The COVID-19 pandemic is perturbing everyday activities around the world. A campy horror flick echoes overwhelmed hospitals, desolate schools, ghostly towns and self-isolation, but an all too real one. Companies are laid workers off by the thousands, the retail sector is teetering on the verge of collapse, and to an ordinary person, radical policies suddenly don’t seem so bad. According to a recent the University of Southern California poll, about 40 per cent of individuals feel anxious about the pandemic, and more than half have avoided some or all other individuals.
As a psychologist who tries to understand the role of sleep in what makes us tick, I concentrate more on how the cycle of sleep-wake affects our daily social lives. Which makes me think we can do one thing, particularly for those of us at home. That is sleeping.
This reversible state of disengagement from the world is one of human life’s most significant protective and restorative influences. Slumber is important if you want to think clearly and remain optimistic every time. Sleep is also essential for the maintenance of immunological function, which is key to preventing and recovering from infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Losing sleep makes people more vulnerable to respiratory infections and threatens both common cold recovery and more extreme conditions. This may be even more important for this lethally stealthy bug.
Unfortunately, it is precisely in times of social uncertainty and anxiety that it is most disrupted when we need to sleep the most. Anxiety about the future and fear of loved ones’ health threaten calm nights and impinge on sleep by increasing hyper-arousal and rumination – reactions that are known to increase insomnia. Isolation from regular social rhythms and natural light will continue to mess with our body clock, confusing us about when we are supposed to feel tired and when we are supposed to perk up.
Americans Avoid Crisis
Most Americans are not dealing well with this crisis. Research that we have conducted over the past few years using CDC data on hundreds of thousands of Americans indicates that the age of smartphones has contributed to a significant deterioration in both length and sleep quality. One case in point, a recent analysis conducted by my team suggests millions more Americans report sleeping problems over the past five years.
And the psychological toll isn’t too far away, but it will more clearly note. It is after the levels of infection begin to decline. When the pandemic peaks and physical damage to bodies begin to wane. It is only then can the full effects of this pandemic become evident for our well-being. There is now a need to anticipate and mitigate unavoidable increases in psychological complaints, suicide and substance use disorders. Recall that there were millions of people with physical and psychological issues. It is in both the United States and Europe since the “Great Recession” of 2008-09.
So how to protect our sleep? In addition to the risks and obstacles, this time in reality also provides secret opportunities. When is the last time most of the people sat at home for days? It is even without the need to use alarm clocks?!
In addition to connecting with those closest to us, many of us can sleep in and organize their lives. It is in ways that suit our biological ticker. Larks may earlier go to bed, and owls may snooze in. Families are able to synchronize their meal and play routines in new ways. It is honouring their internal clock time (what chrono-biologists call the ‘circadian’ phase). We slept with each other for much of our history when our bodies told us too. It is not by themselves and only when work allowed. This may be an unparalleled opportunity to accept a simple human. It needs to turn off on a regular basis. Only such bodies know how to help human bodies battle the wars.