Corona-somnia: Sleep and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sleep is essential for physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing as well as for effective immune responses. Getting an adequate amount of sleep protects the body from developing various major diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, curbs stress, depression, anxiety. Good sleep promotes emotional wellness. 

Sleep disturbances have affected a significant proportion of the population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Various notable studies show an alarming prevalence of clinical insomnia in many countries including the UK, USA, China, and Italy. Neurologists especially the experts in sleep and behavioral changes are now calling this stress-related insomnia due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic as covid-Somnia or coronasomnia. 

Factors Leading to Corona-somnia

The emergence of sleep disturbances including altered sleep patterns and specific sleep-related symptoms are due to multiple factors. The main contributors are changes in stress levels and sleep behaviors. 

1.Stress in all forms impacts various aspects of life hence stress and sleep disturbances go hand in hand. 

Stress levels escalated during the pandemic due to many factors such as social isolation and loneliness, financial and economic burdens, managing work, school, personal life, and relations. The stress of contracting the disease, fear of the future, uncertainty, and fear of losing your loved ones also caused people to be paranoid and anxious. Indeed, the pandemic developed a constant fear and stress of contracting it. Thus, this results in the inability to sleep or irregular sleep with vivid dreams and nightmares.

It is common for insomnia and sleep issues to arise after major negative events. Some people are mentally strong and can tackle the negativity. However, the majority of the time due to the longevity and sense of uncertainty of the pandemic, coping up gets difficult and results in sleep issues. 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused sadness, worry, and anxiety; all this means it can be hard to get a good quality sleep. It fills one’s mind with worries, sadness, and anxiety resulting in restlessness, disturbed or uneasy state. 

These intrusive thoughts not only keep one on the edge but also results in overthinking and aggravates anxiety which ultimately takes a toll on mental health.

2.Excess access to information results in sleep disturbance. 

The constant access to information, digital media, and the oversaturation of news impact the human mind in a harmful way. Staying informed is good but over-indulgence and constantly watching the stressful news under the impression of staying updated, especially in the evening, can aggravate anxiety. 

This is highly prevalent in those people who are already suffering from some pre-existing psychological conditions such as PTSD and depression.

During the pandemic and lockdown, death-related news and increasing numbers of infected people continuously created an environment of fear and uncertainty. It became very difficult to stay optimistic. 

3.The most important factor for altered sleep patterns is the change in lifestyle and the daily grind.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left a profound impact on our daily lives; it has caused many disruptions in our routine. The human body consists of various systems that work together in an organized manner and these systems of the body are regulated by circadian rhythms that are synchronized with a master clock in the brain. 

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock and carry out important functions – the sleep/wake cycle is one of them. These are highly sensitive to light and day/night time and are also greatly influenced by environmental factors like exercise and social activity. 

Any disruption in this clock may lead to various physical and mental issues as well as significant sleeping problems. Social confinement, lack of activity, interruption in fixed routine, and habits are the core reasons for disruption. They were inevitable due to the school closures, quarantines, work-from-home, lack of schedule, disorderliness, and self-isolation which resulted in sleep disruption. The disruption and disturbance is such that the person ends up staying up late, oversleeping, or experiences excessive daytime naps. 

Additionally, since our body is sensitive to light, insufficient natural/ sunlight exposure in the day alters our sleep cycle too. Excessive exposure to the blue light emitted from digital technology specifically before bedtime messes our normal clock and alters the normal sleep cycle. The body gets false signals resulting in either premature or delayed release of melatonin, a hormone connected to the time of day. 

Melatonin increases when it’s dark and decreases when it’s light. Delayed release of melatonin eventually results in excessive daytime sleepiness and increased alertness in the evening. These unhealthy behaviors have a negative impact on the biological clock that regulates sleep and wakefulness and therefore lead to problems sleeping. 

Sleep is vital for a healthy mind and a healthy body. In most cases, insomnia can be treated by lifestyle modification and natural methods. Establishing a routine and keeping up to the schedule such as daily exercise especially before sleeping, eating a healthy and balanced diet, soaking in the sunlight for a few mins, exercising self-control can help with the sleep pattern. Additionally, avoiding overindulgence in stressful news and excessive use of gadgets specifically in the evening, and finding ways to relax and unwind are some of the methods to alleviate anxiety and stress that prevent them from affecting your sleep.

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