Do you have trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. Sleep disturbances have become so prevalent since the start of the pandemic that there is a name for it – “coronasomnia”.
It made me wonder, as I turned around once again for much of the night, if this was going to have any long-term consequences for society.
Simply put, is this the new normal? Are we now, thanks to the pandemic, a nation of bad sleepers?
“I don’t think we are doomed forever,” said Dr. Ronald Chervin, director of the Centers for Sleep Disorders at the University of Michigan. “But I would say we are now in a sleep deprivation epidemic.”
Every sleep expert I’ve spoken with has said things will likely improve when the COVID-19 pandemic finally subsides.
But everyone also recognized that while many people sleep very well, millions of others, like me, can’t remember the last time they got a good night’s sleep.
“We have to think about the chronic insomnia epidemic that will follow the pandemic,” said Donn Posner, adjunct clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University and chief of staff. Sleepwell Consultants.
“Clearly it’s been a stressful couple of years for a number of reasons – COVID, politics,” he told me. “Stress can lead to chronic insomnia, and chronic insomnia can take a life of its own.”
A recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that more than half of all Americans have had trouble sleeping since the start of the pandemic.
The academy’s survey of approximately 2,000 American adults determined that 56% had difficulty falling or staying asleep. Respondents also said that when they did manage to fall asleep, they tended to have “more disturbing” dreams.
These problems were more pronounced in people in their prime. Almost three-quarters of respondents aged 35 to 44 reported suffering from coronasomnia.
Michael Perlis, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania, said it was natural for people to sleep poorly amid heightened stress and anxiety.
“Evolution or God programmed us not to sleep when there is a perceived threat,” he said. “If you have a lion looking at you and licking its lips, you shouldn’t fall asleep.”
COVID is that lion. You are the potential entry.
Even for those who are fully vaccinated, stress levels can be high due to work-related pressure, concerns about family members, or uncertainty about the variants of the coronavirus.
Unsurprisingly, the academy’s study found that many Americans with insomniacs turned to prescription drugs or over-the-counter supplements such as melatonin to treat their restlessness.
More than two-thirds of those polled said they have used such remedies more frequently since the start of the pandemic.
Americans spent over $ 825 million on melatonin last year, up 43% from a year earlier, according to data analysis firm Nielsen.
Never one to miss a business opportunity, Amazon received federal approval Friday to create sleep monitors that use “radar sensors” to track how much you twist and turn. Unlike the Apple Watch or the FitBit, the Amazon device wouldn’t be worn but instead would keep an eye on you next to the bed.
American adults already had trouble sleeping even before Mean Mr. Corona arrived. The ubiquity of cellphones, tablets, and other lively distractions for years has undermined many people’s ability to catch certain Z’s.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that before the pandemic, one third of American adults did not sleep the recommended seven hours or more each night.
Southern Californians especially struggle to fall asleep, with up to 37% of adults not getting at least seven hours of sleep, according to CDC data.
This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Jerome Siegel, director of the Center for Sleep Research at UCLA, told me that the flexible hours that come with working from home have to some extent transformed us into a nation of light sleepers.
“You can keep all the hours you want, as long as you’re doing your job,” he said, observing that he now receives emails from his colleagues in the middle of the night.
“If things stay that way,” Siegel said, “then, yes, I can see how that would reconnect people to develop new, possibly worse, sleep patterns in the long run.”
Other sleepers, while acknowledging that things aren’t so good right now, say that too will pass.
“From the early days of the pandemic, there was a lot of fear,” said Dr Atul Malhotra, sleep expert at UC San Diego Health. “But I don’t think it will cause permanent damage. I think things will get back to normal. Finally.”
The trick, according to him and others, is to undo the sleep deprivation that has taken root with remote working and schooling.
“During the pandemic, everyone has become a night owl,” said Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, USC sleep specialist. “Good sleep is all about structure. People are going to have to reset their circadian rhythms, which is not easy.
Experts advise people to practice what is called good sleep hygiene. Some of these things are common sense, like avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed.
But as Dasgupta said, good sleep is all about structure. It means fixing your easygoing pandemic habits and reintroducing some discipline.
Here are some tips from the pros for better sleep:
- Get up at the same time every day. This is by far the most effective way to reset your internal clock, although it can leave you feeling groggy on days when sleep has been elusive.
- If you wake up frequently in the middle of the night, try going to bed later and thus reducing your sleep hours in a continuous cycle.
- Maintain a no-gadget rule for the bedroom. Sleep and privacy. Nothing else.
- Take it easy on devices before bed. Anything that emits light or stimulates in any way, including music, will lift your spirits.
- Avoid large meals and exercise before bed.
“And no naps,” said Siegel of UCLA. “Nap is not something healthy humans do. Hunters and gatherers did not take a nap.
This may be the hardest part for me. I was take a nap more often during the pandemic – mainly because I sleep so badly at night.
That will hopefully change when we all get back to the office, at least part-time, and start hunting and gathering again.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.