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Ways to battle insomnia during COVID-19

Posted at 2:48 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 17:49:03-04

Frustrations over joblessness, health concerns and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic are causing an increase in the number of people struggling to get a good night's sleep.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan Public School of Health, insomnia is the new health concern arising from COVID-19. Chronic insomnia can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Rise Leonard-Moore of Kansas City, Missouri, knows the struggle of not being able to enjoy uninterrupted sleep. She was a corporate trainer for 20 years in Kansas City. She lost her job in January 2020, and then COVID-19 hit.

"It's a ton of stress because I'm an individual that suffers from clinical anxiety and depression," Leonard-Moore said. "You're stressed over your bills, yes, you're stressed over your health, you're stressed over your family's health.”

She found help at Kansas City's Full Employment Council and is taking at-home, online classes to re-train and get a job in cyber security. However, mounting pressure is still keeping her awake at night.

"You may toss, you may turn,” Leonard-Moore said. “Insomnia is like my middle name. You're good to get four hours, maybe five hours, and that's straight sleep without it being broken up because you're anxious and you want to succeed."

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Savannah Geske, a behavioral health specialist at Saint Luke's Health System, explained that the brain is on overload, constantly trying to problem solve.

"Our brain wants to think: what do I do, what should I do, where should I hide, where should I go," Geske said.

To stop worrying when you should be sleeping at night, Geske offered these five tips:

1. Schedule worry time during the day. During worry time, write down your problems and then write down possible solutions. Geske said the practice helps to calm down your brain from working overtime to resolve problems.

2. Avoid taking naps during the day to increase your body's drive to sleep.

3. If you don't have chronic pain or heart issues, Geske recommends trying Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Johns Hopkins Rheumatology demonstrates in a video tutorial how to tense muscle groups, like your neck, shoulders, arms and legs, holding it for 10 seconds and then relaxing.

4. Do things that bring you joy. Geske said allowing your brain to think about helping someone or doing something fun helps ease tension and anxiety.

5. Don't go to bed if you're not sleepy. Geske said if you lie in bed awake and anxious, then the bed becomes a place you associate with worrying. She said the bed should be associated with sleep. So if you go to bed and you can't sleep, get up and do something boring or relaxing until your body is ready to sleep — then go to bed.

The Sleep Foundation also suggested that eating a healthy diet and exercising will reduce insomnia and improve sleep, which the foundation explains is essential during COVID-19 because sleep:

  • empowers the immune system;
  • improves brain function;
  • enhances mood; and
  • improves mental health.

Leonard-Moore said breathing exercises, muscle relaxation and some tender-loving self care helps her to relax.