The Wreckage of Sleep by Coronavirus – And Steps To Combat It

It’s past four a.m. as I type this, and no matter how hard I try, sleep completely eludes me. This is, probably, the sixth or seventh night in a row when I haven’t been able to fall asleep at a sane hour. Not being able to fall asleep on a consistent, daily basis isn’t an issue I’ve faced in a long time now; what makes me feel comfortable though is the fact that #cantsleep is actually a Twitter trend which means I am not the only one facing this issue. Yes, misery always loves company!

There could be a couple of different reasons behind why so many of us are struggling to fall asleep.

  • There is anxiety and worry all around. If people aren’t scared of contracting the virus, they are concerned for the safety of their loved ones. The insecurities around life and livelihood are quite high at this point of time which could be playing on the mind and keeping one awake at night.
  • The work-from-home routine could also be messing up our sleep-cycles especially if we’re working from our beds. For a restful night’s sleep, the brain needs to associate the bed with sleep and intimacy, and nothing else. When we work from our beds, we end up merging the boundaries between work and rest, and one area intrudes into the other. For instance, if we are lying down in bed and working, we may be less productive as there’ll be a tendency to feel sleepy and even doze off, or take frequent naps. In the same manner, once it is time for bed and we switch off the light, if we’ve been in bed all day, thoughts of work will keep coming to us and the mind won’t just switch off and allow us to rest.
  • Lack of physical activity could be another reason why it’s difficult to fall asleep. This resonates most with my being awake. Owing to the lockdown, I am rarely stepping out of the house. I go down only once a day to dispose trash, and outside my building premises only once a week to collect basic essentials like fresh groceries. I miss the outdoors. I miss commuting to work. While I complain a lot about the heat, I am missing the sunlight. I need some Vitamin-D!
  • The entire process of physical distancing is extremely isolating, especially for people living alone or by themselves. At the same time, thanks to phones and social media platforms, in the virtual world, we are all engaging in hyper-socialization, and this dissonance, yet again, creates disturbances in our sleep-pattern  for, at an unconscious level, we are continuously in the presence of each other’s absence. I’ve never been an active person who exercises and frequents gyms, but I miss my regular outing with friends, going to restaurants and just meeting people! The absence of these usual outlets that are part of everyone’s normal routine is also ruining one’s sleep because the body is still trying to adapt to this new system.
  • For a lot of people, including me, being at home means that it’s a holiday! As I’ve often scheduled online sessions with my clients when I have been holidaying, this work-from-home setting is tricking my mind into believing that I am on vacation! I realize I’ve been whiling away a lot of time binge-watching Netflix, playing games, catching up with friends, reading…It feels like the two-day weekend has been indefinitely extended, and just like I stay up late during holidays, I am doing that even now.

Whatever be your reason for staying up, here are some tips and techniques for you to experiment with and see which one works for you:

  • Try establishing a new routine for yourself. While you may not be commuting to work, there are still household chores to be done. Try coming up with a new routine that considers your sleep type (night-owl, morning-lark, or neutral), your work-pattern, your meeting-schedules and when you perform best in the day. In my case, I’ve never been a morning person, and work for me rarely begins before three p.m. on most days. I’ve decided to take advantage of this lockdown and taken the liberty of letting myself sleep till 1 p.m. This means that even if I fall asleep at six a.m. (even though it’s never been that late), I’ve still got almost seven hours of sleep if not more. Thus, instead of telling myself that I am not getting sleep and worrying about the same, I am sleeping restfully for a good number of hours – it’s just that I am going to bed at a later time and getting up later.
  • Set up a work-station for yourself at home. Don’t work in your jammies and do not work from your bed! I’ve always found having separate wardrobes for work, socialization and leisure helpful, and even if you are working from home, it’s best to establish a routine that makes sense to you so that your mind and your body automatically know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to relax.
  • Even though it’s safest being indoors during this pandemic, exposure to natural light will do you a world of good! Instead of being indoors and perennially enjoying air-conditioning, it would be great to open the curtains and let the sunlight in. If opening the window is a possibility, doing so during the day will be incredibly helpful because, whether we realize it or not, the absence of sunlight can create havoc with our sleeping schedule and completely throw our body-clock out of sync.
  • It’s important to get the body physically tired because this lockdown has the full power to turn us all into vegetables! Since going out for a walk and exercising isn’t an option for most of us, it’s best if we do whatever we can to stay active at home. Even though there are times when I can crown myself the laziest person on the planet, I feel this lockdown is reducing me to an insane version of a couch-potato. Before the lockdown, at least, I commuted to work, went for dance-class, and had some form of physical activity; currently, I feel there is no difference between me and Anand Bhai of Munnabhai M.B.B.S. At least he had a legitimate excuse for being bedridden; I cannot give full credit to the Coronavirus for my immobility. I realize I am also being very, very lazy. If I was home in Kolkata, I think my parents would start referring to me as a “subject”! If you are anything like me and feel home workout videos and exercise routines aren’t your thing, do the bare minimum – put on your favourite dance-numbers and just groove! Dancing is a great stress-buster! If you aren’t living alone and feel shy, lock yourself up in your room while you shake and shimmy!
  • This lockdown has led all of us to consume an unhealthy amount of technology. We need to do whatever we can to reduce screen-time. Revisiting an old hobby like sketching or painting, reading a book, or listening to music is a great way to unwind. It’s best if we can put our phones on flight mode at least an hour before bedtime. If we don’t, there’s a tendency to mindlessly keep scrolling and, before we know it, we’ve spent over an hour on Instagram and Twitter! Believe me, I know!
  • Establish a nice sleep-routine for yourself. Many people find it easier to sleep after a warm shower. I love using a pillow spray that instantly calms me down and puts me in a nice state of relaxation
  • If you are feeling stressed and anxious, talk to a mental health professional. A lot of counsellors and organizations (like yours truly) are offering free services in the time of this global pandemic.

Whether we admit it or not, everything about this Coronavirus Pandemic is disruptive. Our mind is in a heightened, stressful state even if we may not be consciously aware of the same. Because we are worried, we aren’t sleeping enough. And because we aren’t getting enough sleep, we worry even more. It is a vicious cycle. However, sleep is important, so please do whatever works to help you fall into a peaceful slumber. Some nights will definitely be better than others. Sleep is important for your overall health and wellbeing, so make sleep a priority.  

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