Edmonton

Struggling with nightmares and sleepless nights? Don't let pandemic stress ruin your rest

Whether you're being startled awake by nightmares or watching the clock tick, if you're losing sleep over the COVID-19 pandemic, you're not alone. 

'All the bad sleep habits that we have can be exacerbated by this'

The difficulties of living through a pandemic can aggravate pre-existing sleep issues or cause new ones. (OKcamera/Shutterstock)

Whether you're being startled awake by nightmares or watching the clock tick, if you're losing sleep over the COVID-19 pandemic, you're not alone. 

The stress of coping with the health crisis has robbed many people of some much-needed shut-eye.

From crashing stock markets and escalating infection rates to lost jobs and shuttered shops, COVID-19 has put unprecedented pressure on the personal lives of Canadians— anxiety that can trigger insomnia and bad dreams. 

The difficulties of living through a pandemic can aggravate pre-existing sleep issues or cause new ones, says psychiatrist Dr. Atul Khullar, medical director of the Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic in Edmonton.

"We're definitely getting a lot of referrals," Khullar said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

A simple change in routine can make for a restless night. Depression and anxiety can be dangerously disruptive. 

If you already suffer from sleep issues, the pandemic is only going to make it worse, Khullar said.

"All the bad sleep habits that we have can be exacerbated by this," he said, "especially if you have a little bit of anxiety depression to begin with, or any sort of mental health difficulties before this was going on."

'Stress comes out in sleep'

Many patients are struggling with bad dreams, Khullar said. It's a natural response to trauma.

"Sometimes stress comes out in sleep," he said. "The problem is when those dreams are part of the reason that you're not sleeping well not feeling well the next day."

A little routine and some simple sleeping habits can help anyone struggling from sleepless nights, Khullar said.

Keep a routine. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. That means waking up around the same time every day and avoiding long afternoon naps.

The same goes for children and teenagers. They will want to sleep in and stay up late, and letting them keep their own schedule can soon send their sleeping patterns into disarray. 

Create a sleep-friendly oasis. Make your bedroom a quiet, dark, work-free space. Resist the temptation to watch Netlfix in bed, and avoid scrolling through the news headlines on social media just before bedtime.

Screen time should be off-limits in the evenings, Khullar said.

Bringing the stress of your work day into the bedroom is never a good idea, and the bright light on the screen of your phone or computer can prevent you from dozing off. 

"If screen time is during the day, it's not usually that disruptive to sleep but if you're having a Zoom chat right before bed, the light can definitely screw up your sleep cycle."  

Sunshine and sweat

Exercise is another potential insomnia remedy. A workout will tire you out and help your body fall into a deep sleep. 

And while you're at it, get some fresh air, Khullar suggests.

Not only is going for a walk or bike ride a quick cure for cabin fever, a little sunshine can go a long way in helping you get a good night's rest. 

"Obviously you want to socially distance and isolate or quarantine if you need to, but do get outside because natural sunlight definitely is a key trigger for sleep.

"And if you're not getting it that can disrupt the sleep cycle, biologically, quite a bit." 

Most of all, be kind to yourself and cherish your time in the land of nod.

Getting some rest is more important than ever, Khullar said.

"To have a healthy immune system, sleep is an important part."

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