“COVID-somnia”: What it is, and how you could get more sleep if it’s impacting you

JOPLIN, Mo. – Sleep is something that everyone needs. But it’s something a lot of us are doing less during the pandemic.

“As a physician and as a human in this pandemic, it has impacted my sleep,” says Charles Graves, a psychiatrist at Access Family Care.

“Generally speaking, 15 to 30 percent of the population will have trouble sleeping,” explains Steve Graves, a councilor with the Ozark Center.

But according to the National Institutes of Health, that number has increased to 40 percent during the pandemic. The term has been dubbed “COVID-somnia” because the stresses and changes caused by the pandemic can cause many to have insomnia.

“Stress and sleep do not mix. Most of our stressors in our world are short term. Unfortunately, the pandemic has been a long term stress,” says Graves.

Graves explains that insomnia can impact both physical and mental function, with it impacting concentration, problem solving and rational thinking.

“Obviously that impacts our school age children in school, but also our adults who have to look after those children,” says Graves.

“The misery factor goes up any time you can’t sleep,” says Charles Doyle, a psychologist at College Skyline in Joplin.

Doyle explains the misery of insomnia can be especially problematic for people who already battle mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

“The worry about going to sleep actually increases,” says Doyle. “It becomes a serious thing for them to deal with. And it decreases their daily function, increases their symptoms overall.”

So what can you do to get more and better sleep? Here are some tips that both Doyle and Graves recommend:

  • Create a sleeping schedule and preparation routine.
  • Take a break from social media and the news.
  • Turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Get sunlight and do light exercise early in the day to reset your sense of time and circadian rhythm. Also close the blinds when the evening rolls around.
  • Avoid caffeine before bed.
  • Be kind to your mind and don’t worry about the things that you cannot change in the moment.

“Also, people with anxiety and depression should already be getting therapy… helping them work through the things that they’re worrying about. That will keep it from invading your mind when you’re trying to go to sleep,” says Doyle. “And even when they’re receiving treatment, I often times encourage them to schedule a ‘worry time.’ Schedule a time to think about those things that are distressing so that they’re out of the way when it comes time to rest.”

If none of that helps, then it may be time to seek out professional help.

“If it goes for a week or more when people are having difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep, it’s appropriate to speak to your physician in that period of time,” says Graves.

“When you’re sleep is off, it’s often a red flag that says something else is off. That it needs to be attended to as well,” explains Doyle.

If you do have a mental illness and have experienced sleeplessness for so long that it sends you into a crisis, the Ozark Center has a 24 hour crisis intervention hotline. That number is 417-347-7720.