I hate to be the bearer of bummer news, but sleep issues, just like this pandemic, have become a global nightmare. In a recent report, titled Sleep and Mental Health Amidst the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic, by Sleep Cycle, 33 million nights of sleep and 69,047 participants were analyzed in survey tracking sleep habits. And surprise, surprise, pandemic sleep problems have hit women and young people the hardest. Can’t imagine why!
Oh, wait, just kidding. I can! The study shares that while men are being kept up from doomscrolling through the daily news cycle, women were more generally anxious. Well, yeah. Women are now more prone to a double, maybe even triple or quadruple shift. Pour one out for those juggling a job, household chores, children, and their children’s homeschooling at once. Relearning long division during a health crisis would keep me up at night, too.
And for young people, well, the study points out that sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) is longest for those ages 18 to 24, followed by the people age 25 to 34. Gen Z is understandably worried about what it means to graduate during a pandemic. Millennials, meanwhile, are veterans to the whole having-your-life-put-on-hold thing and literally fatigued by that pattern of disappointment. But not enough fatigued to get the rest they deserve.
How to deal with pandemic sleep problems
Generalizing gallows humor aside, it is always a worthwhile venture to take care of yourself by prioritizing sleep. Like, I love you, I care about you, I want you to get some rest because this pandemic isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and you need to take care of your health. And Luckily, we’ve been actively looking for sleep solutions all of lockdown, so here are a few things that might help.
1. Put down your phone before bed
We’re going to start in an obvious place because it’s important: do not stir up any external anxiety by reading unhelpful updates about the state of the world. There’s a time to be informed, and it’s not when you’re trying to turn your mind off and get some sleep. So spare yourself the stress (and blue light exposure) and put your phone away.
2. Acknowledge what you’re feeling out loud
Frightened, worried, depressed, whatever. Clinical psychologist Helene Brenner, PhD, notes that verbally acknowledging “something inside of me is feeling [insert your feeling here]” can help bring you down to Earth. “If you can imagine the worrisome thoughts stealing your sleep as something inside you that is worried for your safety and the safety of those you love, you’ll feel more deeply,” she says. “But you’ll almost automatically slow down and be more relaxed, because you gave it a chance to be touched and heard.”
3. Get light in the morning and darkness in the evening
Which sounds pretty duh, but this can be a big boon for your sleep hygeine! If you stay inside all day because your home is now your office or what have you, you’re missing that essential first shock of light in the morning. Exposing yourself to natural light first thing in the morning helps to reduce the amount of melatonin your brain produces, which will help you feel less sleepy. “We’re meant to have light during the day and darkness at night,” says Shelby Harris, PsyD, sleep health expert and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. “It’s really that simple, and sometimes we overthink it. Open the shades, eat breakfast in the light.”
4. Purge-write your worries on paper if you’re getting stress dreams
If your sleep is wrecked from recurring nightmares about swarms of locusts, then it’s time to start get it all out there. “Start a ‘worry journal’ to write down anxieties and concerns about COVID-19 in the evening before going to bed,” says sleep disorder specialist Nathaniel Watson, MD. “When you’re done, close the diary, and tell yourself the time to worry about this is done, and now it’s time to sleep. This can help reduce anxiety and facilitate healthy sleep.”
5. Count sheep
Seriously, keep it simple! The reason this works is because counting sheep is a form of meditation called “susokukan,” or “observing the breath with numbers.” I count how many avocado toasts it would take me to buy a house. Because that must be the problem, right?
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