Why the pandemic is affecting your sleep

After months of lockdown, many of us have been left feeling isolated and anxious about an uncertain future. This pandemic has greatly impacted our mental health and not sleeping properly could be the root of the problem.

Worldwide, people have reported difficulty in falling asleep throughout this pandemic with more vivid dreams and increased alertness throughout the night. This has resulted in many feeling unrested and more stressed the following day.

It is thought that the main cause of our sleep disturbances is the increased anxiety caused by constant reminders of the serious global issues currently occurring. At this time it is difficult to switch off and ignore social media and the news. Anxiety and stress cause the body to release cortisol and adrenaline in what is known as the flight or fight response. Nevertheless, these chemicals keep your body stimulated and prevent you from falling asleep. This leads to a vicious cycle of not sleeping due to high stress levels causing more anxiety the following day, therefore exacerbating the problem.

Moreover, the apparent increase in vivid dreams and nightmares is due to the fact that we’re waking up more throughout the night. This could be due to a number of reasons including noise, caffeine and stress. However, these factors interrupt REM sleep. REM is a stage of the sleep cycle where we dream. Therefore, when it is interrupted, we are more likely to remember the content of these dreams. Furthermore, vivid dreams are known to be more common during any high stress scenario so they are to be expected during these uncertain times.

With most of us staying at home and the closure of leisure centres, we are also exercising less. Exercise is an important regulator of sleep. Researchers at the Arizona State University explain that exercising increases adenosine levels in the body which leads to drowsiness, improved regulation of the circadian rhythm and therefore improved sleep. Furthermore, exercise can be beneficial in reducing the stress and anxiety causing your sleeping problems because when we exercise, endorphins are released. These molecules interact with receptors within your brain to reduce pain perception and induce happiness and positivity. Including exercise into your daily schedule is especially important during these times to maintain a positive mindset and allow yourself to sleep well and feel rested each day.

Another way to reduce stress and help improve sleep is to use cannabidiol (CBD) products. CBD is a component found in the cannabis plant which is used for therapeutic purposes. It is a natural remedy which does not have the psychoactive (changing the users state of mind) or addictive components, normally associated with this plant. Importantly, CBD can interact with receptors within the endocannabinoid system to stimulate serotonin release. Increasing the levels of serotonin in the body can increase mood and reduce depression and anxiety. Moreover, serotonin is a precursor for melatonin which is the main hormone that regulates sleep. Therefore, using certain types of CBD oil that are available on the market could help to reduce levels of anxiety and improve your sleep.

Maintaining a daily schedule can also help improve sleep. By ensuring to rise early and not go to bed too late, you can regulate your sleeping pattern and ensure you are getting enough sleep. Moreover, reducing your screen time and avoiding the news and social media before going to bed can decrease stress levels and lower brain stimulation to help you fall asleep more readily. Doing activities throughout the day can also help to take your mind off of things worrying you. Motivate yourself to do the jobs around the house that you always put off or try a new hobby. The feeling of accomplishment will boost your mood, reduce stress and help you to sleep better. 

Finally, maintaining a balanced diet is fundamental in ensuring a good night’s sleep. Changes such as reducing your daily caffeine intake as well as not relying on alcohol to help you fall asleep can be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety. Although alcohol can induce drowsiness, it reduces the amount of REM sleep that you experience. Studies show that this will leave you feeling less well-rested and can induce a decline in mood. Making healthy choices will leave you feeling more positive and will allow you to be more productive in the day thus helping you to sleep at night.

It is without a doubt a very trying time and it is normal to feel anxious about the future. However, getting a good night’s sleep is necessary to reduce stress and to ensure you are ready to face the following day.