The pandemic hasn’t exactly been helpful to anyone’s sleep. Whether you’re stressing about you and your loved ones’ health or worrying about the general uncertainties of the future, there are plenty of reasons you could be up all night tossing and turning. So many, in fact, that pandemic sleeping troubles have been given a name: coronasomnia. But what is coronasomnia exactly, and how can you deal with it?
Coronasomnia refers to insomnia and other sleep problems caused by pandemic-induced stress and lifestyle changes, says Dr. Indra Cidambi, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and medical director of Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey. And it’s common — about 40% of people reported experiencing sleep troubles as a result of the pandemic, according to 2021 research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Having chronic insomnia or otherwise poor sleep can then cause a host of other problems like mood changes, trouble thinking clearly, and weakened immunity, all of which can reinforce the stress that contributes to your inability to sleep in the first place.
Understanding the potential root cause of your sleeping problems can help you tackle coronasomnia. Below, experts outline why you may have trouble sleeping these days and what you can do to manage it.
What Causes Coronasomnia?
1. Chronic Stress
There’s an abundance of stress these days due to health concerns, financial uncertainty, loneliness, and more, says Cidambi. And stress is a common trigger of insomnia because it can put your body into fight-or-flight mode, says Dr. Allison Siebern, PhD, a sleep medicine specialist and head sleep science advisor at sleep wellness company Proper. When you’re in a fight-or-flight state, your body releases a flood of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to help you flee or attack a threat — but when that threat is a global virus and the best thing you can do to escape it is self-isolate, having your body on high alert can mess with your circadian rhythm and interfere with your ability to sleep.
And this cycle can repeat itself, says Elizabeth Grojean, founder and CEO of weighted blanket company Baloo Living. After all, when’s the last time you got a crappy night of sleep and didn’t feel stressed about it the next day?
2. Lifestyle Changes
Another common trigger for coronasomnia? Changes to your everyday schedule, says Grojean. “Working from home is blurring the lines in our daily routines. Without transitions, it becomes more difficult to mark the end of the day and downshift into time for sleep,” she tells Bustle. That lack of consistency can throw your natural sleep cycle out of whack and make it difficult to fall asleep or get quality rest.
Being stuck at home can also interfere with your typical exercise, eating, and screen time habits, adds Siebern. Without your regular gym session or yoga class to burn off some energy and help regulate your internal clock, you might feel wide awake come bedtime. Poor eating habits can likewise hinder good sleep by disrupting your circadian rhythm. And all that blue light from your devices signals your body to stay awake, so increased screen time before bed can leave you staring at the ceiling into the wee hours of the morning.
3. Substance Use
Substance use may also be to blame for coronasomnia, says Cidambi. About 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And alcohol or drugs can have a host of impacts on your sleep, she adds. Though alcohol may help you doze off, it hinders your ability to fall into quality REM sleep and can leave you feeling fatigued the next morning. And stimulant drugs like caffeine and nicotine keep you awake, which can sometimes prevent sleeping altogether and trash your natural sleep cycle.
That’s not to mention the downstream effects of excessive substance use — addiction to alcohol, nicotine, opioids, and other substances can cause chronic sleep dysfunction by keeping parts of your brain activated and preventing good sleep, according to 2019 research published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
How To Cope With Coronasomnia
The most important thing, according to Cidambi, is to find a way to ease your stress. While it can sometimes feel impossible to eliminate your stressors these days, habits like meditation, exercise, or talking to people you trust can help you relax and quiet the fight-or-flight response so you’re able to wind down and sleep.
Establishing a routine can also help reduce everyday stress and bring some welcome normalcy to your life, adds Grojean. She recommends scheduling your work time, exercise, leisure activities, and bedtime to create separation between the different parts of your day and support a consistent sleep cycle.
Practicing good sleep hygiene is also critical in the battle against coronasomnia, says Siebern. Falling asleep and waking up at the same time, sleeping in a dark, cool room, cutting out alcohol and drugs, and reducing blue-light exposure before bed can all help you fall asleep. Tools like weighted blankets or sleep supplements can also help you get quality rest, says Grojean. Your mind and body will thank you once you do.
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