Why the covid-19 pandemic is affecting our sleep (and how you can prevent it)

The quarantine or social isolation that is being lived in many countries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is affecting our habits and our sleep pattern does not escape the new reality.

The quarantine or social isolation that is being lived in many countries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is affecting our habits and our sleep pattern does not escape the new reality. Neurologist Hernando Pérez, specialist from the Center for Advanced Neurology in Spain, explains that sleep has two regulators:
Coronavirus: why the covid-19 pandemic is affecting our sleep (and how you can prevent it)
Neurologist Hernando Pérez, specialist from the Center for Advanced Neurology in Spain, explains that sleep has two regulators:
  • The cycle of light and dark: if, by quarantine, we are waking up late, we are missing the morning sunlight, which is key for the brain to know that in 12 or 14 hours it will be time to sleep.
  • Tiredness: throughout the day our body remains active and when night falls it feels the need to rest. ’But if we do less physical activity because we are locked up, that will affect our sleep.’
Pérez, who like his colleague’s cares for his patients through video calls, has noted ‘a rebound in insomnia in patients who were already being treated.’
The same situation has been seen by Dr. Celia García-Malo, a sleep neurologist at the Spanish Sleep Institute, who has also detected a greater number of sleep disorders.
This institution has set up a consultation service via telephone or video calls.
‘In the last two weeks we have received more queries for insomnia,’ he said.
Many patients are feeling the need to go to sleep late, according to experts.

Go to bed late

Both specialists are treating patients for what is known as ‘phase delay’, which occurs when a change in our routine affects our sleep.
‘They are feeling the need to go to sleep later and, with this, they delay the time to get up, with which the hours of productivity both at work, family and social levels are being reduced’, says the expert.
Another phenomenon that Garcia-Malo has been noticing is nightmare disorder.
‘It happens when the content of dreams is very realistic, very vivid, or because they reflect situations that cause us anxiety. Unpleasant situations in which it is difficult for us to escape from a place, there is a confrontation or a fight’, he points out.
‘This disorder is aggravated when there are situations in our daily life that increase our levels of stress and anxiety. Somehow our subconscious shapes it in our dreams. ‘

Irritability

According to García-Malo, studies have shown that people who sleep fewer hours have higher levels of anxiety.
‘During the day, these people do not feel like doing things, they lose interest in activities that they wanted before, they lack energy. They can be irritable due to lack of sleep and all this, in the context of quarantine, can complicate family life’.
Patricia Barato Salvador is a clinical psychologist and coordinator of BH Bienestar Projects, a network of experts in the emotional care of people within organizations, operating in Europe and Latin America.
According to the specialist, during quarantine many people are experiencing the phenomenon of divided attention: ‘My resources are divided: between what I want to do at the moment (work, take care of my family, call my friends) and want to be informed of what happens in the world (with the coronavirus)’.
‘It is normal for us to feel more irritable or to experience helplessness in the face of what is happening,’ because the feeling of not being in control is very strong.
Psychologist Patricia Barato Salvador has noted that many people in quarantine also experience trouble concentrating.

The fusion

Barato Salvador has found that many people in quarantine also experience trouble concentrating:
‘Although I'm working at home and I'm saving commuting time, in reality what we are finding is that we have to do more chores at home.’
Other people, says the expert, ‘abandon’: ‘As I do not have to leave home, I stay in my pajamas all day and there is a disorganization of daily habits.’
‘I can do things whenever I want: I wake up whenever I want, I go to bed whenever I want, whenever I want. This ultimately drives the internal biological rhythm crazy. ‘
‘The mood can be altered. It is common for there to be a decline, a sadness that is gradually taking over us: inactivity, not being able to disconnect because the work environment merges with the domestic one,’ he adds.
The expert also indicates that the dynamics of the media plus the fact that the coronavirus and covid-19 are new phenomena, of which characteristics are still being discovered, often lead to the production of contradictory information and that generates anxiety for people.
If you are anxious about the pandemic, it is important that you try to limit the amount of news you consume and that you always look for reliable sources of information.
Rest from social networks can be an alternative to relax.
‘The effects of quarantine lead to a process of gradual deterioration’.

Micro awakenings

And excessive worrying not only leads to insomnia.
There are people who, for example, are experiencing the opposite: hypersomnia.
‘They have a feeling of regret, of depression, typical of being in a home for a month, as has happened in some countries.’
‘The effects of quarantine lead to a process of gradual deterioration’: at first people are on the alert and react quickly, but then a phase of attrition begins. ‘
According to Barato Salvador, it is not only about the difficulty to fall asleep, but to maintain it: we can wake up several times during the night because the level of activation that we have during the day is very high.
‘Not being calm, the micro-awakenings that occur between each sleep cycle become more prominent.’
The neurologist Pérez also talks about early awakening, which consists of waking up earlier and not being able to fall asleep again for the rest of the night.

Be radical with negative thoughts

It is essential for the psychology specialist that negative thoughts be regulated during the pandemic and quarantine.
‘I am going to get infected; they are going to fire me, we are going to be in quarantine for a whole year’, these are ideas that can cause us great anxiety and that affect our well-being and our sleep pattern.

The coronavirus pandemic is also affecting our sleep habits.

‘They are things that have not happened before, we have to try to focus on what is happening: we are at home, we are fine, we have food, they have not notified me of the company,’ he reflects.
In order to achieve this regulation, he explains, cognitive restructuring must be appealed, that is, based on objective and real data.
‘It’s not about looking for positive thinking, but about being realistic in containing that anticipatory fear.’
The way to deal with the most catastrophic thoughts, the thoughts that tend to maximize a problem, a risk, is different depending on the time of day:
During the day we have to focus our attention not on what might happen but on what is happening and at night, it is best to stop them: 'Enough is enough. Now I don't have to think about this. You have to cut your thinking radically to be able to think of something pleasant and to be able to rest.‘

Establish a ‘worry time’

According to the psychologist, if negative thoughts are persistent, it is important to have a ‘worry time’:
‘We are going to establish a moment of the day, never at night, in which we are going to dedicate ourselves voluntarily to worrying about what bothers us,’ he points out.
‘Thoughts are silenced more easily if they have a moment when they can come out. So, if we are going to allow them to appear at a certain moment, the rest of the day will stop bothering us.‘
Quarantine represents a great challenge for millions of people, regardless of age, and it is key to keep in mind that I do not know you are alone and that you should ask for help not only from family and friends, but also from health professionals and social networks. institutional support.
Do not stop communicating with your loved ones.
‘We have to take advantage of this moment, as hard as this may seem, to work on resilience. That ability of the human being to overcome a traumatic experience and, thanks to that overcoming mind, being able to reach a level of personal development that he would not have accessed if he had not faced that episode,‘ says the psychologist.
‘It is a time to challenge ourselves, to achieve goals, to try to improve our relationships with our partners, our children, to learn to generate a routine, so that when we return to our jobs we feel stronger and safer.’
It is key to note that I do not know you are alone and that you should ask for help.

10 recommendations, tips to keep up with sleep disorder in coronavirus pandemic period

After talking with Pérez, García-Malo and Barato Salvador and reading the recommendations made by the Spanish Neurological Society ‘for a good night's sleep and adequate control of sleep disorders during the coronavirus pandemic’, we present ten recommendations:
  1. Keep a routine: establish a fixed time to go to sleep and respect that time. The brain has to be clear when it has to be awake and when not.
  2. Seek to expose yourself to the morning sun and fresh air either through the window or from a balcony.
  3. It is strictly forbidden to take a concern to bed: you have to think of something nice. 
  4. The bed is for sleeping: let's make the body link the bed with sleep so that it is deactivated when it reaches it. For example, do not work, study, or talk on the phone in bed.
  5. Avoid naps, but if you can't, they don't last more than 30 minutes.
  6. Do not take your cell phone or tablet to bed, not only because its light inhibits the secretion of melatonin (key hormone to relax and sleep), but because you can find a message or information on the internet that can increase your anxiety levels and uncertainty.
  7. Exercise during the day and avoid it at all costs shortly before going to bed.
  8. Try to relax as much as possible, especially before going to bed. Find something that will distract you and help clear your mind: meditate, do breathing exercises, listen to peaceful music.
  9. Despite the flexibility of working and studying at home, do not stay up late watching series or movies. Entertainment is essential, but ‘skipping’ bedtime for a marathon of your favorite series will have an impact on the time you wake up and your entire sleep cycle will be altered and correcting it is not always easy.
  10. Consult your doctor or a specialist if you feel that your sleeping problems are getting worse, as it is important to take measures on time.
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