Insomnia and anxiety in the COVID lockdown

The second wave of coronavirus is hitting the state of Victoria as we speak. In the absence of a vaccine, Melbourne residents currently face the strictest restrictions in Australia. Although social distancing, travel bans and lockdowns are very much necessary to stop the pandemic, they also facilitate health problems such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Even without an intimidating virus around, up to 33% of Australian adults find it difficult to sleep. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety are the prime contributors that can drive this figure much higher right now.

Notably, women of reproductive age are highly susceptible to the negative impact of this pandemic, many of whom already have sleep difficulties due to the physical and emotional demand of pregnancy/newborn care.

There is a reason that we spend half of our lifetime sleeping: we need the time to rejuvenate and repair. Research has also shown that sleep could mediate immune responses, as sleep deprivation results in a higher vulnerability to viral infections.

However, nature has designed pregnancy to be a time of immune system suppression in order to prevent foetal rejection. This makes sleep deprivation especially harmful to the already vulnerable pregnant women. For non-pregnant women, sleep deprivation could also have undesired effects on fertility and milk production.

If you are planning a pregnancy, currently pregnant or breastfeeding, let’s try to minimise the impact that COVID has on your physical and mental health together!

How might insomnia and anxiety occur?

There are many reasons why women can start experiencing sleep problems. COVID restrictions disrupt many people’s long-established routines such as:

  • working location
  • employment status
  • exercise
  • social interaction
  • travels
  • other entertainment activities

Importantly, being indoors for extended periods could de-synchronise our biological clock and circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep at the usual bedtime.

In addition, increased stress level is a major reason for insomnia, especially during pregnancy, postpartum and breastfeeding times as women face new challenges each day. Unfortunately, COVID has also made in-person doctor visits and childbirth experiences more complicated.

The fear of catching the virus, hurting the baby, worrying about finances, and constantly hearing bad news on social media all escalate the stress levels. For example, in the initial COVID hotspot, Wuhan, women younger than 35 years old who were exposed to more than 3 hours of media coverage on COVID-19 reported increased feelings of anxiety. Worse sleep was also associated with developing post-traumatic stress symptoms.

How to manage insomnia and anxiety?

Since insomnia and anxiety often go hand in hand, adopting the same strategies could often help with both. Here are some practical approaches to minimising the impact of COVID-19 on your wellbeing.

It’s not all doom and gloom!

Although it is perfectly reasonable to be worried about the pandemic, remember that medical, scientific and public health experts around the globe are working around the clock to eradicate the virus and come up with vaccines. So far, we have at least five vaccines approaching the finish line and many others coming up to the later phases of clinical trials. The progress looks really promising!

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Limit time spent on social media

Social media is a source of stressful information that is not always true. Remember that media has the bias to present information in a way that grabs more attention. Scrolling through social media before bed also doesn’t help with calming down the brain for sleep. To avoid information overload and sleep problems, try to limit your time spent on social media.

Avoid meals, exercise and coffee before bed

To prepare yourself for a restful night, let your body slow down for the 5-6 hours prior to bedtime. This involves avoiding heavy meals that demand prolonged digestion, intense exercise and stimulants like caffeine.