It’s not uncommon to have trouble falling, or staying, asleep. Especially when you’re living through a crisis like a global pandemic. The rise in insomnia caused by the impact of COVID-19 is so prevalent, that sleep experts are calling it “coronasomnia.”1

“It’s a problem everywhere, across all age groups,” says Angela Drake, a UC Davis Health clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

“Insomnia was a problem before COVID-19. Now, from what we know anecdotally, the increase is enormous.”

The ongoing stress from moving into and out of restrictions, working from home in challenging circumstances, perhaps home-schooling children, or having to go out to work and risk contracting the disease, all of these pressures can lead to sleepless nights. And our bad habit of “doomscrolling” the news before trying to sleep, or indeed, having electronic devices in our bedrooms at all, isn’t helping.

The importance of sleep

A growing body of research is showing that we take sleep for granted. Neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker published a scientific-research book on this topic a few years ago, Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. Walker explains that a good night’s sleep has much wider benefits than feeling good the next morning.

“Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory, makes you more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?” he asks in the opening chapters. Of course, the joke is that this “revolutionary new treatment” is consistently getting a good night’s sleep.

Nice if you can get it

Despite the many benefits, we often cut our sleep short. Sometimes (when we’re young!) it’s to enjoy a night out. It might be because the baby or a sick child is keeping us awake. Or it may be because after a long day of work, we crave some time to ourselves. But Walker says that regularly getting less than seven hours sleep a night is as damaging as regularly smoking or drinking to excess.

We haven’t all read the latest research, but we’re all aware that we should be getting better sleep. The trouble is, that’s not always a possibility. There will be times in life when getting enough sleep simply isn’t an option – such as in the middle of a global pandemic, when our daily lives have been disrupted and we’re under enormous stress. But the takeaway is that we should prioritize sleep whenever it is available. It is as important and has as much impact on our health and wellbeing as eating well and exercising.

So how can we help ourselves to sleep?

Top sleep tips

  • Get into a routine – A routine is important because it trains the brain and body to know when to be sleepy, and because it offers a structure to stick to regardless of what else is going on. We should strive for a fixed time to wake up and fall asleep every day, even the weekend. Bedtime should include a wind-down time of at least a half hour. This can include a bath, light reading or meditation, but it shouldn’t include any screen time.
  • Beds are for sleeping in (mostly) – The brain is a bit Pavlovian when it comes to sleeping. If it associates the bedroom with work (because we work on our laptops in bed), entertainment (because we watch TV in bed) or high stress (because we’re doomscrolling the news before trying to fall asleep), it won’t associate it with sleep. Experts recommend that sleep is one of a limited number of activities that should take place in the bedroom.
  • Help the circadian rhythym – We are attuned to the cycle of night and day by our cirdadian rhythym. But in the modern world, electric lights and backlit screens often fool our brains into believing that night has not yet fallen. Try to spend at least some time outside every day to soak up the daylight, and use low light during wind-down time at night. Many electronic devices also offer an option or app to filter blue light out after sunset, which many find helpful.
  • Don’t toss and turn – Experts recommend no more than 20 minutes of tossing and turning at night. If we’re not asleep after that, we should get up and do something relaxing in very low light, before trying again.

 

There are other techniques to try too. Staying active is important, of course, but some people find exercising too close to bedtime wakes them up. Relaxation and meditation are also beneficial for winding down.

The most important thing is to make sleep a priority. Good sleep can give us all a longer, happier and healthier life.

1 COVID-19 is wrecking our sleep with coronasomnia – tips to fight back, UC Davis Health, September 23, 2020, Accessed: March 24, 2021

https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/covid-19-is-wrecking-our-sleep-with-coronasomnia--tips-to-fight-back-/2020/09#:~:text=A%20lack%20of%20sleep%20can,more%20worries%20and%20more%20insomnia.


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Media contact
Kevin Maher
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-6955
Kevin_B_Maher@newyorklife.com

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