If you have been struggling with sleep issues for the past year or so, it might help to know that you are not alone. In 2020, the word ‘insomnia’ was Googled more than it had ever been before1. The same trend also showed itself in Cigna’s 2021 360 Wellbeing Survey, with results indicating that only 23% of respondents in Singapore felt that they had sufficient sleep, as compared to the global average of 30%2. While insomnia has always been an age-old problem, the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably added a new dimension to how so many of us experience sleep, or rather, the lack of it. Now, almost two years into this crisis, experts have started addressing the phenomenon as ‘coronasomnia’, which combines the words ‘coronavirus’ and ‘insomnia’ to encapsulate the issue at hand. Here’s why.
There is no doubt that over the course of the past year, the pandemic and the subsequent months of isolation have negatively impacted our daily lives significantly. Being stuck at home for a large majority of the time has disrupted our daily routines, erased work-life boundaries and brought a constant feeling of isolation and uncertainty into our lives. While these are all issues on their own, they also serve to disrupt the most important routine of all - our sleep.
On any normal day, our lives revolve around routines and environments that we interact with, such as alarms, commutes, meals, workplace interactions and breaks. These all contribute to keeping our circadian rhythm intact, which in turn, helps us regulate our sleep. However, with the pandemic forcing us into spending most of our lives at home, we have been consistently missing out on many of these routines and interactions, including the time that we spend outside. In fact, because we spend so much time indoors, we also receive significantly less exposure to natural light and lead less active lifestyles, which in turn adversely affects our quality of sleep.
Blurred work-life boundaries
Working from home has also caused another huge change in our lives - the gradual blurring of work-life boundaries that we were previously used to. Typically, our brains are conditioned to associate the office with work and our homes with rest, creating a clear distinction that makes it easier for us to switch between the tasks involved. When we work from home, however, these boundaries are no longer as obvious. Our work devices are now always within reach, keeping us preoccupied with our professional responsibilities no matter the time or day. This blurring of boundaries makes it more difficult for us to switch off and relax even in the comfort of our own homes. Statistically, this has also resulted in a trend of people working more and at irregular hours, especially when they are working from home. Our latest 360 Wellbeing Survey reflects this, with 49% of Singapore workers indicating that they are working longer hours from home2.
Increased sense of uncertainty
Beyond the issues of disrupted routines and blurred boundaries, the lengthy duration of the pandemic has also given many of us a nagging sense of isolation and uncertainty. In particular, being stuck at home tends to deprive us of our usual methods to destress, such as engaging in certain outdoor activities or interacting with our loved ones. The unceasing volatility of the situation also leads to a general helplessness and a state of burnout that experts call pandemic fatigue. Without our usual sources of comfort, it’s no surprise that pandemic-related stress is building up and affecting our sleep.
Recognising how poorer sleep affects our Whole Person Health
Considering the current circumstances of a global pandemic, getting adequate, quality sleep is actually now more important than ever as it is vital for our daily health maintenance. The opposite also holds true when we are sleep deprived - our body’s immune system gets weakened, making us more vulnerable to viruses and infections in the short term. Over time, a chronic lack of sleep could lead to long-term physical and mental health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety.
Without a clean bill of health to go off on, our daily lives can also take a hit. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep increases the likelihood of careless mistakes while decreasing our concentration levels and more severely affecting our mood3. When coupled with the effects that coronasomnia can have on our physical health, this drain on our mental facilities can snowball into an alarming decline of our Whole Person Health.
Getting the rest we need
Given the importance of sleep, the best form of self-care that we can engage in at the moment is to address the issues that may be affecting us the most, though this will naturally differ from person to person. To get you started, however, we have identified 3 main methods that may just help you figure out the best course of action for yourself.
Redefining personal boundaries and routines
With the pandemic indiscriminately disrupting our old routines, the first logical step here would be to take the initiative to re-organise our daily lives in this new normal. For instance, having a structured daily routine is still feasible, as we can continue to set reminders, have fixed mealtimes, regular exercise sessions and blocked-off leisure time within our own household. This can also be applied to our daily sleep schedules, which we can make consistent by regulating our sleep and wake times as a way to readjust our circadian rhythms. Our brains are ultimately conditioned to associate our homes and our beds with rest and relaxation, so carving out clear working spaces and staying out of our bedrooms during working hours is crucial in preventing unwanted stresses for when we do want to relax.
Managing pandemic-related stress
On the topic of stress, there is no doubt that the pandemic has been a persistent source of it for close to two years now. Without actively managing our exposure to potentially upsetting sources of information, we can reach a state of burnout that is hard to get out of. In this sense, it is useful to work out a schedule that can help us to keep away from anxiety-inducing sources such as reading the news or scrolling through social media. Even something simple like setting a time limit on these activities would go a long way in reducing our anxiety levels to help us sleep better at night.
Leveraging additional tools
Finally, modern problems call for modern solutions - such as creative tools that can help us sleep better. For a start, weighted blankets can do wonders in improving how well we sleep. The pressure from heavier blankets like these mimics a therapeutic technique called deep pressure stimulation that is commonly used in acupuncture and massage sessions to relax our nervous systems. Studies have shown that the consistent usage of weighted blankets significantly reduced insomnia severity and even led to better sleep maintenance, higher daytime activity levels, as well as reduced symptoms of fatigue, depression and anxiety4. Depending on your budget, doing a little research along these lines might just help you to discover previously unknown solutions that can help get your sleep back on track.
Over to you
Getting a good night’s sleep can be surprisingly difficult for some, and the ‘coronasomnia’ phenomenon has undoubtedly worsened this problem for an already sleep-deprived nation like ours. While it may seem like there is little that we can do in the grand scheme of things, we can still take control of our own lives and make some small but necessary changes to adapt. In fact, these changes do not have to be big or significant - all they have to do is work in tandem to gradually nudge us towards getting sufficient, better quality sleep.
1. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2020). Web searches for insomnia surged at height of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. ScienceDaily.
2. Cigna. (2021). 2021 Cigna 360 Wellbeing Survey: On the Road to Recovery.
3. Newsom, R. (2021). Sleep & Job Performance: Can Sleep Deprivation Hurt Your Work?
4. Ekholm, B., Spulber, S., & Adler, M. (2020). A randomized controlled study of weighted chain blankets for insomnia in psychiatric disorders.