Sleep Problems – Is COVID-19 Keeping Us Awake?

Though sleep is called our best friend, it is a friend who often keeps us waiting.
~ Jules Verne

The events of the last year or so have impacted everyone in one way or another. One area of our lives that has been heavily hit is sleep patterns. Most folks no longer need to spring out of bed in time to get breakfast, kids to school, a quick workout at the gym, and catch the train/carpool/bus to work. The lack of structure has encouraged folks to sleep in more often and stay up later at night. For some, this has resulted in sleep problems.

In a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), more than half of Americans have had increased trouble sleeping since the beginning of the pandemic.

A survey by the AASM of 2,006 adults, 56% of those questioned indicated they had increased sleep problems since the start of the pandemic. These issues are called “COVID-somnia.” Some of the symptoms are difficulty falling asleep, problems staying asleep, worse quality of sleep, and it isn’t just the elderly that are having these problems. “Those aged 35-44 had the highest rate of COVID-somnia sleep disturbances at 70%” (AASM, 2021).

As many can attest, the harder we try to fall asleep, the wider awake we become. In the same survey quoted above, the AASM found that 51% of those reporting problems were using sleep aids of some kind, while 68% of those already using sleep aids were using them more often. Only 5% of those regularly using sleep aids before the pandemic were using them less frequently. Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, a sleep medicine specialist from Ft. Meyers, FL, reminds us that “Medicinal sleep aids should be used cautiously for people with sleep problems and should always be used in consultation with a medical provider.”

So, more sleep problems, but don’t use sleep aids and try to avoid prescriptions. What is the solution, or do we wait until the pandemic is over and hope we can catch up then? That’s not likely to work! Studies have shown that trying to reduce a sleep deficit by getting more sleep at another time doesn’t work. For example, a study found that sleeping in on weekends doesn’t reverse the metabolic dysregulation and potential weight gain associated with regular sleep loss (Depner, Current Biology, 2019).

Here are some ideas for overcoming sleep problems without resorting to sleep aids or trying to catch up later from the CDC COVID-19 site that might help (

  1. You’ll sleep better if your room is comfortable, dark, cool, and quiet.
  2. If it takes you longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, set aside sometime before bedtime to do things to help you relax. Try meditating, relaxation breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  3. Avoid sunlight or bright lights 90 minutes before you go to sleep, when possible. Exposure to light just before bedtime can cause you to feel more awake.
  4. Take naps when you have the opportunity.
  5. Eat healthy foods and stay physically active because it can improve your sleep.
  6. Before you go to sleep, avoid foods and drinks that can make falling asleep more difficult:

Other suggestions gleaned from the 2021 AASM survey include:

  • Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Avoid the temptation to sleep late on days you don’t have to check in to work or on vacation. Choose a bedtime that will allow you to get 7 hours of sleep.
  • If you are still awake after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  • Don’t eat a large meal right before bedtime. Try a light, healthy snack instead.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Cut down on the fluids, including alcohol before bedtime.

(Abbasi-Feinberg, 2021)

Here are some exercises you can download from Coping with Sleep Issues Workbook by Leutenberg and Liptak to help you take a tangible step towards better sleep.

Reflecting on My Lack of Sleep will help you pinpoint what might be keeping you awake.

Sleeping Better will help you make small but helpful changes in your sleep environment.

A brief note about the AASM survey. The March 2021 AASM Sleep Prioritization Survey involved 2,006 adult participants in the U.S. The margin of error is +/-2 percentage points with a confidence interval of 95 percent. Atomik Research, an independent market research agency, conducted the survey. To request a copy of the survey COVID-somnia results contact the AASM at Retrieved from April 14, 2021.)

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