Insomnia During COVID-19

Tips for Better Sleep During Troubled Times

by Chi George Zhao, MD, ABPN Sleep Medicine

If the weight and worry of the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting your mental health, you are hardly alone. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in April, nearly half of all Americans reported that the COVID-19 pandemic was harming their mental health.[i] Unfortunately, in the three months since that poll was released, the pandemic has gotten worse, not better. With more and more Americans unemployed and many initial government subsidies about to expire, it is no wonder that people are stressed and anxious…and unable to sleep.

COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. People are dealing with a number of factors that may literally be causing them to lose sleep at night. These include:

  • Fear of contracting the virus or spreading it to others
  • Financial concerns
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Balancing work and family responsibilities while working from home

But there are things you can do to reduce stress and improve your sleep, which will in turn benefit both your physical and mental health.

Focus on the future: Think about all the things you will do when this is over. Perhaps it is planning that bucket list trip or merely resuming weekly gatherings with neighbors. Focusing on those things that give you hope can help you relax and release tension.
Practice gratitude: Spend a few minutes at the end of the day journaling, praying or meditating on what you are grateful for. Check out some of the online gratitude meditations that can bring you to a state of thankful mindfulness.
Build good habits: Remember, this pandemic will end. At some point, we will get back to some sense of normal, or at least a “new” normal. Use this time to develop positive sleep practices. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid prolonged naps during the day.  Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.  If you can’t fall asleep or keep waking up throughout the night, get out of bed and do something relaxing, such as reading a book or listening to light music.  You may also try stretching or doing deep breathing exercises, and go back to bed again when you start to feel drowsy.  Avoid checking at the clock throughout the night.  Avoid bright screens such as the TV and smart phones at night.  These habits will serve you well when life resumes its normal hectic routines of working, commuting, coaching, volunteering, traveling, etc.
Talk to the experts at Virginia Heart’s Sleep Center:  If you continue to suffer from an inability to sleep or to get quality sleep, the Sleep Center at Virginia Heart has three fully accredited locations which are staffed by experienced and board certified Sleep Medicine physicians. The Center provides a comprehensive treatment approach to insomnia that includes a combination of sleep management, testing, physical sleep solutions, and cognitive and behavioral therapy.

These are indeed troubling times, so there is no shame in admitting that stress and anxiety are affecting your ability to get quality sleep. But sleep is a critical component of our overall health, including our cardiac health, so don’t delay seeking help if you are struggling. The Sleep Center at Virginia Heart is ready to help. Contact us now.