I imagine the earliest humans suffered from insomnia. That had to be a stressful time to live with survival a daily issue. A lot of press has been given this year to the psychological stressors that the pandemic has either created or intensified.
I saw an AMA article about COVID-19 and its resulting anxiety and stress from a medical perspective. In it, I discovered that the term “coronasomnia” is actually being used.
It seems to be caused by disruptions to our normal routines. At the extreme are people working at odd times and sleeping at different hours and changing their circadian rhythms that regulate your eating, digestion, immune response, and sleep.
Oddly, with our routines disrupted, our lives may have become more routine (as in unimaginative) as we shelter-at-home, avoid movies, restaurants, pubs, and even in-person meetings with friends. Our general mental health needs variety and stimulation and so does good sleep.
More interesting to me than just putting a label on it are the suggestions of how to combat it. Are they different than the suggestions I have read over the years for plain old insomnia? Here are some suggestions.
Go to bed and get out of bed on a schedule. Aim for at least seven hours. That 2-hour nap in the afternoon doesn’t help that night’s sleep.
Early to bed and early to rise seems to help. I’ve tried the 10 pm to 5 am schedule but I just can’t stick to it regularly. Plus, my FitBit monitors my sleep and always tells me that even if I follow that schedule, I don’t get close to seven hours of quality sleep.
Try to plan a 30-60 minute period of winding down before bedtime to relax your sympathetic nervous system. I don’t know what to recommend for that. My wife reads and I find that reading at this point in my life does make me sleepy. Some people get sleepy watching TV. But reading and watching TV can also stimulate the mind, so you have to see which way they work for you.
Some people think that exercise helps them fall asleep, but the research I’ve seen says that exercising should be done in the morning or at least three hours before going to bed. Exercise during the day should aid sleep at night – and not because you did so much that it made you “tired” as in “weak.”
Clearing your mind at night seems to be important. One suggestion is to write down all your thoughts in that hour before bedtime in a place other than your bedroom. (You also should not use the bedroom as an office or place to watch TV.) As in meditation, you bring up your thoughts and then dismiss them, in this case by writing them down. Suggestions also include doing a gratitude journal each night or a guided meditation.
White noise generators are a way to blur your thoughts and clear your mind. They are popular with adults and often used with babies. You don’t need to buy a machine. You can also use a small fan for its sound or tune a radio to the white noise (AKA static) between stations. There are audio files available online. When you’re awake, this white noise may sound annoying, but it has another effect when sleeping of drowning out other sounds and thoughts.
A mantra is traditionally a short sound, word or phrase (in Sanskrit) used for meditation purposes. It is said in repetition to help focus on the moment. You don’t need a mantra from some formal practice, but the idea that the mantra is “nonsense” – that is that it is not something we associate with other thoughts or meanings – is important. I have seen suggestions to say some affirmative message, such as “Every cell in my body is alive and beautiful,” but I think that simple sentence is loaded with distractions. It invites you to think about your body, cells, beauty, and everything they are associated with in your mind.
“Om Mani Padme Hum” (ohm-mah-nee-pahd-may-huum) is a commonly used mantra. What does it mean in translation? I think it works better if you don’t know. It is another kind of white noise.
We hear about avoiding screens and blue light before bedtime. Conversely, get some sunlight or at least bright light in the first two hours after waking up is good because it triggers your internal clock into gear.
All of those are generally given as ways to prevent insomnia. Besides avoiding those screens, one suggestion that might be more pandemic (and election year) relevant is to avoid watching and listening to the news.
Drinking alcohol is a tempting way to wind down and get sleepy but all research shows that the sleep that comes from alcohol is not truly restful as it changes the “sleep architecture,” increased awakenings, and decreased rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. REM is one of the deep, restorative stages of sleep, that comes early in the night. A night of only light sleep that lacks deep, REM and dream time leads to feeling tired when you wake up. Depriving sleepers of that kind of deep sleep has shown to be harmful and was used as a kind of torture.
Unfortunately, depression leads to sleep problems, and sleep problems lead to depression. That is one very vicious circle.