Four Drug-Free Solutions to COVID-somnia
For many people, sleep disturbances have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sleep neurologists are calling this syndrome “COVID-somnia,” a phenomenon affecting people recovering from the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as those living with anxiety, fear, and stress from the pandemic.
The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) reported that people are also misusing sleep medications to cope with the symptoms. If you're dealing with COVID-somnia or know someone who is and are looking for a medication-free way to battle sleeplessness, we've listed a few potential solutions below.
It's essential to note that this content is not a substitute for medical advice. You should see a medical professional if you are experiencing any symptoms associated with sleep disorders and discuss any potential treatments you're considering.
A Brief Overview of COVID-somnia
There are various reasons why COVID-19 is impacting people’s sleep, including:
- Dissolution of daily schedules
- Economic impacts
- Excessive electronic media usage
- Fears of contagion
- Increase daytime napping
- Reduce exposure to sunlight
Interestingly, it's the last one on that list that could make the most significant difference in sleep quality and quantity. "Sunlight is our biggest zeitgeber—literally 'time giver,'" said Daniel A. Barone, MD, FAASM, FAAN, associate medical director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine, said in an interview with NeurologyToday. "If people aren't leaving their homes because of fear of COVID-19, if they're not going to work as they once did, then they aren't getting that daily exposure to sunlight in the morning. That can disrupt their internal clock."
With Barone’s insights in mind, it’s important that you find activities to do outside. If you need ideas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a vaiety of outdoor activities that you can more safely participate in.
Four Drug-Free Solutions to Covid-somnia
There has been a substantial uptick in the number of prescriptions filled per week for antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia medications. However, many people with COVID-somnia can nip their sleeplessness in the bud with a few practical strategies.
Stick to a Schedule
Setting a regular schedule is essential during these uncertain times. The more consistent your bedtime is, the better. However, it’s not just about what time your head hits the pillow; it’s about what you do with your day. If you have no reason to leave home, it’s time you make one.
Schedule time on your calendar to take a walk, work in the yard, or just sit in the sun. Being exposed to natural light can help regulate your circadian rhythms.
While many of us are still working from home, it's helpful to keep your morning wake-up time as consistent as possible too. Keeping your morning routine consistent—even eating breakfast, getting dressed for work, working out—can have a significant effect on how well you sleep at night.
Avoid Anxiety-Provoking News
There is a difference between staying well informed and doomscrolling. Try to avoid watching and reading the news right before bed. Not only is there a good chance that it'll cause anxiety, but the blue light from your device can also stimulate your circadian clock and reduce sleepiness. Most doctors recommend shutting down electronics such as your TV or phone at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
If you're getting the sense that bad news is causing sleep disturbances but are having a hard time pulling your focus from the TV or phone, we have a few tips for you. Jacqueline Bullis, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in McLean Hospital's Center of Excellence in Depression and Anxiety Disorders, recommends:
- Determining what information is helpful (ways to stay safe during COVID-19)
- Sticking to trusted sources (World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Limiting time spent engaging with COVID-19 news (check for updates 1-2 times per day, max)
- Removing anxiety-provoking information or people from your social media feeds (unfollow, unfriend, or “mute”)
Finally, find sources that highlight good news. Check out the Good News Network, Optimist Daily, Positive.News and the “good news” sections of the Huffington Post, Today, and MSN.
Exercise can alleviate sleep disorder symptoms, and of course, the lack thereof can exacerbate those symptoms. While it may be hard to get motivated when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, you must find time to get moderate-to-vigorous exercise. The Sleep Foundation found that it can:
- Increase sleep quality
- Reduce the time it takes to fall asleep
- Alleviate daytime sleepiness
- Reduce the need for sleep medications
- Minimize the risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Start by adding at least three times to exercise to your weekly schedule. If you don’t exercise regularly, start by walking, hiking, or biking.
Try Sound Therapy
Some people are exploring how music and sound can address their COVID-somnia, rather than turning to medication. Sound therapy uses music, ambient noise, white noise, binaural beats, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), and other sounds as therapeutic tools and treatments.
While there is still more research to be done, there is ample evidence that pleasing music and sound can release dopamine and serotonin. These two neurotransmitters are vital for mood regulation and sleep.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine suggested that sound meditation can significantly reduce tension, anger, anxiety, and depression. People who actively use sound therapy also report:
- Reduced tension
- Improved sleep quality
- Improved memory
- Reduced pain
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved blood circulation
To use sound therapy for COVID-somnia, we recommend using headphones that are specifically designed for sleep. Earbuds and over-the-ear headphones are uncomfortable to wear to bed and can actually diminish sleep quality. If you’re using your phone, it’s often helpful to turn off notifications while trying to fall asleep.
The Need for Sleep
Developing better sleep hygiene is one of the most beneficial improvements you can make to your life during the COVID-19 pandemic. When possible, it's helpful to do so without the use of sleep medications. Talk to your doctor about using SleepPhones® to assist you in your journey towards more restful nights.