Not being able to sleep? Experts say it's probably 'coronasomnia'
A new epidemic of sleeplessness has been taking over people’s lives
You’ve bought the weighted blankets and sleeping eye masks, done the guided meditations, gone from a jhaadu-pocha workout to a complicated celebrity exercise routine to tire yourself out. Bought a diffuser for lavender essential oils and watched the longest and most boring history documentary you could find — but nothing seems to be putting you to sleep.
Even when you do manage to fall asleep, you endure nightmares about doomsday scenarios and about being trapped – waking up groggy, drained and not well-rested at all.
Because the coronavirus itself wasn’t enough, it’s creating whole new disorders and ailments as side effects. Already tracking and helping people with coronavirus anxiety, experts have been studying a growing number of insomniacs during the pandemic, suffering from ‘coronasomnia’.
“People have been on high alert. This has made us more sensitive to external stressors and we’re seeing it manifest as anxiety issues and sleep problems,” says Dr Bindu Malhotra.
Prolonged sleep deprivation can cause health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression. It can raise your blood pressure and take a severe toll on the immunity that you’ve been trying to build up over the last few months.
Mental and physical triggers building our coronasomnia
The pandemic disrupted our social and professional lives. A lucky few have been working from home while thousands have lost their jobs. You have one eye constantly watching your depleting bank account. There’s a sense of being trapped inside and anxiety about going outside that has you see-sawing in-between.
“What I’ve been hearing a lot from patients is this panic that this isn’t going to end any time soon. The fact that this uncertainty is the new normal is filling people with fear. And day after day, we’re getting flooded with bad news through our phones, televisions and computers. With all of this piling up, it can feel like the end of the world,” says Malhotra.
We’ve found ways of bringing the outside world into our homes, that were once a sanctuary of peace from external life. Zoom workouts, online school, working from a makeshift office in the bedroom while your partner sits in the other corner on their own virtual meeting.
Malhotra explains that drastic change in our day-to-day activities and routine has confused our bodies and brains which now can’t figure out when to shut down.
How can we get some rest?
Coronasomnia will not leave you in a permanent state of sleeplessness says Malhotra, if we start actively making adjustments to overcome it. “Especially for mothers at home having to take care of children, their work and housework, it’s a lot to ask to set everything aside. But this is something that in the not-so long term can have serious consequences.”
The first place to start if you’re experiencing the coronasomnia sleep disorder is seeking professional help. Psychologists and therapists who specialise in dealing with insomnia can help you recognise your personal triggers, create self-checks and start off with corrective behaviours.
More and more mental health experts have adapted to this new way of digital, distanced life and taken their practices online. There are numerous platforms, apps and digital portals staffed with trained experts conducting therapy sessions online.
If you’re not ready for therapy or want to support it with more sleep aids and at-home practices, Malhotra suggests you try these:
1. Put away electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime: Our eyes and mind need a break, but it’s hard to put down your phone once you get lost in the dark world of DIY makeup videos and memes about anxiety to self-soothe. Charge your laptop and phone at a distance— i.e where it’s inconvenient, preferably outside the bedroom. It’ll be annoying at first but you get used it. Remind yourself that you’re doing this for a reason. Maybe pick up a feel-good novel, a travel-themed adventure to lose yourself in or any of the other 30,943 books collecting dust on your bookshelves before you knock off.
2. Try not to sleep during the day: There’s nothing we love more than a good nap. It can be hard to fight, especially when your bed is just so close and your eyelids getting heavy. Get to sleep earlier if you have to but keep your sleeping for the night as much as you can. You may start waking up earlier in the morning as a result. But you can use that time to do some yoga or cook yourself a nice breakfast.
3. Get some sun: Throw open the blinds to not just soak up some much-needed vitamin D but also help your body control its day-night cycle. Exposure to sunlight increases the production of serotonin in the body, which then regulates the production of another hormone called melatonin. The dark of nighttime is what releases melatonin, which is responsible for our sleep.
4. Keep your workouts for earlier in the day: You may have tried to work out to the point of exhaustion to help you pass out at night, but that might be counterproductive. Working out is invigorating for our body. It gets your blood pumping, your heart rate up and releases endorphins which keep your energy levels up. Try a morning workout instead. You will have the energy to get through the day productively but also let yourself sleep at night.
5. It may be time for a media diet: At first you’ll think it’s selfish, cutting yourself off from what is happening around the world. But to battle coronasomnia, we’re prioritising our health. Constant consumption of our 24×7 news cycle can be incredibly stressful, especially if it’s leading up to bedtime. Malhotra says if you can’t completely cut off, then pick one or two trusted news sources to get your information and do it earlier in the day.