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Tidings

Cultural Musings

How am I meant to sleep during a pandemic?

Wed 8th April, 2020


Sleep. What is it? I’ve unfortunately forgotten. From what I can remember, it’s when we lie down and close our eyes at the end of a long day, some little personalised movies play in our minds, and then we wake up, refreshed and ready to face a beautiful new day. In an ideal world, that’s how it should happen for everyone. However – and I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this – the current world we are living in is not exactly what I would call “ideal.” I would even go as far as to strongly suggest that it is not ideal whatsoever. Apologies for my strong language.

The coronavirus has flipped the world on its head in a matter of weeks. All of our lives have been disrupted in one way or another, some more so, with illness, job losses, and other challenging circumstances.

As we head into even further lockdowns, normal routines are out the window, and people are adjusting to what this means for their day-to-day lives. It’s reasonable to assume that as these external influences press on people, and anxiety levels rise, some are going to struggle to cope.

One of the first ways this seems to be showing, at least for me and many people I know, is that sleep seems like an impossible dream. And dreams are impossible without sleep, so I guess it makes sense.

Personally, I have had very little sleep in the past two to three weeks. During the day, I am more able to distract myself: to work, to talk to friends, and to keep my thoughts from spinning out. At night, every concern I have about the world, my family, my friends, and myself, all comes flooding in.

Parents, and people with disordered sleeping, are likely hearing about all the sleepless nights everyone is having and rolling their sleepy and tired eyes. That is understandable – they are all very difficult situations, and those people are well-versed in what having ongoing no sleep is like. But I think that this situation, where many people are experiencing anxiety-fueled insomnia due to a global pandemic, is still worth talking about.

We don’t know how long the effects of the coronavirus and the response are going to last. Many people already suffer mental health issues. The lockdowns, the isolation, and the worry about money or security are going to exacerbate that. Even without previous mental health concerns, it’s going to be a difficult period for a lot of people. Disruption of sleep is a symptom of the way we feel right now, but disruption of sleep can also make everything much worse. With people already dealing with so much, a loss of sleep can be devastating.

For me, this isn’t just insomnia. This is anxiety driven, and worse – the anxiety is justified.

It’s not being able to get to sleep because you read an article and it made you think about your elderly grandma in Brisbane, and how you wouldn’t be able to get home if something happened to her. It’s staying up, staring at the ceiling from your bed, thinking about how all of your work for the year has been wiped out. If you’re a parent, maybe it’s that you won’t be able to see your adult kids for a while, or you wonder if your toddler will be affected if he can’t play with other children for six months. Maybe you are thinking about not having an income until your Centrelink payments begin. There is an almost endless list of things you could be worried about right now.

When I do finally fall asleep, I have stressful dreams, or nightmares. I wake up every hour. Once i’m awake, it takes me a long time to get back to sleep. This happens night after night, and there is no end date in sight, which is also hard. And many of us are going through the same thing.

I am not writing this because I have some easy solution to any of this. Sure, there are tips and tricks that can possibly help with sleep, even during all of this. Sticking to a sleep schedule, as hard at it feels when all of your schedule is out of whack, can help. Exercising, even if it feels weird going outside in a lockdown, is allowed, and can help. If at some point you think the only way forward is with medical help, use a telehealth service to chat to someone about options.

But the one piece of advice I do want to give, and the only one that has helped me throughout all of this, is unfortunately... put down your phone. Put down your phone.

I can guarantee you that nobody reading this loves looking at their phone more than I do. It is my baby, and my lifelong partner. I am not a “why doesn’t everyone look up from their phone?” person. It goes against every fibre of my being to tell you to put it away. Phones are good. I love having it, it brings me everything I need, and it is perfect. But right now, a while before you want to sleep, just put it down.

My instinct throughout all of this is to stay up to date with every single thing that is going down. We are all being inundated with coronavirus news all of the time, and then additionally, I also go seeking it out. Before I sleep, I’m reading Twitter, clicking on upsetting link after upsetting link. It’s when America has just started to wake up, and no good can be found reading their thoughts or hearing their updates. No wonder my poor stupid little brain refuses to give me any peace after I have injected it with thousands of bad posts.

Lying in bed, thinking about all of the problems that exist, pondering how to fix things, questioning what might happen and what you have to do to survive: I’m sorry to tell you that those are never things that can be solved by you in your mind at 2am.

I promise you: if something you need to know about happens, you will find out about it.

It’s going to be a long journey. The best thing you can do for yourself over this period is rest. If you can’t sleep, at least let yourself try and disengage from everything that is going on at the moment. Read a book, knit something, do a 12-step skin routine, have a really big long cry about how hard everything is. Let yourself breathe for a little while.

This is definitely advice that I still need to take for myself. I am writing this article at 2:30am. Look, I never said I was perfect, and I really love my phone. But if you take anything from this article, even if it’s not to put down your phone, just know that I am in this with you. We are all in this together. We are all in different places, dealing with different specific circumstances, but we are in it. If you’re struggling, if you’re not sleeping, you’re not alone.

I don’t know if that helps, but next time you can’t sleep, try to remember that, and let some of your burden be shared. Good night, and good luck.