“Coronasomnia,” Pandemic-Related Insomnia, Isn’t Just an Anecdotal Phenomenon: NPR

Scott Simon talks to Jennifer Martin from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine about how to deal with insomnia resulting from the pandemic.


How did you sleep? My wife and I are fine except when we wake up at 3am worrying about a pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires and the future of democracy. That’s all. Call it coronasomy (ph) or insomnia caused by the relentlessness of the pandemic.

Jennifer Martin is a board member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and is now joining us from Los Angeles. Good morning – I hope you slept well.

JENNIFER MARTIN: I have. thank you for having me today

SIMON: So what’s the secret? I mean this – there’s a link between the pandemic and insomnia. And these aren’t just a few anecdotes, are they?

Martin: It’s not that. Many people who slept perfectly in their pre-pandemic lives are now struggling. We believe there are two major reasons for this. One is that for many people today, their normal habits and routines around sleep are very different.

Simon: Yes.

MARTIN: For a number of people who may have previously had to get up and go to the office every day, telecommuting may now be a permanent situation. And adjusting to these new habits and routines takes time. We also know, as you indicated in your opening statement, that there is a lot of stress in a lot of people’s lives – you know, financial considerations. Many people have been directly affected by COVID, either because they themselves got sick or because their loved ones got sick. And these stress-related factors can also greatly disrupt our sleep.

Simon: Yes. And we should remember that lack of sleep isn’t just annoying.

MARTIN: Good point – we know that people who don’t sleep well or enough have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic problems like type 2 diabetes. You are exposed to a higher risk of accidents and injuries. They tend to have a harder time just getting along with their families and functioning in their daily lives.

SIMON: And have you found any connection between COVID and sleep disorders?

MARTIN: We’ve seen some trends that are quite worrying in this area. For one, the number of people taking prescription sleeping pills has increased during the COVID pandemic. The purchase of over-the-counter products and supplements to help people sleep has increased quite dramatically. And then there’s the impact of COVID itself on sleep. Poor sleep quality and insomnia are also one of the consequences for people recovering from COVID.

SIMON: I have to ask, are over-the-counter sleep prescriptions safe?

MARTIN: The first line treatment for chronic sleep problems is a treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. We usually think of sleeping pills as the second tool in our toolbox, not the first. So when people go through a course like this and still have problems, we sometimes add a sleeping pill to help with that.

SIMON: When I fight, (Laughter) I play tunes in my mind from the old Chicago Bears running back to Walter Payton.

MARTIN: That’s an excellent strategy. Probably the worst thing is lying in bed thinking about how awful it is to be awake.

Simon: Yes.

MARTIN: One of the things we often recommend is that people do something different. And when they’re able to just lie quietly in bed and start thinking and distracting themselves about their favorite sports teams or a theater show they saw a few ago or a family vacation, sleep comes back a lot quicker. Sometimes we actually recommend that people just give up and get out of bed for a while…

Simon: Yes.

MARTIN: …when they can’t distract themselves from sleeping and then go back to bed a little later when they feel tired again.

Simon: Yes. Forgive me for being so banal, but what about that old mug of hot milk? For example, I know that an extra glass of alcohol is not a good idea.

Martin: Right. So, one of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep is to let the day rest. And if that includes a cup of hot milk, that sounds like a great option to me.

Simon: Yes.

MARTIN: But one of the things that I think happened during the pandemic, when people blurred the lines between their work life and their personal life, is that they worked a lot; We read the news media. Sorry to say maybe, you know, turn off the NPR app sometime before you go to bed…


MARTIN: …Could be a good way to wind down (laughter).

SIMON: No, I – we don’t take it personally. We understand. So let’s just say thank you.

Jennifer Martin, who teaches medicine at UCLA and is a board member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Pleasant dreams to all.

Martin: Thank you.

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