Occupational therapist Erika Cabrera tosses and turns in bed almost every night chasing a restful sleep that has become elusive during the pandemic. Like millions around the world, the disruption by COVID-19 is keeping her wide awake.
Stuck at home for nearly two years, people spend their energy worrying about getting sick and getting by during these extraordinary times, when before COVID, that energy is used on weekday commutes and daily grinds in offices and classrooms.
"[The pandemic] triggered some anxious thoughts which makes it difficult to sleep and feel well-rested," Cabrera told reportr.
Film student Thom Sison shares the same problem. With online classes, lying in bed at night seems useless due to the "the lack of reason to be tired".
"My mind just can’t comprehend that I still need to sleep. My body also has all this unused energy that I cannot rechannel to anything except washing a ton load of dishes," he said.
Why can't people seem to get a good night's sleep? It might be a case of COVID-somnia or coronasomnia.
What is COVID-somnia?
Sleeping disorders have become more common during the pandemic due to heightened stress and anxiety, said Dr. Deborah Bernardo, a sleep specialist.
"COVID-somnia or coronasomnia is a term coined by foreign sleep specialists to describe itong rise ng sleeping disorders ng mga tao during the pandemic. It's not just insomnia, there are also people reporting hypersomnia or excessive sleeping," she told reportr.
"Basically, it's common that when we are faced with something stressful, our brain finds it difficult to relax and therefore makes it difficult to sleep," she said, noting that adults need at least seven hours of sleep at night.
For those who have had trouble sleeping for a few days, it might be a case of acute insomnia according to Bernardo. If the problem has been persisting for over three months now, it could be considered chronic insomnia, she said.
Google Trends at the start of 2021 reported a spike in searches for "sleep", "insomnia", and "dreams" worldwide -- proof that people want to understand why they can't sleep at night.
Film student Sison said the pandemic drastically changed his sleeping pattern. From the usual morning routine of going to school and attending classes, Sison said he now usually sleeps at 6 or 7 in the morning and wakes up at 2 or 4 in the afternoon.
"The pandemic halted my routine and even if I got an epiphany of how my body works, the mere fact that I lost all the reason to be tired so I can fall asleep easily, I still have this difficulty..." he said.
Other sleep disorders that were heightened by COVID -- night terrors, weird dreams, and the misuse of sleeping medication such as melatonin supplements.
"Just because hindi ka makatulog or you see other people saying na nakatulog na sila after taking melatonin doesn't mean it's okay for anyone to just take it," Dr. Bernardo said.
How to deal with sleeping problems
First things first, know that sleeping disorders are shared by millions worldwide especially during the pandemic. Bernardo shared the following tips to beat COVID-somnia:
1. Don't force yourself to sleep.
Sometimes, people feel pressured to sleep at a certain time which makes it more difficult to doze off, Bernardo said. Sleep should come naturally.
"Ang brain natin ay kailangan relaxed para makatulog tayo kaya nga madalas diba mas madali ka makatulog pag pagod ka? If you pressure your brain on doing something like sleeping, mas hindi ka makakatulog agad," she said.
2. Can't snooze off? Do activities that relax you.
The more you force yourself to sleep at night by just lying in bed, the harder it will be to get some shut eye. Try doing activities that relax you, Bernardo said.
"Do things that could help ease your stress. We usually advise journaling so you can write down what bothers you. Others like to read a book, it's up to you on what relaxes your mind," she said.
Occupational therapist Cabrera for instance said she bought a weighted blanket to help her sleep.
3. Build a daily routine.
Even with "stay at home" orders, Bernardo said building and following a daily routine could help condition the mind and body to rest at a certain point in the day.
"Our brain loves routines. If you follow a certain routine, it can help signal the brain on what time you need to sleep too," she said.
Consider exercising early in the morning rather than late at night or before going to sleep since endorphins usually make a person feel more energized, making it difficult to go to sleep, she said.
4. Sleep with dim lights.
Bright lights are usually taken as signals for activities while dim lights usually signal rest and relaxation, Bernardo said. Dim lights help condition the brain that it's time to relax.
"We're trained that when the sun is rising we wake up and when it's night we sleep," she said.
5. If all else fails, consult a sleep medicine specialist.
If sleeping problems persist for nearly three months, Dr. Bernardo advises consulting with a sleep specialist for proper guidance and medication--if necessary.
She also cautioned against buying sleeping pills and other over-the-counter sleeping supplements without proper consultation since these could be misused.