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During this coronavirus outbreak, many people have been struggling to sleep well at night and are feeling tired during the day. We all need good quality sleep to function properly, but when you’re experiencing stress and worry associated with the ongoing pandemic and spending more time indoors, you may be finding this more difficult than usual. You may even be experiencing a sleep disorder, like insomnia. 

We spoke to Dr Natasha Bijlani to find out more about why people are feeling excessively tired in the day and struggling to sleep at night during the coronavirus outbreak, and how to best manage this in the coming weeks. Dr Bijlani's practical tips can also be found in our video, which contains advice and support on how to deal with insomnia over this time.

Why do I feel so tired during the day?

If you are struggling with tiredness during the day, this may because you are getting poor quality sleep at night. People who are sleep deprived are more likely to feel groggy and sleepy when they wake up.

The medical term for this is ‘sleep inertia’. This is when a person feels dazed, weak or unsteady. Sleep inertia can happen because of illness, intoxication, a blow to the head or a lack of quality sleep. This sleepiness usually lasts between 15 and 60 minutes for most people, but in some, it can last for many hours.

Sleep inertia can affect people in the following ways:

  • You find it difficult to concentrate - this can be particularly challenging if you are working from home or are still going into work. It can also stop you from being ‘in the moment’ when spending time with the people you live with, or when talking over the phone or video chatting with people outside of your household.
  • You feel disorientated and confused - you may be finding that you have been struggling to remember things, so have missed catch ups with friends or missed deadlines that you would have usually remembered. You may also be finding that you can’t think as clearly as before and are sometimes struggling to speak clearly
  • You are more clumsy than usual - becoming less co-ordinated, including bumping into things or knocking over and dropping items more frequently, is also a sign of sleep inertia. You may also be finding that you are making mistakes that you wouldn’t usually make

How can I manage the impact of coronavirus on my sleep?

Given the current coronavirus outbreak, which is causing uncertainty over the future, drastic changes to our daily routines and financial constraints, it is understandable that many of us are experiencing a degree of anxiety, even if it is at a low-grade background level, which in turn is likely to be affecting our ability to sleep well at night.

You can look to improve the quality of your sleep by introducing good sleep hygiene habits. These can include:

  • Maintain a regular sleep-wake routine, ensuring you allow adequate time for your individual sleep needs, even if you don’t have to get up to travel to work. Also try to keep to this schedule over weekends. We are able to function better when we keep to a regular rhythm like this
  • Avoid the temptation to press the snooze button in the morning. You won’t be able to sleep soundly in these short intervals, and will only end up feeling more tired
  • If you do feel like you need to catch up on sleep during the day, take a short nap that lasts for no longer that 20 to 30 minutes. If you take longer, then it is likely to affect your sleep later that night
  • Make your bedroom a comfortable space, and keep the temperature cool rather than too warm
  • Stay hydrated during the day as going to bed even mildly dehydrated can disrupt your sleep, but avoid drinking anything too close to bedtime. And don’t have an alcoholic ‘night cap’, as this can actually disrupt the quantity and structure of your sleep. Also, avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening
  • Eat regular and healthy meals. Our bodies work better when we keep to a regular routine, so try to eat at similar times every day, without eating too close to your bedtime
  • Resist the temptation to use light emitting devices such as TVs, computers and phones near bedtime. The blue light disrupts the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that induces the natural onset of sleep
  • Don’t spend much time in your bedroom during the day. Ideally, this room should be a place where you can switch off and go to sleep
  • Keep yourself informed by reading reputable news sources, or NHS 111 Online for 10 to 15 minutes each day. But don’t watch endless news broadcasts or read every news story. Constantly listening to or reading stories about coronavirus can be overwhelming for some people, and can cause their anxiety to intensify
  • Learn and practise regular mindfulness and relaxation techniques, whether that is yoga and deep breathing on YouTube or mindfulness apps like Headspace. These can help you to focus your attention to the present moment, which in turn can stop you from worrying about future uncertainties
  • Exercise regularly (and appropriately given current guidelines). If you can, head into your garden or outdoors for an hour a day to exercise. Movement is great for our mental as well as physical health, and can also lead to more restful sleep. Just make sure that you aren’t exercising too close to your bedtime to avoid being over stimulated by the time you try to go to sleep
  • Distract yourself with pleasurable activities which could involve music, dance, crafts, gardening and remote socialisation with friends and family, away from your sleeping hours. This can give you something positive to look forward to and enjoy during the day

Seeking the right support and help

If you feel that you need additional help and support due to the impact that your anxiety or lack of sleep is having on your day-to-day life, book an appointment with your GP to talk about the problems that you are experiencing. The current government advice is to minimise direct contact with others unless absolutely necessary and so your appointment may be over the phone or over a video call, but it is a discussion that is well worth having. They will be able to help you to determine the next steps that need to be taken to help you feel better once again.

Priory also has a new online therapy service, which may be useful at this time. Here, you will be able to speak with a highly trained therapist or doctor online from the comfort of your own home. As experts in their field, the therapist or doctor will be able to provide you with the right level of support that you need in order to stay well during these uncertain times.

Page medically reviewed by Dr Natasha Bijlani (FRCPsych, MBBS), Consultant Psychiatrist based at Priory Hospital Roehampton London

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