Living with Coronosomnia - Ruth McGuire
Most, if not all of us,will from time to time experience the odd sleepless night. However, when that odd night of sleeplessnessbecomes a regular thing, it could well be insomnia. Since the pandemic began,a new version of insomnia has emerged –Coronosomnia. This type of insomnia is linked to the changes we are all experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
For health workers who have worked tirelessly since the start of the pandemic, the reasons for their insomnia could beworries about excessive workloads and dealing with increased levels of sickness or death due to Covid. Staff in the education sector may also experiencingan upheaval in their normal ways of working and also their working hours. Nearly all other employees will have experienced a significant disruption to their daily work routines. This could include working in a Covid-safe environment that looks and feels very different from what we were used to in the pre-Covid days. Other employees may be working from home or working in new shift patterns to make social distancing in the work place easier. Then of course there arefurloughed workers or people made redundant whose entire work routine could have disappeared.
All these disruptions to work or even loss of a ‘normal’ work routine affects other routines too. This includes a change to normal waking, bedtime and meal times. Other ways we mark time such as weekends and holidays have also been affected by the loss of ‘normal’ social activities. As a result, it’s very easy to feel that every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, is just a repeat of previous days.
World sleep and insomnia expert, Dr. Charles Morin, sheds light on the problem. In the Sleep Medicine journalhe writes: ‘While the emergence of sleep disturbances and psychological distress in response to stressful life events is to be expected, the prolonged measures of social confinement and isolation during COVID-19 brings new dimensions to this crisis that might explain the increased incidence of sleep problems… the restrictions surrounding the social confinement have upset daily routines that typically serve as timekeepers for sleep-wake rhythms to remain in synchrony with the day–night cycles.’
Summary of pandemic changes that can lead to Coronosomnia
Stress and anxiety due to valid concerns and worries about family, the future, the economy, job security and health.
Lack of usual social interaction with family, friends and colleagues leading to feelings of isolation
Working from home leading to lack of separation between work and home life
Feeling of confinement as a result of more time spent in the home than usual – this may be a particular concern for people who live in flats or apartments and lack outdoor space
Loss of clear markers of time such as start/end of school/college/university/workdays, loss of timetabledsocial activities such as gym classes,Friday nights out, cinema trips,holidays etc
Change to biological ‘body clock’ system as a result of change to routines
Strategies to help fight Coronosomnia
Establish a daily routine.
For many people, the lack of routine can lead to restlessness and insomnia.The solution to this problem is to create a routine. Employees who have switched to home working should still have a regular routine for sleep and wake times, mealtimes and even time to take a daily walk, within the rules of course. Having a routine reinstates the time markers that may have been lost as a result of the changes imposed on us because of the pandemic.Some experts also recommend sticking to normal morning shower and getting dressed routines even if you don’t intend to leave the house!
Invest in daily exercise.
Ever since the start of the pandemic, Government rules have allowed people to take time out, literally, for exercise. Make good use of this opportunity to keep physically active but also to get exposure to sunlight. This will help your body to create Vitamin D. Theexposure to natural light also helps to maintain the body’s natural sleep-wake body clock system also known as its circadian rhythm.
Cut down on technology.
Whether or not you use your mobile phones for work or pleasure, it is very easy to stay constantly glued to phones and other devices. However, excessive use can interfere with our sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation: ‘The blue light produced by electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, and computers, has been found to interfere with the body’s natural sleep-promoting processes. As much as possible, avoid using these devices for an hour before bed’. However, if you really cannot bear to be parted from your beloved mobile phone, adjust the settings so that,at the very least, you reduce or filter out blue light.
Cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
Reduce your caffeine and alcohol consumption in the evenings and also avoid heavy meals.
Learn to relax.
One way to prepare your body and mind for a good night’s sleep is by relaxing. In the current climate, this is not as easy as it sounds. Without even knowing it, our body and muscles can be in a constant state of tension rather than relaxation. Usingsimple breathing and meditation exercises can help to release tension. Some psychologists recommend the following as a ‘grounding exercise’ to help you relax at the end of the day:
“Slowly think of five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste, and then return your attention to your breathing. When waking up, set yourself up for the day by taking five minutes just before you get out of bed every day to simply breathe, and think about your intentions for the day.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/brain-matters/202011/curing-coronasomnia-four-tips-neuroscience) accessed 22.01.21)
Living differently is something we all have to get used to for the foreseeable future. Staying safe and staying healthy is not just about avoiding catching or spreading the virus – it’s alsoan essential part of staying mentally healthy, resilient and being able to relax and sleep well.
Further resources and exercises to try:
- To self-assess whether or not you have a sleep problem try the self-assessment sleep exercise at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia/
- For video exercises on how to release tension and relax before you go to sleep visit: