Sleepless in Seattle, Seville or sleepy in La Cala…

Many people are saying that they are finding it increasingly difficult to sleep, even people who normally don’t have any trouble getting to sleep at night. Is this a direct result of COVID-19? Well not really, but it is certainly an indirect result of all the disturbance that many of us have been experiencing to our daily routines.

Getting to sleep when you find it difficult can be a bit of a vicious circle. Your own level of stress as well as changes to your sleeping pattern will only make this more challenging. We may not always realize that our stress levels are changing because we may be concerned about things that normally we’ve not associated with stress in a typical way. Of course, if you are working stress is bound to come from uncertainty about the security of work and the financial implications that may have, but we may also find ourselves subconsciously thinking about family members whom we might not be able to visit or see in these unusual times.

It’s worth taking a moment to understand how we normally get to sleep and then wake up again because this can help when it comes to planning a strategy to get better sleep. We have a biological time switch that you will have heard of before; it’s known as our circadian rhythm. This body clock actually regulates all sorts of things and it takes it triggers from things like the amount of light you are exposed to and when you eat. So we know that bright light gets our brains into an alert state all fired up and ready to go, so if that happens to coincide with your breakfast then these two triggers tell our body clock its time for action, not sleep.

If you are stuck inside all day because of restrictions, or a change in working arrangements, it’s very possible some of these triggers might start to slide, and that can quickly affect your body clock. So with so much around us changing or uncertain, it’s really important that we try to keep a routine ourselves. So keeping mealtimes at roughly the same time helps enormously, as does drawing a clear distinction between night and day – so don’t decide to do the cupboards out in the middle of the night.

We know that during dim lighting conditions your body naturally produces a hormone, this is a chemical messenger that tells your body to slow down and prepare to sleep. This one is called melatonin and you can buy it as a supplement in supermarkets and health food shops.  It does appear to have some beneficial effects but if you decide to use it, as with anything designed to help you sleep, short term use is the order of the day. If you use it continually you will find it loses its effect and will only have an impact on your wallet.

If you choose to watch TV or read from a tablet device in bed we now understand that the type of light generated in general from devices like these can actually prevent us from making melatonin, so if you can set your device to reduce the amount of blue light emitted, the red end of the spectrum is more conducive to sleep.

Of course, anxiety is no laughing matter, and at night things can often seem worse. Talking through issues with a friend or partner often helps, but if you really find that anxiety is starting to impact and affect your life in a serious way then it might be time to talk to your GP. Medication cannot solve the underlying issue, whatever that might be, but sometimes a short course of an appropriate medication can help you break the cycle – get some refreshing sleep and then allow you to deal with whatever it may be with a clear head and a better frame of mind.

When we go to sleep our body naturally cools, so make sure you have the right level of comfort where you sleep. Too hot and you will find it hard, generally a cooler bedroom works for most people.

A disturbed sleep pattern can develop into something more persistent and this in turn can lead to a chronic sleep disorder. If you think this is happening to you then definitely arrange a chat with your GP. Prescription sleeping pills work by telling the brain to slow down, and it is very important that you only take these under supervision because they can interact with other medications you might be taking.  It’s never a sensible idea to borrow a friend’s sleeping pills.

I know that some people are genuinely afraid of the coronavirus, and that is entirely understandable. It’s pretty impossible to escape the news coverage every day. To those people I say that the simple precautions that we should all take, such as regular hand washing, avoiding crowded places when you can, and using a face covering will protect you. It is a bit harder to catch this than you might think, but if this continues to worry you then seek some help, you are not alone. This is a very common reaction and nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

They say that laughter is the best medicine. I found myself watching Nigella Lawson on the TV the other day and I laughed out loud because she was describing some chocolate thing she was making with more double entendres that a ‘Carry On’ film, I felt great. We could all do with a good dose of chocolate thing right now!

Dr Marcus Stephan

My views are entirely personal and do not reflect the view or position of any organisation. You should always consult your own medical practitioner regarding any concerns that you may have.

Thank you for reading this article “Sleepless in Seattle, Seville or sleepy in La Cala…”. For more from our guest reader Mr Marcus Stephan, visit the Euro Weekly News website.

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