I have a sleep history. For most of my adult life I have been a card-carrying insomniac. Waking at 3:00 am with a crazy energy, sweeping the front porch at dawn and banging pots and pans (or any other noisy handiwork) by 5:00 am. Loved ones stuffed toilet paper in their ears to deaden the sound, or wandered confusedly into hallways, looking for the source of the early morning cacophony. It has been the origin of family lore and table talk for years.
Trouble Sleeping and Recovery
One of the hallmarks of active addiction is insomnia. And when I was drinking, I’d fall asleep most nights (often fully clothed and shod), wake when my blood sugar dropped and rise like a vampire to get some water, put on pajamas, and alphabetize cans in the pantry. But as a person in recovery, I became an excellent sleeper. In fact, my insomnia evaporated like morning dew; I even began to set an alarm.
Here’s the interesting thing about sleep and mental health: it’s a classic chicken and egg situation. Mental disorders, including substance use disorders, cause sleeplessness. But the opposite is also true – insomnia causes mental disorders and a vulnerability to drugs and alcohol.
Most common mental disorders, from depression and anxiety to PTSD, are associated with disturbed sleep, and substance use disorders are no exception. The relationship may be complex and bidirectional: Substance use causes sleep problems; but insomnia and insufficient sleep may also be a factor raising the risk of drug use and addiction.
Dr. Nora Volkow, “Nora’s Blog” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH)
Anyone with disturbed sleep knows intuitively that it is bad for your health. There is nothing so dire (or fruitless) as staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night with a problem circling around the psyche. Everything seems worse at the witching hour. And when you can’t sleep you are vulnerable to raiding the refrigerator for leftover pizza, or taking a shot of vodka to “help you get drowsy”. And lack of sleep can lower immunity (making you more vulnerable to virus), impact memory and decision making, and increase the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
How is COVID-19 Impacting Sleep?
The pandemic has caused an upsurge in stress-related insomnia. Stress is often a trigger for sleep problems, but the social distancing and quarantining associated with the pandemic leads to isolation and depression, which also causes sleeplessness. It’s no wonder we are walking around like zombies, feeling grumpy and out of sorts.
It’s not just you…Stress-related insomnia due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is definitely a thing and it’s more complicated than typical stress-related sleeplessness. Because it’s not just about the virus; it’s also about everything else that’s changed because of the virus… And this loss of sleep, especially over time, has a negative effect on your overall health.
The Cleveland Clinic – How the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Impact Your Sleep
The usual tips to improve quality of sleep, although good advice, seem a little naïve during 2020. It is tough to write in a journal or meditate when your mind is full of financial worries or fear you’ve been exposed to a deadly virus.
Keep regular sleep hours
Create a restful sleep environment
Do not overindulge in food, drugs or alcohol
Have a comfortable/designated place to sleep
Limit caffeine, do not smoke
Relax or meditate
If nothing works, get up and do something relaxing
In a recent article, the Cleveland Clinic updated their tips for combating insomnia with the pandemic in mind.
The Cleveland Clinic’s tips for combatting stress?
Take a break from the news
Create a daily schedule/routine (including bedtime) and stick to it
Get light exposure in the morning! Our circadian rhythm is disrupted when working from home
Avoid clock watching – practice relaxation techniques during the day
Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids and melatonin
Get up and distract yourself
Get Up Until You Get Sleepy
One tip for those with trouble sleeping, is to get up and change the scene. Whether it is the pandemic, normal stress or a sugar crash, if you can’t fall asleep or wake in the middle of the night, the 20-minute rule applies.
If you haven’t fallen asleep after about 20 minutes, consider getting up and going to a different room. Distracting yourself, in the form of reading, calming yoga stretches or a relaxing hobby like knitting can help. By going to a different room, you can keep it — in your mind — as a place of peace and relaxation and not associated with the annoyance of interrupted sleep.
Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM – Sleep Psychologist, Cleveland Clinic
As we navigate a world-wide pandemic, it will help you sleep better to know there are resources to go to for mental health assistance. During 2020, there have been countless blogs, podcasts, virtual communities, webinars, telehealth treatment programs, and help lines created. Consequently, for those with heightened anxiety during this uncertain time, there is help available.
P.S. I wrote this (relaxing hobby?) at 3:21 am…
For more information, Click the links below:
Cleveland Clinic “healthessentials” September 30, 2020