Trouble sleeping lately? You’re not alone. Since the onset of the pandemic, many people who used to drift off the second their heads hit the pillow are now struggling to fall—and stay—asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
For advice on how to get better rest during this stressful time, we spoke with Joanna Ajex, a licensed professional counselor at The Women’s Initiative, which offers free and low-cost mental health care to women. (Ajex’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
C-VILLE: Clearly this is an anxious time for all of us. How does that play out in our sleep patterns?
Joanna Ajex: The pandemic makes us all feel fear, as well as uncertainty about the future, health, careers, childcare, and isolation. These are some of the reasons it is impacting sleep.
Also, people are finding themselves in a spectrum. Some are probably taking this time to do unfinished projects, get some rest, etc. But some are really experiencing it in a very stressful way, and are constantly triggered by the news, among other things. That can easily lead to insomnia.
One more reason is that some people may find themselves having more free time. That means an increase in screen time, less productivity, and less movement. Whatever helped people before to take care of themselves—that may not apply anymore. The gyms are closed. People are not going outside as freely. All of these things are impacting sleep.
What can people do to help get a full night’s sleep?
Find where you are on that spectrum: How is the pandemic affecting me? Allow yourself to see what you’re feeling, without comparing yourself to how other people are experiencing it. It’s important to recognize that you are struggling.
You can then identify some of the changes that you can make. It’s beneficial to have a regular sleep-wake pattern, and there are apps—some already built into your phone—that can help with that. Moving is also helpful. People are concerned about going out to get exercise, but there are so many ways to do it at home now. Places are offering classes online and through apps.
Around the time you go to bed, decrease screen time. Find a more calming activity, such as reading or knitting, to do instead.
However, if you are not able to improve your sleep with behavioral changes, that’s a sign that you should call your medical provider to ask for recommendations.
And if you are finding yourself having intense feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and other signs of depression, please seek help from a mental health professional.
How can you help support a friend or family member who is struggling with insomnia?
The most important thing is to empathize. Just because you are doing well, doesn’t mean the next person is. You have to recognize that people are finding themselves in different places.
It’s also helpful to make changes together as a household. That can make the person struggling with insomnia feel more supported. For example, you can go on a walk together. You can set up a sleep schedule and do mindful activities together before going to sleep. You can have dinner and cut the lights off earlier, so there is more time for everyone to wind down.
However, if the person is severely struggling with mental health as well, it may be necessary to reach out to a counselor.
For more information on how to access The Women’s Initiative’s free call-in clinic, go to thewomensinitiative.org