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Coronasomnia: When the Pandemic Keeps You Awake

If the COVID-19 pandemic has you struggling to sleep well, you’re probably not alone. A recent study shows a 58% increase in internet searches about insomnia as the crisis drags on. This doesn’t come as a big surprise to Randip Singh, MD, board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Overlake Clinics Sleep Medicine.

“The leading reasons are the unprecedented nature of this pandemic contributing to uncertainty,” says Dr. Singh. “Our routines are altered, and our level of social stimulation has decreased.”

Dr. Singh also points to the impacts of being indoors more and being exposed to blue light from our computers, phones and tablets. These all impact our internal clocks.

Impacts of Insomnia

Sleepless nights have a way of leaving us with sleepy days. Poor sleep can leave you groggy and struggling to concentrate.

Lack of sleep can also increase your risk of mood disorders, from feeling irritable to being depressed or anxious. It also puts you at a higher risk of obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure. You may even find it hard to stay awake while driving or operating machinery.

Signs of Significant Insomnia

Everyone has a bad night now and then. But when you have a few too many sleepless nights, you may have clinically significant insomnia.

Insomnia comes in several forms. Some people find they can’t easily fall asleep to begin with. Others struggle to stay asleep, waking many times during the night despite falling asleep at first. You may instead wake up far too early and not be able to get back to sleep.

Insomnia can be related to stressors like finances or, say, a pandemic. It may last for just a few nights. If your bad nights happen three or more times a week for three or more months, you have chronic insomnia.

Steps to Help You Get and Stay Asleep

Dr. Singh offers some tips you can try to help you get to sleep and stay in dreamland all night. Where the pandemic is concerned, mindfully consider what you’re most stressed about. Look for ways to deescalate your stressors if possible or accept that many things about COVID-19 are out of our control.

Other ways Dr. Singh says to help yourself sleep include:

Reduce awake time in bed: Don’t stay in bed worrying about your day, your lack of sleep or the pandemic. If you’re not asleep in about 10 minutes, get out of bed. Engage in a relaxing activity in dim lighting, like guide meditation or reading an actual book—not a book on your phone, which blasts sleep-disrupting light in your eyes.

Use caffeine sparingly: A cup of joe can help perk you up. “But realize the caffeine lasts in your brain up to 12 hours and reduces the depth of your sleep,” warns Dr. Singh.

Keep naps short and early: After a rough night, it’s normal to long for an afternoon nap. If you do indulge in daytime sleep, Dr. Singh says to keep your nap to 30 minutes or less so you don’t enter deeper stages of sleep and disrupt your nighttime sleep drive. For most people’s normal nighttime schedule, he recommends you avoid napping after 2 p.m., so you are tired again by bedtime.

Don’t snack: Make sure to eat wholesome food all day so you don’t go to bed hungry. But try to avoid late-night snacking. Dr. Singh recommends you stop eating at least two or three hours before bedtime.

Set a routine: Routines are even more important during the pandemic, especially as many people are working and schooling from home and on more flexible schedules. Set and keep a consistent bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends and during vacations. Dim the lights as bedtime approaches and finish your day with a relaxing activity that doesn’t get your thoughts or body moving too much.

Block the blue: Put away screens two to three hours before bedtime to help your mind know it’s time for bed. Dr. Singh also suggests trying blue-blocking glasses three hours before bedtime.

If your insomnia continues, Dr. Singh says to watch for signs it’s impacting your quality of life. That could mean you’re unable to concentrate or think clearly, noticing safety risks like driving while sleepy, or experiencing signs of metabolic disease like weight gain and increased blood pressure.

When insomnia is creating significant issues, it’s time to talk with your primary care provider or sleep specialist. Together, you can make a plan to help you get the rest you need to feel energized and perform at your best.

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