Many South Africans are feeling anxious and nervous about life after lockdown. The uncertainty of not knowing about the future is changing our sleep patterns, with people experiencing sleep problems and insomnia.
Globally, sleep is becoming a problem and has given rise to the #cantsleep trend on Twitter for the past few weeks. Google searches for ‘insomnia’ also hit a record high.
Experts say sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune system. It’s also a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health, helping to beat back stress, depression, and anxiety.
The South African Society of Sleep Medicine says under stress and occupational-related sleep disorders, a common precursor and symptom of stress-related illness is the disruption of the sleep-wake cycle.
Explaining that psychological stress, for example due to deadlines, examinations or job crisis leads to activation of the sympathetic nervous system and an increased state of arousal.
As a result of this heightened arousal, there is inevitably a degree of sleep disruption and insomnia that can lead to a vicious cycle of chronic insomnia.
The South African College of Applied Psychology says if a person’s insomnia is related to an underlying medical condition, the aim will be to diagnose and treat that condition. Prescription sleeping pills are available for treating insomnia directly, although they are usually a last resort.
Whether you’ve had sleeping problems before Covid-19 or if they’ve only come on recently, there are concrete steps that you can take to improve your sleep during this global pandemic.
Cathy Wong, a certified nutrition specialist recommends the following methods for treating insomnia naturally:
Sleep restriction is often done as part of cognitive behavioral therapy. This strategy is designed to minimise the amount of time a person spends awake in bed.
For example, a person initially goes to sleep very late at night, past a normal bedtime by a few hours. He or she always wakes up at a fixed time. The bedtime is progressively moved forward by increments of 10 to 15 minutes with a person’s sleep success. Patients keep a sleep log to help record progress.
Cut down on caffeine, alcohol sugar
Stay away from consuming caffeine before sleep. Note that cough medicine contains caffeine, and could be a contributing factor to insomnia.
Daily exercise and regular sleep patterns can help improve sleep quality, as it does with health in general. In terms of diet, sleep can benefit from magnesium-rich foods such as dark, leafy green vegetables, legumes and seeds, wheat bran, and foods rich in vitamin B6, such as bananas.
There are several relaxation training programs available today. Some involve progressive muscle relaxation. Others include mindful meditation, hypnosis, or guided imagery.
One of the first steps towards better sleep involves following rules of sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a consistent schedule during the day; waking up at the same time every day even if you struggled with sleep; using your bed for sleep and sex only; going to bed only when you are tired; avoiding naps, especially close to bedtime; exercising during the day, but not within three hours of bedtime; adhering to a bedtime ritual that involves reading, a bath, or some other relaxing activity.