Sleeplessness In The Times Of Covid-19

NOV, 7; 2020

'What, all so soon asleep!
I wish mine eyes
Would, with themselves,
Shut up my thoughts.'
-W. Shakespeare (The Tempest)

This year has brought with it a flurry of words that we never thought would come to mean so much - lockdown, pandemic, covid, quarantine, self-isolation, and the list goes on ad nauseam. While we ushered in the new year hoping that a fresh decade would bring with it new beginnings, little did we know what kind of new beginning awaited. Life as we know it changed to the greatest degree, due to something significantly smaller than a grain of sand. Something as simple as a hug became dangerous, meeting friends and family became a calculated decision that involves risk analysis, and humanity was driven into its greatest fear of isolation, for its own good. As if that weren't enough, we now live with the constant fear, if not the reality, of loss - the loss of life and livelihood.

Under such circumstances, it comes as no surprise that a good night's sleep has become more evasive than ever. While one would assume that being locked indoors would give one ample opportunity to get some extra sleep, the reality remains different. Sleeping patterns have become erratic due to the lack of a fixed schedule. Work From Home has blurred the lines between working and non-working hours, thereby encroaching upon one's personal time. Sleep is often the first casualty of such a work-life imbalance, and an overall lack of structure. Add to that the barrage of worries that comes with living in the kind of uncertainty that is the first of its kind in living memory - and you'll find yourself twisting and turning throughout the night, without a wink of sleep.

It doesn't help that the extra time on our hands accommodates rumination, and staying indoors leaves a slim chance for distraction. Over time, the night brings with it distress over being unable to sleep, and that in turn makes sleeping that much more difficult. Thus begins a vicious cycle that creates an ever-tightening spiral.

How much harm can sleeplessness cause?

Sleep deprivation brings with it a myriad of physiological and psychological problems that can have long lasting effects. The most common physical effects of prolonged sleeplessness are headaches, intensified muscle pain, fatigue, preorbital puffiness (also known as eye bags), weakened immune system and an increased reaction time. In the long run, it can increase the risk of hypertension, obesity and diabetes. In addition to this, loss of sleep has significant effects on one’s mental and emotional health as well. Not only does it cause general fuzziness, irritability and discomfort, but it also increases the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body. Processing of information becomes slower as it becomes all the more difficult to pay attention and concentrate. Inadequate sleep has also been linked with increased risk of depression as it creates an imbalance in the biochemical systems that keep our mood in check.

What can you do to improve sleep?

The causes and effects of sleeplessness vary from person to person. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of sleeplessness. However, the following are a few changes that can go a long way in improving sleep deprivation:

Separating the workspace from the bedroom: While working from home has opened up a world of convenience in several regards, it has also brought the stress and anxiety of the workplace right into our bedrooms. Keeping all work away from the bedroom helps establish the latter as a safe space where one can unwind.

Physical exercise: Not only does physical activity make it easier to fall asleep by inducing tiredness, it also has stress relieving functions. This, in turn, makes one’s mental space conducive to sleep.

Talk: Often, unexpressed worries have a way of coming back at night and keeping us up throughout the night. Therefore it is essential to talk things out. This provides both catharsis, and new perspectives that reduce the intensity of the worry.

Seek professional help: Prolonged sleeplessness could be a symptom of other physical, mental or emotional problems that require the guidance of a qualified professional.

COVID-19 has changed the world in many ways, and it has changed individual lives in many more. Things may seem grim at the moment, but we have already survived the worst of it. At such a time, it is essential to remember that in spite of our differences, the world is suffering through the pandemic together, and as isolating as it may seem, you are not alone.