“Coronasomnia”, insomnia induced by a pandemic, is not just an anecdotal phenomenon: NPR

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Scott Simon speaks with Jennifer Martin of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine about how to manage sleep disorders in the aftermath of the pandemic.



SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

How did you sleep ? My wife and I are fine except when we wake up at 3 a.m. worried about a pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires and the future of democracy. That’s all. Call it coronasomy (ph), or insomnia caused by the relentless pandemic.

Jennifer Martin is a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and is now joining us from Los Angeles. Hello, I hope you had a good night’s sleep.

JENNIFER MARTIN: I did. Thank you for having me here today.

SIMON: So what’s the secret? I mean this – there is a link between the pandemic and insomnia. And that’s not just a bunch of trivia, is it?

MARTIN: No. Many people who slept perfectly well in their pre-pandemic lives are struggling now. We believe there are two main reasons for this. The first is that for many people their normal sleep habits and routines are very different these days.

SIMON: Yeah.

MARTIN: For a number of people who, you know, maybe used to get up and go to an office every day, telecommuting could be a permanent situation now. And adapting to these new habits and routines takes time. We also know that there has been, as you mentioned in your introduction, a lot of stress in a lot of people’s lives – you know, financial considerations. Many people have been directly impacted by COVID, either because they themselves fell ill or because their loved ones did. And these stressors can also be very disruptive to our sleep.

SIMON: Yeah. And we must remember that lack of sleep is not only aggravating.

MARTIN: Good point – we know that people who don’t sleep well or not enough have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic problems, like type 2 diabetes. They are at higher risk of accidents and injuries. They tend to have a harder time getting along with their families and functioning in their daily lives.

SIMON: And have you found some kind of connection between COVID and sleep disturbances?

MARTIN: We’ve seen some pretty worrying trends in this area. The first is that the number of people taking prescription sleeping pills has increased during the COVID pandemic. Over-the-counter purchases and supplements to try and help people sleep have increased quite dramatically. And then there’s the impact of COVID itself on sleep. Poor quality of sleep and insomnia are also one of the consequences for people recovering from COVID.

SIMON: I have to ask, are over-the-counter sleep prescriptions safe?

MARTIN: The first-line treatment for chronic sleep disorders is a treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. We generally think of sleeping pills as the second tool in our toolkit, not the first. So if people take a course in this and they are still struggling, sometimes we can add a sleeping pill to help them.

SIMON: When I fight, (laughs) I throw coins in my head from old Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton.

MARTIN: It’s an exceptional strategy. The worst thing to do is probably lie in bed and think about how awful it is to be awake.

SIMON: Yeah.

MARTIN: One of the things we often recommend is that people do something else. What if they can just, you know, lay quiet in their bed and start thinking about their favorite sports teams or a theatrical performance they saw a few years ago or a family vacation and changing? ideas, sleep returns much faster. Sometimes we actually recommend people to give up and get out of bed for a while …

SIMON: Yeah.

MARTIN: … If they can’t forget to sleep and go back to bed a little later when they feel tired again.

SIMON: Yeah. Forgive me for having that mundane, but what about the old, you know, a cup of hot milk? I know, for example, that an extra drink of alcohol is not a good idea.

MARTIN: Right. So, one of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep is to put your day to rest. And if that involves a cup of hot milk, that sounds like a great option to me.

SIMON: Yeah.

MARTIN: But one of the things that I think happened during the pandemic, as people blurred the lines between their professional and personal lives, was that a lot of times were working; we read the news media. Sorry to say, maybe, you know, turn off the NPR app at some point before you go to bed …

(TO LAUGH)

MARTIN: … Maybe it’s a good way to relax (laughs).

SIMON: No, I – we don’t take it personally. We understand. So we’re just gonna say thank you.

Jennifer Martin, who teaches medicine at UCLA and is a board member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Pleasant dreams to all.

MARTIN: Thanks.

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