According to a study published in March, nearly seven in ten adults have experienced one or more new sleep challenges since the pandemic began, with three in five reporting that the pandemic has affected their ability to sleep well.
If we’re all at home, not going anywhere–and for the most part–not encountering any ‘new’ external stimuli, then what exactly is affecting our ability to snooze in peace?
A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and repeats itself roughly every 24 hours. It can refer to any process that originates within an organism or one that responds to the environment. These 24-hour rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, which recur naturally, even in the absence of light fluctuations.
From core body temperature, to brain wave activity, to hormone production, to cell regeneration and other biological activities; clear patterns exist and emerge due to both internal and external stimuli.
Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by the human body, is secreted by the pineal gland at night. It has long been associated with the human body clock, our sleep-wake cycle as well as our reproductive system. Melatonin levels rise naturally in the evening, lulling us into that state of quiet wakefulness which helps to promote that much-needed shut eye.
While there are night owls who burn the proverbial midnight lamp; for the vast majority of humans, we have, over thousands of years of evolution, come to associate light with daytime and a lack of light with nighttime. Scientists have identified that one of the best ways to naturally increase our melatonin levels is to use dim lights at night. Sunlight exposure does play a significant role in regulating our circadian rhythm. If we’re not going to work but staying at home, our bodies will, at some point, begin running on their very own unique standard time zone.
In addition to our daily routines–our instinctive and intuitive physiological response to seasonal changes, have, since time immemorial, been affected by weather conditions, food availability as well as environmental activities. Knowledge of the cyclical nature of the environment has allowed us to thrive as well as decide on the optimal timing for migration, hibernation and reproduction.
With pundits predicting that the coronavirus will make the transition from pandemic to endemic–is there a new, never-before-seen body clock that we will all need to adjust to?
Is COVID the culprit?
While we may choose to make COVID the culprit for all of our woes, is it really? Even when your body and mind are tired–are you, in some strange way–wired and itching for more? Do you, for some unfathomable reason, toss and turn in your private quarters like a terrible song on repeat?
The desire to stay up late–or the inability to sleep–could stem from recurring thoughts and deep-seated fears regarding losing control over your life. Another possibility could be the need to unwind. If you spend your day drowning in work and social engagements, sleep time is deliberately delayed to get some personal time.
Psychiatrists have long held that a majority of sleep problems are not insomnia per se, but symptoms of depressive, anxious and stress-fueled thought processes. Doctors have also found that there is a relationship between age and the cause or concern for worry. For instance, people in their 40s tend to mull over existential issues like ageing and death, while those in their 30s may fret over their personal and professional achievements.
In competitive urban societies, social media–a new form of societal pressure–exacerbates dormant insecurities as individuals feel forced to keep up with redundant trends that disappear in the blink of an eye. Social media is not new, but its irresistible allure has only escalated in the wake of an unprecedented digitalisation trend.
Social media is not real life. If you really do think about it, are these ‘trending issues’ on social media ‘real issues’ that we should be ruminating about in the wee hours of the night?
The answer is a firm and resolute no. Worry never made anything better. And we all know it.
Rather than make COVID-19 the scapegoat of all your woes, a new bedtime routine is truly in order. Instead of phones, computers or any other device that emits the blue light that hurts our eyes, we can and should opt for a book or magazine. It’s all about having a routine to wind down–as opposed to stimulating the mind further with even more unnecessary garbage.
The bed should, ideally, only be dedicated to sleep and sex. The distractions and problems of our lives are here to stay. Even when we get rid of one, we know that another one follows in its wake.
Let’s promise ourselves and our partners that we won’t bring our woes and worries to bed. If we have unwittingly allowed an intruder to interrupt our sleep, we should let them know–as we once did–that operating hours are over and we will get back to you as soon as we can.