Experts speak on tackling COVID-19

Sleepless during a pandemic: Insomnia going viral

Dr. N. Ramakrishnan, American Board-certified sleep specialist

Dr. N. Ramakrishnan, American Board-certified sleep specialist  

The World Health Organisation has increasingly focused on non-communicable diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer which could lead to long term disability, complications and mortality. Sleep disorders which are more common than these and can, in fact, lead to several of these problems are often forgotten.

With the COVID-19 Pandemic, more people are sleepless and now waking up to this issue. The fear of disease, travel restrictions, social isolation and inactivity, financial losses and the overall looming uncertainty contribute significantly to lack of sleep. When the mind is disturbed, insomnia often follows and may lead to psychosocial problems including anxiety and depression. Untreated sleep disorders could also lead to poor control of blood pressure and diabetes.

In these difficult times, simple measures could go a long way in helping a person sleep better.

  • Inactivity in general can reduce sleep time. Public spaces such as malls, gyms and parks are not accessible due to restrictions and should be avoided. Simple stretches and yoga at home, walking around the house or in the terrace (which could also help with sunlight exposure) would help.
  • For those who are working from home, create an appropriate work environment at home and work during specified hours. It is important to have a scheduled sleep and wake up time even though there is no compulsion to sleep on time or wake up early while at home.
  • Healthy eating at the right time and particularly having dinner at least 2 hours before bedtime is essential. Milk, honey and banana have sleep promoting substances and may be consumed before bedtime if there are no reasons not to. Families can also take this opportunity to have meals together which often doesn’t happen when each one is busy with their professional commitments.
  • Engage in relaxing activities with the family (such as indoor games), reading books and watching television. These would not only prevent boredom but help to keep the mind distracted from worries and fear.
  • Visiting family members locally if possible (unless anyone involved is quarantined) may be an opportunity to connect and relax. Communicating through video and audio calls with near and dear who are several miles away would help confirm their wellbeing and allay fears.
  • While two or three cups of coffee or tea per day is acceptable, it is best to avoid stimulants at least 4 to 5 hours before bedtime. Reducing or preferably stopping smoking and alcohol consumption would enhance quality sleep
  • Patients who have prior sleep problems should contact their doctor early if they encounter any issues while on their current treatment. If travel is a concern, options of tele-consultations should be considered.

Disasters and mass tragedies can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can be prevented by taking appropriate measures during the Pandemic. Sleep well to stay healthy.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 7:11:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/sleepless-during-a-pandemic-insomnia-going-viral/article31123626.ece

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