Since the 2020 pandemic began, more people have reported experiencing more sleep issues, with the necessary medication prescriptions increasing by 20%. As the vaccination programmes are ongoing all over the globe, many people are in between a rock and a hard place.
How the pandemic has been affecting sleep
Here's the question many people ask now: Having adjusted to our new normal, how do we gradually return to the way things were?
During the height of the pandemic, you were at the peak of your social isolation. As time passed, you may have become used to working in the comforts of your home, having groceries delivered to your doorstep and celebrating birthdays on virtual calls.
With this new normal, people have also learned to live with the subtle, undulating kind of stress. The pandemic has given people a taste of instability and a lot of them felt like they needed to be in constant survival mode. And these kinds of thoughts and feelings have lasting consequences on people's minds and bodies.
Despite seeing the light at the end of this tunnel, people's mental health is suffering.
Many Gen Z students and working Millennials have developed a certain kind of social anxiety. They tend to experience cold sweats and nervousness when teachers call them during virtual classes or when they have to interact with someone in a hair salon or grocery store.
The inconsistent schedules, financial impacts, and increased screen time have also affected the public's sleep patterns. Everyone's routines and habits have been consistently disrupted throughout 2020. The many things that people once enjoyed before consecutive lockdowns were taken away from them. And with that, the time for relaxation and sleep.
Why do you wake up too early?
Soon after lockdowns began, many people found themselves lying in bed sleepless and wide awake. Instead of having more time for rest, they wake up too early and still feel exhausted. How frustrating is that?
According to Neil Kline, D.O., sleep maintenance insomnia is the difficulty to stay asleep. This is what happens when you wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning, still feeling tired and disgruntled. This is different from sleep onset insomnia, where people find it difficult to fall asleep.
Often, this can even cause people to feel more exhausted than normal.
As you're eventually transitioning back to the way things were before the pandemic, it's important to understand what is affecting your sleeping patterns and list down ways you can improve your sleep hygiene.
- Insomnia or Sleep apnea
One of the common misconceptions of insomnia is that it only happens when you're unable to fall asleep at bedtime. While this frequently happens to people suffering from insomnia, there are other forms of insomnia out there.
People can experience trouble staying asleep, unrestful or unrefreshing sleep and wake up too early and also suffer from insomnia.
If you're diagnosed with insomnia, you can experience these symptoms all at once. There will be nights where you may have trouble falling asleep, and there will be nights where you will wake up early.
Another reason why you wake up very early in the morning is sleep apnea. With its many symptoms, you may experience loud and chronic snoring, headaches, high blood pressure and exhaustion. All of this happens because your breathing is interrupted temporarily while you sleep.
These interruptions can happen anytime during your sleep. The worst apnea episodes happen during your REM sleep when your muscles are immobilized to keep you from moving during dreams. Because REM normally happens later in the night, people with sleep apnea can be jolted awake very early in the morning.
How to remedy this: The first step here is to be aware of the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea. For insomnia, you can track your sleep patterns with the help of a sleep diary. Usually, bed partners can recognize your sleep apnea symptoms before you do.
While insomnia and sleep apnea can be solved by regular visits with the doctor and medication, one practical thing you can do at home is improving your sleep hygiene.
The key here is to lessen your external stimuli at night. Stress is known to be one of the common causes of insomnia and sleep apnea.
Most of us go through stressful days at work or school. Maybe you got in trouble at work for forgetting something important. Or a teacher just pointed out a mistake. When these thoughts play over and over in your brain, they become stimulants and prevent you from sleeping.
Your heart rate increases as your mind races for different what-ifs and possible solutions. While this is happening, your body temperature rises and your sleepiness disappears.
When this happens, take some time to write these things down. Though you're not able to process your feelings completely, sharing them with someone or putting it on paper can help you see things from a different perspective. This also helps you set these issues aside for the next day. Afterwards, you can take a few deep breaths to relax your body.
- Depression or Anxiety
Depression also has a strong correlation to the disruption of your circadian rhythm and can disrupt your normal sleep-wake cycle. People diagnosed with depression have a difficult time staying asleep during bedtime and staying awake during the daytime. Because of this, their sleeping hours can be compromised.
When you're prone to ruminate on negative thoughts, your brain will create a more negative, more distorted version of the memory. These kinds of thought patterns can elicit negative emotions, leading people to either stay up late or wake up very early.
Similar to depression, anxiety can also cause people to lose sleep. According to the author of The Hidden Lives of Dreams Melinda Powell, our brain gears up for a fight or flight response when you encounter stressful situations. Aside from experiencing a sleepless night, you can also have anxious dreams. These dreams act as your brain's natural therapy session, helping people work through their concerns and moderate their fears for real life. Because you can be more reactive and emotional in your dream, you can be responsive and rational in your daily lives.
How to remedy this: Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, low self-esteem, guilt, disinterest and anxiety are normal psychological symptoms of depression. If you observe yourself moving or speaking slower than usual, losing or gaining weight drastically and even being constipated, you may have physical symptoms of depression.
Anxiety normally exhibits itself as the feeling of restlessness, dread, irritability and airheadedness. You may also experience dizziness, palpitations, trembling and headache.
Just like your insomnia and sleep apnea symptoms, it is important to see a doctor if you think you're exhibiting symptoms of depression and anxiety.
You may think that it is only at nighttime when you remember your anxieties and worries. However, many people fail to realize that it takes an entire day to create a sleep problem at night. When something stressful happens during the day, ignoring it won't make it disappear by the time your head meets your pillow.
Aside from having a regular sleeping and waking schedule, it is also important to meditate. Last 2015, the JAMA Internal Medicine published a study on mindfulness meditation. The participants were required to do six weeks of meditation and observe how it would affect their sleep issues.
According to their study, meditation increases your melatonin production, reduces your blood pressure and activates the parts of your brain that control your sleep-wake cycle.
When meditating, look for a quiet area where you can either sit or lie down. Close your eyes and breathe slowly, deepening your breaths as you go. When a thought pops up, set it aside for tomorrow and refocus on your breathing.
You can start doing this for three to five minutes before bed. Once you're confident that you can stay focused for that long, you can slowly increase the time to 15 minutes.
As you get older, your body needs less time for rest and recuperation. It is more common for older people to fall asleep at 9:30 pm and wake up at 4:30 am the next morning because their bodies produce less melatonin and growth hormones.
As you also grow older, you become more likely to develop chronic illnesses that can make it uncomfortable to sleep in certain positions.
Health conditions such as arthritis cause pain, making it difficult to fall asleep. Cardiovascular conditions can also make breathing difficult, waking you suddenly in the middle of your sleep.
Some elderly people may also have an enlarged prostate or bladder that causes them to use the bathroom frequently at nighttime.
How to remedy this: Your daily routines can change as you grow older. Some of these changes can affect the quality of your sleep.
Older people tend to get less exercise than other age groups. However, using your muscles to get around your home, biking around the neighbourhood and light calisthenics strengthens your bones and keeps your heart healthy. Getting at least two hours of sunlight also helps your body produce melatonin. If you find it hard to go outside, you can invite sunlight into your home by opening your curtains.
Some of the common medications that the elderly take are also known to interfere with sleep. These medications include some high blood pressure medications, antidepressants, steroids and decongestants. you may approach your doctor to change your medication to ones that don't interfere with your sleep or alter the time of day that you need to take them.
- Food intake
In a 2019 study, nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, C, D, E and K have a significant impact on your sleep. As you are sleeping, your body makes sure to absorb a broad range of vitamins and minerals so that you can function properly.
Magnesium, in particular, can cause sleep disruption.
How to remedy this: Green leafy vegetables like spinach, romaine lettuce, and kale have healthy doses of iron and magnesium. You can also try adding bananas, nuts, fish, brown rice and bread into your diet.
A 2016 study found that high-carbohydrate meals can cause you to wake up at night more frequently and reduce your time during the REM stage. Because of this, it is best to avoid high-carbohydrate meals with a high glycemic index before you go to sleep.
There are meal plans such as the Mediterranean Diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet that can improve your sleep quality and your heart health. Overall, both meals recommend a higher intake of plants, lean meats and fibrous fruits than salty and fatty foods.
We also recommend keeping your dinners light, without alcohol and coffee. While heavy meals make you drowsy, they can disrupt your digestive system as you sleep. You can wake up feeling bloated or constipated a few hours later.
Since the lockdown began, many people have either lost access to their favourite gym or built makeshift gyms in their homes. While it is great that some people have built up an exercise routine and started losing weight, too much exercise can affect your sleeping patterns.
The same happens when we do not exercise as much. Some people have become couch potatoes during the lockdown period, lacking any physically challenging activities. When this happens, your body's biological rhythms shift to compensate. Your body will gradually decide that you need less sleep because you have not exerted enough energy throughout the day.
When this happens regularly, you become more vulnerable to different health problems.
How to remedy this: There is a reason why people fall into a deep and rejuvenating sleep after spending three hours of spring cleaning or yard work. We recommend outdoor exercises, where you can spend an hour or two baskings in the sunlight. Not only are you helping your circadian rhythm tell the time and absorbing your daily dose of Vitamin D, but you are also keeping your heart and bones healthy. As you expand your day's worth of energy, your heart can properly rest at the end of the day.
On the flip side, you should also know when your body needs to rest. Refrain from working out too much, especially when you can't function at the same level the following day. At this point, you will reach the point of exhaustion that your sleep will be interrupted.
As you're exercising, make sure to do things at your own pace. Don't force yourself to go too far on your first few exercises. If you're more comfortable with light or moderate exercises, you can slowly work your way towards more vigorous ones.
- Pregnancy and other hormonal shifts
Pregnancy is both an amazing and challenging time. Along with your appetite and daily activities changing, your core temperature rises as well. Because of these gradual changes, sleeping becomes difficult and can wake you up early in the morning.
As your pregnancy progresses and you enter your second trimester, your uterus starts to press against your uterus. There is an increased need to urinate, and this discomfort can awaken you at nighttime.
Apart from pregnancy, your menopause and other hormonal shifts can affect your sleep.
During menopause, most women experience hot flashes, mood disorders and insomnia. According to Christabel Majendie says that 61% of women report that they experience insomnia symptoms and are not satisfied with their sleep.
How to remedy this: For pregnant women, we recommend lessening your liquid intake before sleep and exercising regularly to improve the quality of your sleep. Walking, swimming and pilates are safe exercises during pregnancy. Your instructor can modify your poses so that you're not forced to lie on your belly or lie flat on your back after your first trimester. Brisk walks don't strain your joints and muscles and are a great activity for beginners.
In a study conducted last 2010, researchers found that cognitive behavioural therapy is a great way to manage sleep disorders. If you're interested in CBT, we recommend setting an appointment with your local therapist and getting treated there.
- Warm clothes and bedroom
As the seasons continue to change, you may find yourself wearing winter sleepwear during the summers. Wearing warm clothing to bed can cause you to overheat during the night and can negatively affect your sleep quality.
Another reason you wake up too early in the morning is that your sleep environment is too warm. Especially during the warmer, more humid seasons, it is more difficult to sustain your sleep.
How to remedy this: Your bed climate is an important factor in your sleep quality. During the summer, we recommend wearing breathable linen to regulate your temperature. This kind of material is lightweight and durable, as well.
When it comes to your bed, foam mattresses are less ventilated than mattresses with natural fillings. We also recommend using an electric underblanket with a BBC Design. This allows the material to stay breathable while keeping you warm. As the heat escapes from the blanket, you won't feel clammy or sweaty while your core temperature is being regulated by the blanket.
Apart from your bed, your room also needs ventilation. Promote air circulation by having your fan or air conditioning open. If the season is dry and cold, you can have a humidifier to balance the humidity levels of your room.
Regular sleeping schedule
Once you've identified why you wake up too early, it's time to take steps to correct it. You can start with small steps like lessening your coffee intake or investing in comfortable sleeping clothes. The most important thing here is to stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. This will train your body to prepare your body at night and slowly wake you up in the mornings.
There may be a few nights where you wake up. And that's okay! When this happens, resist checking the time or reaching for your phone to check messages. Instead, take a few deep breaths. Try to put your focus on each breath coming in and going out. This may be difficult at first but you're training your brain to calm down and stay optimistic during moments of sleeplessness.
A good night of sleep using electric blankets
Did you know using an electric blanket can help you sleep better? This has been proved and backed up with research. Study shows a warm but non-humid sleep environment can help you sleep better and faster.
Click on this blog to read more on this topic: Too hot or too cold to sleep? Then create the best bed climate!