For over a year, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced people around the world to completely alter the way we interact with other people. We have witnessed historic increases in unemployment, overwhelmed hospitals, and an increasing frustration with the lack of social activities available to us. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that physicians and scientists have noted increases in stress responses to the environment created by the pandemic. These responses range from increased levels of anxiety, fear of the future, depression, and notable changes in our sleeping patterns as a result. Let’s look at how the pandemic affects sleep habits.
The Research: How the Pandemic Affects Sleep Habits
Dr. Rébecca Robillard of the University of Ottawa put together a team of around two dozen scientists to study changes in the sleep habits of approximately 5,500 Canadian citizens. With this relatively large sample size, Dr. Robillard and her colleagues were able to identify three major sleep changes that occurred in response to the pandemic.
- Sleeping more than usual
- A delayed sleep cycle that results in the person falling asleep significantly later and waking up much later
- Sleeping less than usual
Although none of these changes are ideal, the team did note in their published research that those in the latter two categories were more likely to experience significant increases in stress, anxiety, and depression.
The truth is that everyone has been affected by the pandemic. However, Dr. Robillard and her team did find that some demographic groups were more likely to experience significant changes in their sleeping patterns. They found that women, people with family responsibilities, the employed, and those with chronic illnesses that could put them at higher risk for Covid-19 complications. In addition, the research team found that changes were even further skewed by lifestyle choices such as heavy alcohol use and television exposure.
Getting Back to Normal
Fortunately, we are finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel in regard to the pandemic. The vaccine is set to be widely distributed in the next few months. And recent updates by the Center for Disease Control suggest that we may see something of normalcy by early summer. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your new sleep patterns will fade the moment you’re free to see all of your friends again.
Researchers suggest that people will continue to experience residual stress in response to the events of the last year, and it is going to take proactive action to fully recover from that. Luckily, the researchers at the University of Ottawa have some suggestions for getting back on track. Dr. Robillard suggests creating a sleep schedule and sticking to it seven days a week. In addition, she also suggests avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and exposure to digital screens for as long as possible before bed. The other thing you can do is exercise on a regular basis to encourage healthy sleep patterns. For many people, taking these steps is more beneficial than relying on sleep medication. And it will eventually bring you back within the realm of normal. Still, there are professional alternatives if you continue to struggle.
When You Need a Hand
Do you continue to struggle with insomnia or an unnatural sleep schedule for more than four to six weeks? Then you should speak to a professional. Your local sleep doctor at Sleep MD will be able to assess your situation from a clinical perspective to help you find reasonable solutions. Your assessment may require evaluating your mental state. We will test if anxiety, depression, or another mental disorder are part of your struggle to sleep, but you shouldn’t worry. The whole point is to approach your insomnia holistically. We want to make sure that your sleep doctor can provide the best and most practical care.