COVID-19 induced insomnia is just one of the physical and psychological effects taking place during this global pandemic.
Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health Systems and clinical psychologist, talks about how much life has changed during this unprecedented time and how anxiety is rising since COVID-19 has spread globally.
Dr. Cauffield describes that people are reporting an increase in anxiety and fears related to uncertainty. Those feelings often translate to sleep disturbances. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep disturbances are characterized by abnormal sleep patterns that interfere with physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Stress or anxiety can cause a serious sleepless night.
While Anxiety is a necessary response to stress that manifests, Dr. Cauffield reminds us there are two different ways—normal anxiety, which occurs usually in response to an immediate threat, and pathological anxiety, where the threat is not obvious or immediate. Either kind can cause sleep disruption.
The National Institutes of Health says that in anxiety disorders, the individual is submitted to false alarms that may be intense, frequent, or even continuous. These false alarms may lead to a state of dysfunctional arousal that often leads to persistent sleep-wake difficulties.
Financial fears may keep you up at night or concerns about the welfare of workers across the world. You may be worrying about getting infected or having a loved one get sick, or you may become obsessed with symptoms related to the virus, even if they are minor. Anxiety-related sleep disturbances include bad dreams and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. And experiencing sleep deprivation is particularly scary during this time because disordered sleep can cause a weakened immune system, making you more susceptible to the virus.
Dr. Cauffield explains the importance during this time that people are extra vigilant about their behavior. And that while people are in a quest for sleep, it’s possible to become counterproductive. She recommends these strategies:
- Avoid sleeping in. For those working from home or sheltering in place, it may be tempting to stay in bed longer than usual, but it’s not conducive to a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Don’t fear the bed. If you’re anxious to begin with, the health crisis may make you especially anxious about getting enough sleep. Learn to think as if you don’t have a sleep problem. The bed is not your enemy.
- Maintain a consistent sleep-wake routine. Keeping a regular schedule for bed and wake time has been shown to help stabilize sleep patterns, a necessity in warding off anxiety.
- Don’t use alcohol to fall asleep. This is a self-medication strategy that might seem like a good idea but may instead have negative long-term consequences such as sleep fragmentation and daytime impairments
- Take work out of the bedroom. Now that people are working at home, it’s important to maintain a routine. Set up a separate workstation in your home. Keep work and sleep separate.
- Stay physically active. When you’re stuck at home, it can be a challenge to exercise. Given the difficulties of working out in a small space and without familiar equipment or routines, it’s important to find ways to be physically active.
- Plan your day. Try to keep things as they were before the threat of COVID-19. Get dressed. Connect with friends, write letters, and check on neighbors.
- Don’t catastrophize your sleep disorder. There’s enough catastrophe outside your head. Of course, worries about the health cost of a chronic insomnia or another sleep disorder is natural. But it doesn’t help to panic over a couple nights of lost sleep.
Dr. Cauffield also shares insight on how journaling can be a powerful tool used to combat anxiety, sleeplessness, and help with other aspects of managing mental health during this crisis. She explains there have been numerous studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of journaling for health, happiness, and stress management. Add a journaling habit to your life, whether you journal daily, weekly, or on an as-needed basis when stress gets to be too intense.
LSF Health Systems works with several partner organizations that can provide help for people in need of mental health care.
If you have concerns, call our crisis line at any time at 1-877-229-9098.