
10. Don't pressure yourself to sleep.
If you find yourself worrying that you can't sleep once you're in bed, get up and do something else. Forcing yourself to sleep or obsessing on why you are having a hard time will trigger more anxiety. Instead, engage in something that relaxes you. Perhaps even meditate13 with the help of apps.
Time to Hit the Sack
Sleep is a natural part of our everyday lives, and we shouldn't take it for granted. Taking the first step in fixing the issues brought about by coronasomnia can help bring a healthier relationship with your bedtime. If you need support in getting a good night's rest, Mediclick's roster of sleep care products may be able to help.