“I took two Benadryl and still can’t sleep, I feel like I’ve hit a new low,” Christine Larochelle tweeted at 12:45 a.m. Tuesday.
“Sunday night I was up ’til like 3 a.m. I was just tossing and turning, and nothing was helping me,” the 26-year-old who works in social media advertising tells The Post. “The moment I hit the bed and turn off the lights, my mind just races to everything that’s happened in my life.”
Those weren’t off-nights for her. For the past few months, Larochelle has struggled with falling — and staying — asleep. She joins a horde of zzzzz-free zombies around the world who have been starved for a restful night since the coronavirus pandemic started.
In the United States, 22% of people say that their sleep quality is worse because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to a survey done by SleepHelp.org.
Elsewhere around the globe, researchers also are harping on this nighttime uprising. One study published in April by the Journal of Critical Sleep Medicine found that insomnia and its symptoms drastically increased for COVID-19-free participants in China, the first epicenter of the disease, from January to February of this year.
In Italy, another major coronavirus hot spot, reports of decreased sleep increased more than 12% from February to March as the second week of lockdown kicked in, according to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research.
Although the data suggests the world is having a sleep crisis, Dr. Alcibiades Rodriguez, the director of the sleep center at NYU Langone, says that we actually have an anxiety problem.
“Sleep is interconnected with mood and anxiety disorders,” Dr. Rodriguez tells The Post. “This is an unprecedented situation. It’s a high level of stress, especially in the middle of this in New York.” Trouble sleeping is actually a symptom of anxiety and depression, which he says are on the rise because of the pandemic.
“[We’re] stressed about our health, about our family’s health, the economy, our jobs,” he says. Being isolated from our friends isn’t helping. “Besides that the quarantine, to be at home, can make you actually depressed. Human beings, we are social animals, and we need contact.”
"Being confined at home can disrupt your circadian rhythm, the sleep-wake cycle."
“I’m a black woman; I’m extremely outraged at all that’s going on. It’s been very emotionally draining to read about all this stuff,” she says. “There’s so much work to do, and that’s daunting. I was already very stressed seeing the number of deaths and the pandemic and being closed in, and to add on to experience all of this that’s been going on, that’s increased my stress.”
Nighttime is particularly tough for Larochelle because it lacks the easy distractions of the daytime. “I can do work or watch a show or do something. At night is when I’m alone with my thoughts,” she says.
In addition to being a symptom of a mental health issue, sleep can be affected by a change in your daily routines, says Dr. Rodriguez. “Being confined at home can disrupt your circadian rhythm, the sleep-wake cycle,” he says.
“I work in New York City, but I live in Jersey, so I think having the commute, walking around more, that just tires you out without you really realizing it,” says Larochelle. “I feel like I’m a lot more rested on a regular basis because [now] I can only go from my bedroom to my living room. I feel like I’m not as tired at night.”
Lack of sleep will affect just about every part of your day, says Dr. Rodriguez.
“You’ll have tension, your concentration is decreased, your memory may be affected, you may be moody,” he says. “Suppose you have a medical condition, you have back pain or you suffer from migraines: You’re going to feel worse. If you feel that way, it may lead to more anxiety and more depression; it’s a vicious cycle.”
Although Larochelle says she hasn’t noticed a strong change in her moods, her migraines and headaches have gotten worse.
Tips for improving your sleep
Larochelle says she has cut out coffee and tried meditation apps to help her relax.
“White noise works really well for me, so keeping my fan on or using a rain app — that works really well to hum me to sleep,” she says.
Larochelle also recently purchased melatonin sleep supplements to pick up where Benadryl couldn’t help her.
However, Dr. Rodriguez recommends consulting a doctor before starting a medicinal treatment. “I have many patients that actually just need medication for anxiety. No sleep medication will control your anxiety,” he says.
Dr. Rodriguez suggests creating established routines in order to help combat life’s pressures.
“Stress is something that we cannot control. Try to create some type of normalcy if you can,” the doctor says. That should include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
He also suggests squeezing in exercise, which is something you can control; socializing in one way or another, even via virtual gatherings on apps like Zoom; cutting out alcohol, especially right before bed; and avoiding anxiety-inducing “bad news” at night.
“Those things are easier said than done,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “I’m guilty of that sometimes. I don’t do the best.” But he says the key is to “control the little things in your world that you can control.”
And when other options fail, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
“If you’re having trouble sleeping, consult your doctor. Sleep clinics are open, and we are here to help,” he says.