We live in a unique time in human history: a virus first described in late 2019 in China, causing a disease with symptoms resembling flu and pneumonia, spread across the world in less than three months, bringing fear and uncertainty. This is the brief history of the new coronavirus (formal name is SARS-COV-2) and the disease it causes, COVID-19 (which is an abbreviation for Coronavirus Disease 2019). Currently, we are officially living in a pandemic situation, as officially declared by the World Health Organization.
This is not the first pandemic facing humanity. Throughout history, we have been plagued by epidemic diseases such as the bubonic plague and the Spanish flu. More recently, we had SARS (2002), H1N1(2009) and MERS (2012). However, nothing resembles the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As the disease began to spread, its extremely rapid spread was noted. Based on this and the lack of scientifically proven treatments, all scientific and medical entities around the world are unanimous in stating that the best we can do for now is to stay at home (#FicaEmCasa #StayHome). This is an important measure, as it is the only way to reduce the rate of spread of the disease, allowing time for people to immunize, as well as ensuring that health systems do not saturate (as has been happening in Italy and Spain).
Because of this, many of us have lived today in a condition of isolation or social distance. This has been absolutely recommended by all serious entities across the country and partially supported by the government. In general, it is recommended that face-to-face activities are restricted to essentials, that people stay at home as much as possible and that the elderly do not leave the house (since they are the most affected by the disease).
This condition of social isolation greatly alters our routine and affects our mental health. Several guides have already been released on how to take care of psychological aspects while we are in this situation (we suggest you consult these links from the Brazilian Society of Psychology and the United Nations). However, sleep must also be taken care of during this period. Below we list a series of issues that may relate COVID-19 to poor sleep or induce symptoms of insomnia in the current situation of social isolation. Anxiety
COVID is a very recent disease and the truth is that we still have more doubts than facts. This sea of uncertainty is a great source of anxiety. In addition, the growing numbers of infected people, severe cases and lethality worsen the situation. Thus, it is understood why cases of anxiety are so much more common in conditions like this, as one has the perception that the virus knocks at our door.
This realization tends to be much more catastrophic than it actually is. Obviously the disease must not be neglected; but there is no doubt that in a few weeks or months life will return to normal. So it's time to manage stress and anxiety to prevent your sleep from being impacted. This is true for anyone, but especially for those who were already anxious even before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some important tips are:
• Focus on positive aspects. Instead of paying so much attention to the numbers of fatal cases, place more value on positive initiatives and advances towards treatments.
• Beware of missing news: Fake news calls are often more catastrophic and alarming than reality. Don't let them take your sleep.
• Choose a time of day to catch up: As with sleep hygiene tips, we should avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime. Reading news or following the epidemic via social networks can be stimulating activities, as they make us anxious and accelerated. Information is always important, but it may be convenient to avoid getting informed at least 2 hours before the usual sleep time.
• Seek help: Whenever you feel overly anxious, seek help. Currently, due to mobility restrictions, psychologists are increasingly providing care remotely (via internet). Don't face an anxiety attack without help! Insomnia
People with insomnia must be aware of the situation of social isolation, as they can engage in behaviors that can perpetuate insomnia. This is because when staying at home for long periods without social contact, time references are lost, so that they can be constantly changed. Also, anxiety can act in concert with insomnia, making the whole situation worse.
In this situation, any symptoms of insomnia must be taken care of. Pay attention to sleep hygiene tips and try to maintain an adequate and constant sleep routine.
Some important aspects specific to this situation are:
• Don't spend the day in your room. Make sure your activities take place in another room.
• Maintain regular activity and sleep routines.
• Start a relaxation routine at night so that sleep is performed naturally.
Many companies have made it possible for their employees to work from home as a way to promote social distance without causing too much damage to their operations. Still, working from home implies routine changes that we are not used to. This can alter our sleep.
Here are some tips for quality sleep even during this period:
• Establish clear, fixed working hours. It would be nice to stick to the same hours that you would normally work.
• Have a reserved and specific space to work at home. If this is not possible, at least avoid working in the bedroom or in bed, as this can be a perpetuating factor for insomnia.
• Don't spend the day in your pajamas. Start your day maintaining a normal routine, getting ready to go to work, even though you're at home. This will allow you to differentiate between work and personal routine, even if everything takes place in the same environment.
• Don't overload yourself. It's not because you brought your work home that you must work 24 hours a day. You should still set aside time in your schedule for leisure, personal care and, of course, sleep!
• Avoid working overnight. This can cause your activity and rest rhythms to be disrupted, predisposing you to insomnia and sleep rhythm disturbances.
If you have kids, keep their sleep routine regular too! It is very common that when they are locked at home, children abuse the TV, video game and cell phone. Still, this activity should be limited so that they don't end up trading day for night. Immunity
It has long been known that lack of sleep greatly damages immunity. This can be a very important factor right now; since in the absence of a vaccine, our fight against the coronavirus depends solely on our immune system. We must ensure that it is working at its peak, but for that we need sleep in sufficient quantity and quality. Make sure you have an adequate sleeping environment, and that you get adequate sleep. Avoid working at night.
Above all, remember: In time everything will get better. For now, all we can do is take care of ourselves and those around us. This implies keeping outside activities to a minimum and maintaining isolation or distance. Also, we need to take care of our mental health and sleep during this period.
In some time we will be back to tranquility. Until then, we hope you can sleep well!