As a psychologist and as a human being, I am receiving this message from every direction and all sides. It’s rampant these days.
People are having a hard time sleeping during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some people lie awake unable to fall asleep. Some wake up in the middle of the night and their brain starts racing. Other folks say they wake up in the early morning hours and lie awake for a long time before the alarm goes off.
Then there are the ones whose sleep pattern has been thrown totally off. They’re awake when they should be sleeping and sleeping when they should be awake. What is it about this pandemic that is making a good night’s sleep so hard for so many people?
In talking with many people about their sleep problems during the pandemic, particular struggles have emerged as common patterns. So, I think I have some answers that I’m going to share with you today.
First, let’s review the primary causes of the problems. They will probably not all apply to you but, in reality, all it takes is one.
5 Common Causes of Sleep Problems During the Pandemic
- Loss of some of the structure you had in your pre-COVID life. Perhaps you no longer need to get up as early, scramble around as much, commute, or handle as many required deadlines or demands as you did before. Requirements placed on us from the outside, by people and our jobs, for example, force us to form and follow a regular pattern or routine. When we lose some of the external demands, we can lose track of our routine. Our regular, healthy habits, like eating, showering, and exercising that we have developed to manage and cope may fly out the window. The Feelings Keeping You Awake: Lost, unmoored, uprooted, out of control of yourself.
- Anxiety and fear of the unknown. Let’s face it, we all have some of this. Will you or someone you love get sick? Will you lose someone? Will the economy recover? Will you ever get your job back? Will you survive financially? Depending on where you live, you may be on lockdown or transitioning out or out, but nothing is ever really permanent. The lack of answers and certainty makes it hard to shut your mind down. You may lay awake processing these questions at night. The Feelings Keeping You Awake: Fear, trepidation, uncertainty, anxiety.
- Losses. Let’s think for a minute about what you have lost. Have you lost income? Social plans? Projects? Have you lost people, the greatest loss of all? Have you lost your job, your prospects, your hopes for your children or yourself? We have all lost something. The Feelings Keeping You Awake: Grief, loss, longing.
- Reduced stimulation. Were you busy, running around a lot, pre-COVID? Seeing people, working hard, recreating, doing things, going to the gym, going to the movies, the theater, stores, or friends’ houses? All of these things stimulate your brain and body. Back then, there was motion, color, activity, and challenge to your days that you may be missing now. All those things were tiring out your brain and body. You were burning energy all day long. What about now? Your unburned energy may be powering you at night. The Feelings Keeping You Awake: Restless, antsy, jumpy.
- Lack of human connection. As a psychologist, I know from talking with many people that feelings of disconnection and loneliness are an epidemic of their own right now. So, ironically, if you are feeling alone, you are not alone. This is a feeling that can get under your skin and trouble you deeply from the inside, keeping you awake at night. The Feelings Keeping You Awake: Alone, disconnected, lost, at sea, vulnerable.
So What About These Feelings That are Keeping You Awake?
I know what you may be thinking, “Why this section about feelings? Just tell me what to do to fix it!” Well, that is exactly what I am doing.
Here’s the thing, and believe me, this is important. It may seem like your thoughts are keeping you awake at night, but, in reality, it’s your feelings.
For many problems, but especially in the case of sleep, the feelings are the layer closest to the problem. Your feelings are messages from your body that are meant to be useful and helpful. When you use them properly, they will inform, empower, and motivate you to provide yourself with what you need to be happy and healthy. If you ignore them, they get stronger. Your feelings want to be heard.
Most people, especially if you grew up in a family that didn’t acknowledge the power and importance of emotions (an emotionally neglectful family) you probably underestimate the role they play in your own happiness and health on an everyday basis.
So What Do I Do?
Amazing news you may not fully realize. Yes, your feelings are keeping you from sleeping, but they are also an amazing pipeline to the solution!
When you are lying in bed in the dark, there is nothing external stimulating you. So, it is at this particular time that any feelings you’ve been ignoring will take the opportunity to come to the surface and try to make your brain acknowledge and process them.
So, not surprisingly, the answer is to acknowledge and process them. But not at night, during the day!
If you were emotionally ignored as a child, then you are probably emotionally ignoring yourself today. It is time to stop.
Your body is trying to communicate with your brain at night when you are the most available to hear it (your feelings are the messages). You can make a conscious effort to listen and process them during the day. This will free your brain and body up to get much-needed sleep at night.
How to Process Your Feelings During the Day
- Take some time every day to sit quietly and focus your attention inward. Tune into the sensations in your body and pay attention to how and what you are feeling.
- See if you can sit for a few minutes, eyes closed, and feel what you feel. Sitting with feelings instead of escaping them is a major emotion skill and you are doing it!
- Consider the feeling you’re having. Why are you having it? What does it mean? What is your body trying to tell you? Perhaps that you need to provide yourself with structure, make more effort to connect with people, get some exercise, talk to a friend, or grieve?
- Feel nothing repeatedly when you try this? This is a sign that your feelings may be walled-off and suppressed (a natural result of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN). Don’t worry, you can still get in touch with the feelings that are keeping you awake and process them. You can break down the wall that’s blocking you from your feelings and start learning how to use them. Find resources for guidance, help, and support below in the author’s Bio.