As we spend day after day holed up in our homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems many are tossing and turning in their beds at night.
“This is a very real thing,” said Charles Morin, Canada Research Chair in behavioural sleep medicine at the Université Laval.
Sleep problems are rampant these days, and the pandemic and social distancing lifestyle may be partly to blame, he said.
“One of the reasons is, of course, the stress, the anxiety, the uncertainty about how long this situation will last and what will be the outcome at the end.”
“Stress, anxiety and sleep are not good bed partners,” he said. “One may cause the other and in return poor sleep may also exacerbate stress and anxiety during the day. So it’s kind of a vicious cycle.”
Disruptions, not even necessarily just negative ones, can result in poor sleep, said Dr. Marie-Helene Pennestri, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at McGill University’s Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology on Montreal.
“When we are in new, unusual, not necessarily negative but different situations, our sleep is often one of the first things that’s going to be impacted,” she said.
Shifting schedules can cause sleep problems, too.
“There’s no schedule anymore,” she said. “You work, you play with your kids, everything is all together. There’s no external rules anymore.”
Some people might sleep in because they don’t have to commute, or snag naps during the day, and this all means disruption, Morin said.
“What we find is that people tend to go to bed later in the evening and they may get up later in the morning. And some have more trouble sleeping as well. So all of that is not just related to anxiety, but also the lack of routine,” he said.
Spending more time indoors can make a difference too, Pennestri said.
“We go outside less, we’re less exposed to light as well. The contrast between darkness and light during the day is also a factor that will impact our sleep.”
Poor-quality sleep and a lack of sleep can affect our mood, leading to irritability and even contributing to further negative thoughts and anxiety, she said.
But there are some things you can do to sleep better, even under our current restrictions.
“Just a little walk and being exposed to light and moving a little bit would be helpful,” Pennestri said. She also recommends having a sleep routine.
“We do it with children, the bath, the story and all that. With adults, we cannot think that we can work, work, work in front of our computer and then all of a sudden decide, ‘I want to go to sleep.’”
Taking a bath and some time to relax, away from screens, will help to settle you before bed, she said.
Speaking of screens, Morin recommends avoiding the news too close to bedtime, if you find that it makes you anxious.
“What we recommend to those people is, yes, you can stay up to date with the news, but please don’t do it too close to bedtime and don’t do it from your bedroom.”
And once you’re in bed, if you can’t get to sleep, Morin says to leave and try again later. “If sleep doesn’t come, get out of bed, go to another room and only return to bed when you feel sleepy,” he said.
It’s also important to maintain a consistent schedule, including getting up at the same time every morning, in order to get better sleep, he said.
Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol can also help you to sleep better, Pennestri said. While alcohol might make it easier to fall asleep, you’re more likely to sleep poorly during the night, she said.
If you’re having chronic insomnia, roughly defined as trouble sleeping three nights per week or more, over a period of three months, Morin recommends seeing a sleep specialist who works with insomnia.
Sleep experts across Canada have put together a website, Sleeponitcanada.ca, with information on sleep problems, including those associated with life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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