Chronically poor sleep is more than just a nuisance. It weakens the immune system, reduces memory and attention span, and increases the likelihood of chronic conditions such as depression, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Experts show you how to fight insomnia, the one that with the pandemic you have caught and now you do not have the tranquility of rest because there are factors that do not let you sleep. Studies show that during the pandemic, people tended to maintain irregular sleep schedules, going to bed much later and sleeping more than usual. We share the habits that will make you sleep like a baby.
Isn’t your dream what it used to be? Does your mind race when your head hits the pillow? Do you wake up at 4:00 am and have a hard time going back to sleep? Do you feel drowsy and sleep deprived no matter how many hours you spend in bed?
For many people, poor sleep was the norm before the pandemic. Later, stress, anxiety, and interruptions worsened our nighttime sleep, leading to terms like “coronainsomnia” to describe the increase in sleep disturbances in the past year. But recently, sleep experts have observed something that has surprised them: After more than a year of pandemic, our collective dream has only gotten worse.
In a survey of thousands of adults last summer, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 20 percent of Americans reported having trouble sleeping due to the pandemic. But when the academy repeated its survey ten months later, in March, those numbers rose dramatically. About 60 percent of people said they had pandemic-related insomnia issues, and nearly half reported that their sleep quality had declined, even though infection rates have dropped and the country is opening up. again.
"A lot of people thought our sleep should improve because we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but now it’s worse than last year," said Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, sleep medicine specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. . "People continue to experience great difficulties."
Chronically poor sleep is more than just a nuisance. It weakens the immune system, reduces memory and attention span, and increases the likelihood of chronic conditions such as depression, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Studies suggest that the less you sleep, the less you live. And for people over the age of 50, sleeping less than six hours a night can even increase the risk of dementia.
"In the last year we’ve had the perfect storm of all possible bad things for sleep," says Sabra Abbott, associate professor of neurology in sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Studies show that during the pandemic, people tended to maintain irregular sleep schedules, going to bed much later and sleeping more than usual, which can disrupt our circadian rhythms. We reduced our levels of physical activity and spent more time at home; we gained weight and drank more alcohol; and we erase the lines that separate work and school from our homes and bedrooms, all of which are detrimental to sleep.
Most surprising of all, our stress and anxiety levels skyrocketed, which are two of the root causes of insomnia. In a report published in May, the American Psychiatric Association found that the majority of people in the country remained concerned about their health, finances and the possibility of a loved one suffering from COVID-19. More than half of parents said they were concerned about their children’s mental state, and 41 percent of adults said they had more anxiety today than during the first months of the pandemic.
Not everyone, of course, suffers from sleep disorders. A team of international researchers who studied three million people in New York, London, Los Angeles, Seoul and Stockholm found that, on average, people gained 25 more minutes of sleep each night during the pandemic compared to the previous year. Those who benefited the most were people who naturally tend to stay up late but no longer had to set an early alarm to go to work or get their kids ready for school, said Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University. from California, Berkeley, and author of the bestselling book Why We Sleep.
"If there is a success story, it is the revenge of the night owls when it comes to covid and sleep," Walker said. "Finally, night owls are starting to sleep a little more in sync with their biology."
But for millions of other people with insomnia, the extra time in bed can, paradoxically, make things worse. When people have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, their brains associate their beds with stressful experiences. "The brain learns that the bed is the place where you don’t sleep," Abbott explains. "The more time you spend in bed, the more you reinforce that idea." One of the standard treatments for insomnia is a strategy called sleep restriction, which makes people sleep better and more efficiently by teaching them to spend less time in bed, not more.
So what else can we do to regain our interrupted sleep? Keep reading. And check out our 20 Most Frequently Asked Questions From Readers About Better Sleep [in English].
How to beat insomnia
It’s normal to have trouble sleeping during big life changes. But when sleep interruptions last for more than three months it can be classified as chronic insomnia, which can have long-term health consequences. One of the most effective treatments is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This approach helps you address the underlying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are ruining your sleep. Here are some CBT-inspired ways to combat insomnia.
Follow the 25 minute rule
If you go to bed and can’t fall asleep after 25 minutes, or you wake up at night and can’t fall asleep after 25 minutes, don’t stay in bed. Get up and do a quiet activity that calms your mind and makes you feel drowsy. "Just get up, don’t worry," says Walker. “If you stay in bed awake for a long time, your brain thinks, ‘Every time I get into bed, this is where I should be awake.’ And you have to break that association.
Do any activity that relaxes you. Get up and stretch. Sit on the couch and meditate or read a magazine. Read a book in dim light. Do deep breathing exercises. Listen to a relaxing podcast. If you want, you can sit on a chair and draw or knit. Then when you start to feel sleepy again, crawl back into bed and try to fall asleep. Of course, do not get into bed if you are not tired. "You would never sit at the dinner table waiting to be hungry," says Walker. "So why would you lie in bed waiting to be sleepy?"
Get rid of your worries
Sit down with a blank piece of paper an hour or two before bed each night. Then write down all your thoughts, especially anything that bothers you. It can be what you are going to do tomorrow at work, the phone calls you have to make or the bills you have to pay.
. "If most of what you’ve jotted down is things that worry you, crumple up the paper and throw it away – that’s called unloading your thoughts," says Ilene Rosen, a sleep medicine physician and associate professor of medicine. clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. The act of dumping your thoughts on paper and throwing it away is a symbolic gesture that empowers you and calms your mind, Rosen said. "You had those thoughts and now they are gone," he said.
Screens in the bedroom, rules of the game
One of the reasons sleep has suffered this past year is that people sacrifice it to see all the fun things they missed during the day, like looking at Instagram and YouTube videos. This phenomenon, known as revenge procrastination at bedtime, is compounded by our attachment to phones and screens, which often follow us to bed. (How many times have you been glued to your phone long after your bedtime?)
We all know that we should not look at bright screens late at night because the blue light they emit signals to the brain that it is time to be awake. But many of us do it anyway. So follow this guideline: If you are going to use your phone or device after bedtime, do it only standing up. When you want to sit or lie down, you have to put the device away. “You’ll find that after about ten minutes of standing at your normal bedtime, you’ll say, ‘I need to go to bed,’ and that’s what your body tells you to put your phone away and sleep,” Walker said.
Daily habits for better sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep starts long before bedtime. Many of the things you do during the day will affect the quality of your sleep. So try these good sleep habits.
Get up at the same time every morning
Our body follows a daily circadian rhythm, and waking up at different times messes it up. It is best to keep the same waking time. Don’t fall asleep, not even on the weekends. "When the alarm goes off, get out of bed and start the day no matter how much you’ve slept," says Rosen. "You may not feel well for a few days, but you are reinforcing that when you are in bed, you sleep." The same goes for bedtime: be consistent. The less you deviate from your normal bedtime and wake-up times, the better you’ll sleep.
Take in the sunlight every morning
If you don’t leave the house to go to work, it can be easy to spend every morning indoors. But exposure to sunlight serves an important purpose: it deactivates the release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. "Most of the brain fog in the morning is caused by the continued production of melatonin," says Michael Breus, clinical psychologist and author of The Power of When. "When sunlight hits your eye, it sends a signal to your brain to tell the melatonin tap to turn off." Try to get at least 15 minutes of sunlight first thing in the morning.
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Make your bed a sanctuary
Working from home — sometimes from our bed — has blurred many of the lines between work and sleep. But turning your mattress into an office can condition your brain to view your bed as a place that stresses you out and makes you alert, which can lead to insomnia. That’s why sleep experts say that you need to reserve your bed for only two activities. "The bed is for sleeping or for sex," says Rosen. “If you’re not doing either of those two things, get out of bed. If you can afford to go to another room, even better. You have to break the association of being awake in bed ”.
Exercise for better sleep
The pandemic caused people to reduce their physical activity. But exercise is the easiest way to improve sleep, Breus said. "Sleep is recovery," he added. "If you have nothing to recover from, your sleep is not going to be so good." At least 29 studies have found that daily exercise, regardless of type or intensity, helps people fall asleep more quickly and help them sleep longer, especially among middle-aged and older people. According to the Sleep Foundation, people with chronic insomnia can fall asleep about 13 minutes faster and gain up to 20 extra minutes of sleep per night by starting an exercise routine. A word of caution: finish exercising at least four hours before bed, otherwise it could interfere with your sleep by increasing your core body temperature, Breus said.
Stop caffeine at 2:00 pm
Caffeine has a half-life of six to eight hours and a half-life of about 12 hours. That means if you drink coffee at 4:00 pm, "you’ll still have a quarter of the caffeine floating in your brain at 4:00 am," Breus said. Avoiding caffeine at night is a no-brainer. But ideally, you should stay away from caffeine after 2:00 pm so your body has enough time to metabolize it and eliminate it from your body.
Follow the two-drink rule.
If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to two drinks a night and stop at least three hours before bed. Alternate each drink with a glass of water. Because alcohol is a sedative, some people drink a glass to fall asleep faster. But alcohol suppresses REM sleep and causes disruptions to sleep, which will lower overall sleep quality. "The closer to bedtime you drink, the worse your sleep will be," says Breus.
When to seek help
Occasional bouts of insomnia are not a cause for concern. But if changes are made to your sleep routine and nothing seems to help, it may be time to see a doctor. A sleep specialist can determine if you need cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or other treatment. Or it could be that you have an underlying sleep disorder, such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. A doctor will evaluate you to find out.
If you live in the United States and need help, go to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website, sleepeducation.org, and enter your zip code to find a local sleep doctor or provider. "Don’t suffer in silence," says Abbasi-Feinberg. Ask for help if you need it. There are sleep doctors everywhere, and that’s what we’re here for ”.