Coronasomnia and Sleeping In – How to Avoid Sleep Problems During a Crisis
Due to quarantines and other safety measures, many individuals are reporting longer sleep times, especially with work and other responsibilities shifted to the home. According to sleep specialists, there are many reasons for this, and sleep apnea is one of them. Even when treating sleep apnea with proper PAP-therapy routines, added stressors, more time on your hands, and anxiety due to fear or life changes can all contribute to sleep disruption in ways that may not have affected you before. The best strategy against this, whether or not you have sleep apnea, is to maintain healthy habits around the clock, from weight maintenance to daily routines to optimal sleep hygiene. Feeling stagnant or overwhelmed is a natural response to problems of this magnitude, but in order to solve societal problems, we must first contend with our personal challenges on a day-to-day basis. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night (for most adults), but the quality of those sleep hours will make all the difference between an active day and a case of Corona doldrums. Simply logging bedtime hours tells you nothing about how your body and mind are resting. But paying more attention to how you feel throughout the day can tell you exactly how rested you are, and what you can do about it if a problem persists.
Is It Oversleep or Needed Sleep?
The short answer to this question is possibly both. COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of our lives and continues to do so regardless of what particular phase our city happens to be in at the moment. With schools, workplaces, city parks, and gyms shutting down, many Americans are finding it easier to fall out of an active routine, leaving them with higher energy levels by the end of the day. It is also easier to go to bed earlier or sleep later, depending on schedule changes or less need for transportation time. Data collected by the health analytics company Evidation Health shows that on average, Americans have increased their sleep time by 20 percent during quarantines. But it’s difficult to say how much of that sleep is needed. Since many of us have been living with sleep debt for some time, some may be trying to make up for it now that things have changed, whether we realize it or not. At the same time, it is also easy to take it too far and end up even more fatigued than you were in the first place. While we may need these long-neglected sleep hours, it can be disruptive to gain them back over a short period, as our bodies (and minds) are not meant to binge and purge with our sleep. These types of fluctuations can lead to impaired cognitive function, mood problems, and further complications for those with an existing sleep disorder like OSA. Because of this, sleep experts recommend sticking to a new schedule in place of the old one, and maintaining healthy routines throughout the day, especially during the last few hours before bed. Sleep in excess can be just as unhealthy as sleep deprivation if it persists, and in the short term can make it harder simply to wake and face the day.
Sleep and Sleep Apnea During Quarantine
One issue specific to individuals with sleep apnea is the possible change in therapy routines. For those who have been using CPAP for a long time, the sudden changes due to the pandemic can disrupt a healthy, well-set routine. And for those just beginning therapy, the body may interpret sudden sleep-pattern improvements as oversleeping, resulting in similar low-energy symptoms until the body adjusts. Only by maintaining regular therapy schedules can patients realize the full potential of CPAP, and this can become much more difficult during life changes, especially of this magnitude. A health crisis like COVID-19 also means that treatment is especially important to maintain the body’s immune capacity. One strategy is to deal with the anxiety first by developing coping mechanisms for high-stress experiences. According to an article published on the ResMed website, “anxiety and sleep apnea are like fish and water…Find one, and you’ll usually find the other.” By developing coping mechanisms such as breathing techniques or light exercise breaks throughout the day, you can prepare yourself for a relaxing therapy experience and a quality night of sleep.
In addition to oversleeping and feeling fatigued, some individuals are reporting more problems with insomnia since the coronavirus entered our lives. Sometimes referred to as “Coronasomnia,” the problem can be caused by anything from fear of infection or other health-related concerns to social or economic problems. One study in China found that the prevalence of insomnia increased significantly during the COVID-19 outbreak, along with higher rates of anxiety. It is no surprise that the high-stress atmosphere of a pandemic would lead to sleep problems, but many are surprised how tired they become even when they’re less physically active. Stress can be extremely taxing on the body’s energy reserves, and along with a proper diet, quality sleep is one of the only ways to replenish those energies to start each day anew.
The New Normal
Adapting to the “new normal” of a COVID-19 world means putting even more effort into healthy living. Most people already know this, but still find themselves slacking. Or perhaps they make sincere efforts to keep themselves healthy, yet find it difficult to navigate the many changes to everyday life. In an interview on Healthline.com, Dr. Richard Bogan, president of Bogan Sleep Consultants and director of SleepMed of South Carolina, recommends four primary focus areas for a healthy sleep routine during the current pandemic: sunlight, more controlled bedtimes, new routines, and less electronics. Sunlight, surprisingly, is extremely important as a stress reducer, as it boosts vitamin D and induces more restful sleep states. According to Healthline, a minimum of 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight per week is enough to make a difference. While more sunlight can be healthier, you should be very careful not to overdo it either, wear protection in the form of sunscreen, and keep yourself hydrated. Dr. Bogan, like the National Sleep Foundation, recommends well-structured bedtime routines between 8 p.m. and midnight, and with the same restrictions on electronics at least an hour before getting into bed to sleep. Electronics emit light and sound that can both inhibit melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for the regulations of circadian rhythms, our internal clocks that prepare us each night for sleep. And more import than any of these measures is the establishment of a new routine. Each of these focus areas should be incorporated into a new routine that provides balance to current life changes. For example, light exercise like walking or yoga can relieve stress without making you even more tired. The key is finding a schedule that fits your needs. The more changes you take into account, the better you will become at compensating for your losses.
Bogansleep.com – http://www.bogansleep.com/
Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181883/
Evidation.com – https://evidation.com/news/covid-19-pulse-first-data-evidation/
JCSM.AASM.org – https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.8524
Sleepfoundation.org – https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-guidelines-covid-19-isolation