By Jeremy Kaufman
With all the stressors people encounter on a nearly daily basis, like work, school or tuition, we need our sleep. But with the pandemic intensifying those stresses and adding more on top of it, sleeping has become more than a little difficult. Instead of just worrying about when your assignment is due, you now have to think about who’s vaccinated, social-distancing when you want to be with friends, the next variant on the horizon--not to mention the usual college worries like assignment deadlines or whether or not you have enough meal money. With all of these added together, it’s enough to keep you tossing and turning at night.
But you’re not alone. According to the National Library of Medicine, during the height of the pandemic shutdown in 2020, insomnia rates rose by about 37 percent, from roughly 14 to about 20 percent. While the Sleep Foundation indicates that more than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, the stress, grief and anxiety of Covid-19 has brought us to a whole new level of sleeplessness and is now being called “coronasomnia” by sleep experts. You know you suffer from coronasomnia if in addition to having trouble sleeping, you also have increased anxiety, depression and stress related to the pandemic. That can be caused by everything from financial stress to increased media consumption to a loss of your daily routine.
And while the virus itself doesn’t cause insomnia, the stress it creates can. Covid added worries to people’s minds that we didn’t have to think about previously. We didn’t have to think about wearing a mask in public or worry if a runny nose means you’ve contracted the virus and are now contagious so have to cancel all your plans. All of these start to weigh on people’s minds and they’re hard thoughts to shake.
Put together, all of these stressors begin to paint a somewhat worrisome picture. During the heat of the pandemic, my sleeping habits changed fairly drastically and actually sleeping was rather difficult. I found myself getting to sleep later than I normally try to do. I stayed awake longer either working on assignments or taking my mind off what I was worried about. When all you think about is stress, how do you get to sleep?
Add to that the effect of computer screens on melatonin, the hormone connected to our sleep that our bodies release when it’s dark out. Looking at computer screens, especially if you’re up late, could hamper that. But what else were we supposed to do when during the pandemic, everything shifted online, like schoolwork, entertainment, jobs and meetings? We had to be online for several hours. I spent much of my time in front of my computer screen working or my television relaxing.
With persistent stress, a few sleepless nights become part of a bigger problem. The decreased amount of sleep can also increase the feeling of anxiety and depression. Even worse, that anxiety can later translate to our dreams. Decreased sleep can also cause a lowered immune response, which can make catching a virus easier, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s a vicious cycle that can keep anyone awake.
Before any of these sleep-deprivation scenarios enter your nightmares, experts say there are ways you can try to help yourself get some sleep. According to Hackensack Meridian Health, keeping and adhering to a schedule is a good start. During the heat of the pandemic, everyone’s schedule was turned on its head, and I think that’s part of why it was so stressful. By keeping a schedule, it lets you reassert some control, and that can help take the edge off. I know it did for me; it lets me see everything I had to do in small increments, rather than everything all at once. Looking at the whole instead of the pieces can make everyone stressed.
I’ll also share another helpful tip from Hackensack Meridian: turn your devices off about an hour before you try to go to sleep. Like I said above, a blue screen hampers the release of melatonin, so turning off your computer and phone before bed can help a lot.
It’s important to keep in mind that this won’t last forever, but in the meantime, while I can’t tell you how to get better sleep, I can tell you what has worked for me. The most important thing to keep in mind with this is that it does have an answer: hopefully, once we get a worldwide handle on the pandemic, we can all finally catch some consistent ZZZs.