Has anyone been plagued by sleepless nights since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic?
Usually, I have no problem finding peaceful rest at night. Yet, for some reason my sleep patterns have regressed in recent months. I’ve had more and more restless nights, finding it hard to fall off to sleep until much later than I usually would. My dreams have been busy and chaotic, and as a result I wake up fatigued, feeling foggy and scattered the next morning.
For several weeks now, I’ve also heard family and friends complain about similar experiences. Although the pace of many of our lives has slowed down due to the pandemic, several people are speaking about having trouble finding quality rest in the midst of it all. I guess that it shouldn’t be surprising since the coronavirus and Covid-19 have been the catalyst to all kinds of stresses, fears and anxieties. It’s shaken up our sense of safety and security, put our livelihoods or income under strain, isolated us and changed the way we interact with one another and with our environments. While some countries have seen the worst pass and are now slowly returning to ‘normal’, others are still riding out the wave of uncertainty with no clear idea of what things will look like when we eventually reach the other side of it all. So, when we go through our days feeling tense and unsettled by the things we see happening around us, the effects of anxiety are bound to manifest in our sleep too.
On taking a deeper look into just how widespread the occurrence of affected sleep was, I came across the term ‘coronasomnia’, a word created to describe ‘coronavirus related insomnia’ that has apparently become a phenomenon. In an article by the Sleep Disorders Centre of the Henry Ford Health System, clinical psychologist and researcher Dr. Philip Cheng explains that:
“Everything that’s going on right now can make people more vulnerable to insomnia…It’s a vicious cycle: when you lose sleep, your emotions can feel more intense. Your ability to regulate emotions can also become diminished, so existing stressors become more stressful, and the ability to calm down becomes more impaired.” Dr. Cheng added that “…as you become more stress sensitive, your own thoughts become a trigger for stress.”
Sleep is said to play a significant role in managing stress and maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle. Good sleep also plays a part in our fertility because of how it affects our hormonal balance, especially our reproductive hormones. As someone with PCOS (polysyctic ovarian syndrome) keeping my hormones balanced is an important part of my fertility journey. My body is an indicator of where I am health-wise. When my wellness is out of sync then my cycles become irregular, I stop ovulating, my moods shift and the PCOS symptoms are exacerbated. Keeping mindful of this, I’ve tried not to feel overwhelmed by the sense of having an added layer of stress around managing a fertility-friendly lifestyle. I’ve encouraged myself to see this as an opportunity to revisit and apply some of the peaceful sleep tips I learned when I studied a course in relaxation therapy a few years back. It isn’t always easy to shut fear out or keep anxiety at bay, but at the end of the day it is always worth the effort to do what we can to feel more grounded.
That said, if like me, you’ve succumbed to a case of ‘coronasomnia’, then here are a few of the things that seem to have been quite helpful:
Tips for Better Rest
Disconnecting and Winding Down Before Bed: Having a wind-down routine is a really effective way to switch off your mind and ready yourself for a night of good rest. Blue light from our smart devices stimulate the brain and screen time right before bed my thus keep us awake for longer. Constant exposure to news and negative or emotionally triggering stories also adds to our stress. So, if you are having trouble sleeping then it’s probably a good idea to disconnect and give yourself some time to unwind before bed. Dr. Cheng suggests that you “Allocate half an hour to an hour before bed as wind-down time” and create space for non-stimulating activities such as “doing crossword puzzles, or reading a good, old-fashioned paper books.” I’ve personally created a routine of reading a book and doing my gratitude journal before bed. Listing the things that I am thankful for always gives me a sense of appreciation and comfort so that I am less focused on worries or anxiety-inducing thoughts.
When and What You Eat and Drink: One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is to eat earlier and to avoid having any beverages beyond a certain point in the evening. My husband and I now both work from home. In the beginning, it was difficult to make a separation between when the work day ended and when our leisure time began. We ended up eating our meals later and later in the evenings and thus getting to bed much later as well. Ending the work day at a normal hour and having dinner at a regular time earlier in the evening has been a beneficial change, for my husband in particular. It’s also been helpful to keep our meals lighter and have calming herbal teas instead of anything too stimulating.
Bedroom Ambience: Having a relaxing environment definitely makes it easier to be at peace. If sleep is a problem for you then it may be worth taking a look at how you can make your bedroom more conducive for better rest. Simple things like clearing away any clutter, dimming the lights, having black-out curtains to prevent outside light pollution or having comfortable linen may make a difference. Some evenings I play some soft music while we read, light an aromatherapy candle for tranquillity or put some soothing natural scents in my diffuser for some calm. We also recently started closing some of the inter-leading doors in our home to shut out light pollution coming in from my neighbour’s garden and discovered that having a dark bedroom has made it so much easier to sleep.
Relaxation Techniques to Aid Better Sleep: Two great relaxation techniques that I often turn to include progressive muscle relaxation and yoga nidra. Both are especially useful in times of extreme stress. I wrote about progressive muscle relaxation in the blog post that I wrote about dealing with PTSD after my ectopic pregnancy loss. It involves tensing and relaxing all the muscles in your body one section at a time. Stress and anxiety cause our muscles to tighten and our bodies to tense. So, when you release tension or stress from your body and allow your muscles to relax completely, you start to shift out of that anxiety riddled fight or flight mode. Once again, this tried and trusted approach has been a reliable method to release tension, put my mind at ease and allow me to feel safer. In addition to this I use yoga nidra. This is also known as sleep yoga and is a type of relaxation meditation that promotes deep rest. A friend introduced me to yoga nidra while I was struggling through the aftermath of my loss last year. It is wonderfully restorative and whenever I do these meditations before bed I, without a doubt, end up sleeping really well and wake up feeling refreshed.
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