CAPE TOWN – Since the lockdown began, everyone’s sleep pattern has changed dramatically. No matter what we see on television and social media, the constant bombardment of Covid-19 is inescapable. Will the lockdown be extended? Death and infection rates constantly rising? We in a constant state of fear and anxiety, with no way to fulfill the majority of our vices that were used to escape.
Philip Cheng, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and research scientist at the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Health System, emphatically states; “Everything that’s going on right now can make people more vulnerable to insomnia”.
He goes on to add; “It’s a vicious cycle: when you lose sleep, your emotions can feel more intense. Your ability to regulate emotions can also become diminished, so existing stressors become more stressful, and the ability to calm down becomes more impaired”.
Not only are we unable to physically escape, but we are also unable to mentally escape. As our own thoughts become the trigger for even more stress.
So what is insomnia? What can we do to mitigate these subsequent conditions born out of an invisible enemy and while we try to adjust to our new realities that might persist much longer than 21-days.
Insomnia and why we need to understand it
Dan Kwartler, an associate editorial producer at Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED). Explains that insomnia is a temporary sleep disorder linked to stress.
Eventually, exhaustion wins. But long term effects of insomnia like respiratory disorders and gastronomical conditions can overpower this eventual overpowering exhaustion. And “unsolvable loop at the heart of insomnia” is stressing out about not being able to sleep.
When this happens, it becomes tricky. Especially when there seems to be no end in the near future in regards to going back to our ‘normal’ life.
So as we stress about not being able to sleep, deepening the problem even further, our bedrooms actually become the source of anxiety. And this trigger in our brains hijacks our physical response. Your body goes into a flight or fight mode, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenocorticotropic which increases heart rate and blood pressure.
This state of being threatened in the dead of the night with no one around but yourself makes it impossible to ignore, and as you look for answers, you perpetuate the problems. The adrenalin coursing through your body as you lay in the source of your anxiety, your bedroom, becomes debilitating. Especially when we are unable to leave the once considered sanctuary that is now a prison.
What are we able to do?
- The most imperative action you need to take, is separate your bedroom from your workplace as we are required to work from home during the lockdown says Dr. Julie Kolzet, Ph.D., a therapist in New York City who specialises in sleep disorders.
The association of a place of rest, and the demanding pressures of securing a livelihood through uncertain times. Where people are being retrenched, salaries are already starting to be cut, there has never been a time where securing your position has been more important than right now. Nobody knows what is going to happen or when it is going to end. So separate your workplace from your bedroom.
- Be realistic and switch off when your workday is usually over. The old saying; ‘you’ll never work a day in your life if you do something you love,’ could not be more false. You are more likely to suffer burnout because you love what you do, you want to perfect your craft. So switch off when your normal workday is finished. You will never finish all the tasks set out, there will always be more work to do.
- Set a routine and do not sleep in later because you are working from home. This sends a disruptive message to your body and throws out a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Get up and get dressed as it was a normal workday.
- Do not resort to self-medication. The use of alcohol and other substances to try and resolve your primary concerns only multiplies and manifests itself in long term consequences.
- No meals before bed. Kwartler explains how if you are suffering from insomnia, your metabolism increases. Eating before bed under these uncertain times is literally feeding the problem.
- Try to do light exercise. And it is hard to do, you cannot go to the gym or walk the dog. But any sort of physical activity will exhaust your body even more.
- Switch off all electronics and especially the news. If you and your family are in lockdown, there will be no changes or threats to your immediate safety.
- Acknowledge the situation we are in. You are not alone. The quicker we all come to grips with the new reality, the faster we can adapt. The only certainty we have is our ability to find fulfilment and happiness in any situation.
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