Covid-somnia: The pandemic that won’t let you sleep

The Coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented, once-in-a-generation event, which has had a massive impact on people’s lives and turned the world over.

Economies have gone into recession. Jobs have been lost. Businesses forced to close. Families have been separated for months on end because of national lockdowns.

Children prevented from going to school, with mental health issues also increasing as people find themselves stuck indoors alone or with abusive partners.

However, another area where the Coronavirus has had a major impact is in people’s sleeping patterns. Expert neurologists who specialise in this area have said that they are witnessing a sharp rise in patients with sleep disorders and a phenomenon of unusual dreams or nightmares.

“Lockdown has affected my sleep tremendously,” Farah, 22, told us. Farah says she loses the sense of time without a fixed routine, with her sleep pattern being disrupted as a result. Often, she wakes at night and cannot get back asleep. The next day she struggles because of the previous night’s disturbed sleep.

“I feel fatigued: as if I haven’t slept all night, and that is the actual case. I also lack the energy to do anything and everything.”

“I’ve had dreams that are more vivid and more strange than normally. I’ve also struggled to fall asleep”

The rise in pandemic-related sleep disorders has been given the catch-all nicknames ‘covid-somnia’ and ‘coronasomnia’ by specialists. The term does not refer to a specific condition, but a range of symptoms that patients report they are suffering from due to the pandemic.

“From insomnia to hypersomnia, night terrors to the misuse of sleep medications, the phenomenon is being reported and treated not only in people recovering from Covid-19 but in the far larger number of people whose lives have been turned upside down by fear and social isolation,” writes Dan Hurley in Neurology Today.

The group of three young women we talked with, including Farah, corroborated these views with their personal experiences.

“Lockdown has significantly affected my sleep,” stated Linnae, 25. She told us she started suffering from several issues, including unusual dreams. “During this time, I’ve had dreams that are more vivid and more strange than normally. I’ve also struggled to fall asleep – in worse cases. It’s taken hours.”

Like Farah, Linnae then feels the effects the next day. Her motivation levels drop, and she gets little done. “It’s challenging for me to focus on anything if I’m tired, and coffee won’t help with it either.”

Maria, 28, also claimed that lockdown had harmed her sleep: “The lockdown has affected my sleep in more ways than one. I have no daily structure or routine, which makes it hard for me to know when to sleep or how even to fall asleep.”

“I feel fatigued: as if I haven’t slept all night. I also lack the energy to do anything and everything.”

When she can’t sleep, Maria will watch television or browse social media, sometimes for hours. She can’t resist, even though she knows it only makes the problem worse. In fact, there is a growing amount of data that highlights that excessive screen time during lockdown is causing bad sleep. It is a problem experts are becoming increasingly concerned about.

In Maria’s case, her doctor initially proscribed her some sleeping pills. However, they didn’t solve the problem. “They made me sleep so much that I found it difficult to wake up, and soon after, they stopped working altogether.”

Thereafter, Maria’s doctor recommended she see a sleep therapist and use the app Sleepio. Maria says she has begun using the app and drinking chamomile and lavender herbal teas before bed, and that this has resulted in some improvements in her sleep quality.

Linnae also reports that she has started taking melatonin before bed. This, she says, has somewhat alleviated her issues with falling asleep.

Farah has had no such joy, however. She has not used an app like Sleepio – a tailored self-help system that GPs recommend for patients who report they suffer from lack of sleep and other sleep-related problems. Many other apps are available on the market, such as Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, Simple Habit, Buddhify and Breethe.

They all have several things in common, including guided meditations and sleep assistance functions. Most have also incorporated Covid-specific sections, to help users deal with anxiety and other pandemic-related problems.

The apps differ in price. Most offer either a restricted version of the app for free or some free trial. Thereafter, you are asked to pay a monthly, yearly or even lifetime subscription to the service. And the more you pay, the more features you have access to, including extensive libraries of calming, sleep-inducing sounds and music.

But do these apps really work?

For Maria, they may have had some impact. But the jury is still very much out in regards to how effective they are. Health professionals have identified a range of factors as disturbing sleep patterns and quality during lockdown.

Anxiety and worry, depression, isolation, greater family and work stress, excess screen time, and stress-related fatigue are multiple issues, many of which an app cannot solve. Indeed, a smartphone app seems particularly ill-suited to the problem of excessive screen time.

Many health professionals instead recommend that people focus on making sure they have a healthy diet and regular exercise, while also setting aside a specific time to pursue their hobbies and talk to loved ones. These are the foundations on which not only a healthy body and mind are but, but also a good night’s sleep.

 

 

 


Featured Image by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush via Pexels.
Edited by Sophie Victoria Brown and Emil Brierley.

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