• Sleep during COVID, Part 1: Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking too early.

    As a psychotherapist specializing in treating insomnia and anxiety in NYC, I’m seeing an increase in insomnia in the months since the “NYS on Pause” order.  You may be experiencing sleep issues too.  Here are some remedies. As you read on, keep in mind the core paradox of insomnia: The harder you try, the worse it gets.

    Routines

    Not getting enough sleep is a frequent complaint. If this is your experience, take a look at your behavioral choices. With staying at home, we’ve lost many of our familiar routines and your body is craving them. Have your bedtimes and wake-up times slipped? Are you spending more time in bed to try to “catch more sleep”? Both of these choices make the insomnia worse.

    The best thing you can do is to wake up at the same time every morning. At night, also try to go to bed around the same time. A key for bedtime is to only get into bed when you feel genuinely sleepy. That should mean spending less time in bed, and that’s actually a good thing. A shorter, consolidated sleep will feel better than a longer, fragmented sleep, and you’ll be building strong sleep drive by being awake for more hours leading up to your sleep time. (I told you insomnia is a paradox!)

    Anxiety

    There’s the elephant in the room – the anxiety itself. To sleep well at night, manage your anxiety during the day. There are many reliable, best practices for this. Just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation has been proven to improve sleep quality and duration. A simple practice is breath awareness. Ground and center yourself, bring your attention to the breath in the belly. When the mind wanders, as it will, notice that without judgment and gently bring your attention back to the breath. If breathing is not your thing, another option is to process your worries in a journal or by talking to a trusted friend or a therapist. Another effective practice is to shift your focus to what is working by keeping a daily gratitude journal.

    State of Mind

    I hear many reports of “I just can’t turn off my mind.” The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a lot of uncertainty – a big anxiety trigger for most. Consider your state of mind when you get into in bed. The more time you spend in bed thinking, the more your bed becomes a place to think and not to sleep. The solution is to take your worries out of bed. If you can’t fall asleep or fall back to sleep within 20-30 minutes, go to a different comfortable space and do something that relaxes and calms you, like read or listen to music. You can get back into bed when you feel relaxed. That may mean less sleep time in the short run, but as you restore your bed as a place to sleep, you will start sleeping better in bed again pretty quickly. A bonus is that you’ll also be building strong sleep drive.

    Remember the paradox of insomnia. Stop trying to sleep, and instead focus on creating the conditions for sleep by establishing routines, dealing with anxiety and quieting your mind.

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