We are stressed. Our daily routines are being disrupted. It’s no surprise that insomnia is arising as one more side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. While sleeplessness hasn’t been noted as a direct symptom of the virus, it is an indirect symptom that nearly anyone around the world – including the otherwise physically healthy –can suffer right now.
I’ve been struggling to sleep. My new sleep “schedule” is: get in bed at 11:30pm. Lie there until 2am, awake. Pop a second melatonin, which finally kicks in around 4am. Sleep for five hours. Get up. And yes, I’ve tried it all. Sleepytime tea. Supplements. More exercise. Meditation. A little booze. This insomnia seems pretty invincible at this point. But, that’s because the source of it isn’t normal. It isn’t anything I’ve faced before. The source is stress over knowing that as I lie there in bed, nurses and doctors struggle with emotional meltdowns between saving lives, the businesses I came to love and connect to in my community may permanently close their doors, and life as I knew it may not recover. That stress runs deep.
I thought I was the only one struggling with this sleep issue at first. I’ve never been a great sleeper anyway so, I thought this was just a more intense bout of the usual BS (which plagues every area of my life). But then I started reading the social media posts of others and talking to friends and found that this is a nationwide problem right now. And likely a worldwide problem. Here are the reasons you probably can’t sleep right now.
Normal life tired you out
We don’t realize just how active we are when the economy is open and life is normal. Just between running errands and taking the dog for longer walks and seeing friends and grabbing coffee and moving around an office. What about the walk from the metro station to the office? Or perhaps you walked to and from work. Our lives are so stationary now. We don’t get to tire ourselves out the way we once did.
If working from home is new to you, then you’re probably used to a more stimulating workday. Interacting with humans, face-to-face, activates the brain in a way that simple emails or phone calls don’t. The basic environment of a workplace, with people buzzing around and phones ringing, is stimulating. Working from home may not provide the mind enough stimulation during the day, so at night, your brain is buzzing, seeking stimulation.
The day feels incomplete
Your mind is used to a certain routine – certain rituals put a nice little bow on the day, and signaled that it was done. Maybe you used to go for an evening walk with a friend every day. Or grab a drink at a local happy hour spot. Or go to a workout class. Your brain got used to the idea that, “Okay, after we do that thing, the day is done.” But now that thing doesn’t happen, so your mind struggles to understand where one day ends and another begins.
You’re worried about money
You may not think you’re worried about money, or you may be very aware that you’re worried about money. Even those who feel they are all set, on a deep subconscious level, are worried that the world and their industry could change in a permanent way that makes their backup plan a moot point. Or that destroys their investments. Maybe their savings aren’t enough. We’re all a bit worried about money right now.
Others’ sleep schedules changed
Perhaps your partner is not working from home, or not working right now. So instead of joining you in bed at 10pm, she stays up until 1am watching TV in the other room. It’s a bit too loud. Then, when she does get in bed, that commotion wakes you up. Maybe your partner took a job doing customer service over the phone and has to be up at 6am now, and that wakes you.
You’re drinking to de-stress
You may be turning to alcohol to de-stress at night. Many are doing it. A lot of my friends have “wine” or “margarita makings” on their permanent shopping list. But, while alcohol can calm you down at first, the blood sugar spike that happens in the middle of the night can wake you up – as can your bladder, which is irritated from the booze.
Your eating schedule is off
You may be eating later now, since there is less urgency around keeping a regular schedule. Or perhaps you are snacking late at night – a little comfort food for the soul. But eating too close to bedtime can mean you’re trying to sleep while your stomach is wide awake, digesting your food, and that can mean you’re wide awake.
You’re worried about your health
Naturally, we are all a bit worried about our health. That cough today – what was that? Did I feel a bit feverish? I should lie here awake all night keeping track of how my body feels. If we aren’t worried about our health, we’re worried about the health of others. An elderly relative. Our children. An immuno-compromised friend.
Your mind is turning on solutions
While I know that I alone cannot figure out the solution to this pandemic – I won’t come up with a cure, formulate a vaccine, or figure out how to fix the millions of financial issues it has caused, I think on some subconscious level, we’re all trying to work things out. We can’t help but sit in bed at night and try to think of ways to make things better.
You’re eager to get things done
You may have a lot that you’d like to accomplish during this pandemic. Perhaps you lost your job and would like to send out 50 job applications a day. Maybe you’ve decided to write a book and would like to write 20 new pages a day. Maybe you want to help your neighbors, and try to get care packages to X amount of people every day. You may struggle to sleep thinking, “Okay, I need to sleep so I can do all I have to do tomorrow.”
You want to sleep, to fast forward
I know that, personally, I see sleep as a way of fast-forwarding through this nightmare. I want to sleep a lot so that it feels as if this pandemic goes by quickly. I’m not staying in my home right now, but with family, and I am looking forward to going home. I desperately want to sleep to let the next day come, and that pressure on sleep makes it hard to sleep.
Your thoughts catch up with you at night
If you are working right now, then, for most of the day, you don’t get to let your mind wander. You are forced to focus on the specific tasks at hand. But that doesn’t mean that your brain hasn’t back-logged tons of ideas and worries and concerns and worst-case-scenarios that it would like to mull over, once you have the time aka once you’re in bed.
You can’t exercise like you used to
You may be trying to exercise. You may be finding creative ways to do so under these conditions. Perhaps you have a workout bike. Or you’ve ordered new workout equipment. But there is a good chance you aren’t exercising like you used to. Your instructor isn’t right there to pressure you to spin harder. You aren’t at the gym, where you feel motivated by others to keep going. So you don’t exhaust yourself like you once did.
It feels weird to relax
I personally can feel a bit guilty relaxing in a peaceful place when I know so many don’t get to. I think of the nurses working the graveyard shift in the ICU. I think of those who don’t have a home right now. I think of all of those who are far too stressed by the fact that a close loved one is sick or they barely have enough food to eat. And to just doze off in my cozy room feels…wrong.
Sleeping conditions have changed
For many, sleeping conditions have changed. Perhaps you’ve taken in family, who left an overpopulated city/hotspot in which they live to retreat in your quiet town. So, when you once had a bedroom to yourself, now you’re sharing one. Or maybe you left your home to stay with family, and aren’t in the comfort of your own home, so you aren’t sleeping as well.