You’re not alone: coronavirus anxiety has made it impossible for almost everyone to sleep. Just take a look at Twitter for evidence of this pandemic-induced insomnia.
Right now, people either can’t fall asleep or are waking up in the middle of the night, says Janet Kennedy, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor. Both scenarios are caused by stress, she says.
According to Kennedy, our bodies are designed to stay awake when there’s a threat, like war. In this case, the novel coronavirus is our attacker.
“If you fall asleep in the midst of a crisis you’re not going to get out,” says Kennedy.
It’s impossible to relax when you’re dwelling on the economy, your job, and health. This constant state of stress forces your body into thinking it needs to react at any moment.
“Our bodies are misfiring,” she says.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes, meaning you might experience insomnia for a while, says Kennedy.
But there is hope. Learning to manage discomfort and incorporating more happiness throughout the day may help you sleep better at night.
Here’s what to do if you can’t tolerate anymore tossing and turning:
Do more things you enjoy throughout the day
It goes without saying that negative thoughts drain you of energy. Counteract the effect by injecting small doses of positivity throughout your day, recommends Kennedy.
“If you just do things that create more balance, that takes some of your attention away from the negative stuff and it makes it less potent,” she says.
Kennedy suggests all the typical relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, but these may not be enjoyable for everyone. If that’s the case, think about small activities that make you happy, like watching YouTube videos, FaceTiming with friends, making popcorn, or looking at funny memes.
Don’t just lay in bed
Waiting for sleep to come is frustrating—so don’t do it, says Kennedy.
“Own that time and go watch a movie. It is what it is,” she says.
Joshua Tal, PhD and clinical psychologist, recommends tuning into TV shows that you haven’t seen before. This keeps your mind engaged so you don’t worry about sleep or the state of the world. However, you want to avoid overly thrilling shows. Tal says several of his patients couldn’t sleep after watching Tiger King because it was too stimulating.
Working on a puzzle, doing the dishes, or cleaning out a junk drawer are other good middle-of-the-night activities. Just be sure to work on a project that doesn’t need to be finished in one sitting, says Tal.
Meal prep for tomorrow
You don’t want to cook a five-course meal, but light baking and cooking can be relaxing for some people.
“Something I recommend is for people to prepare a slow cooker meal,” says Tal. “You can set it and forget it.”
Bonus: you don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner the next day.
Stick to your routine
You may be tempted to go to bed late, take naps, or sleep in, if you lost your job or are working from home. But changing your schedule only causes more restless nights, says Kennedy.
“Your body likes that regularity,” she says.
Waking up at noon when you typically wake up at 10 a.m. confuses your body.
“It’s constant jet lag,” she says.
Accept that you might be tired for a while
Ultimately, nothing may curb your quarantine-induced insomnia. However, stressing about your lack of sleep will only keep you up.
“When you take the pressure off it makes sleep easier,’ says Kennedy.
Eventually, you’ll adjust to this uneasy time, says Tal.
“The biggest thing for me is helping clients to accept that they are going to have sleep issues during this time,” he says. “When you become accustomed to what’s going on, then you’ll sleep better.”