Mental Health, Sleep, and the COVID-19 Pandemic
If I wrote about managing mental health at the beginning of the pandemic, my post would have been quite different. Over a month ago, I would have focused on addressing the main psychological concern at that time – the overwhelming fear and anxiety related to catching the novel coronavirus. While I’ve been busy attending to this and other concerns in my personal and professional lives, new patterns of mental health concerns have emerged or become more apparent, such as worry over financial issues and uncertain future, difficulty coping with social isolation, PTSD among healthcare professionals attending to patients with COVID-19, depression and stress among survivors of COVID-19, grief following the death of a loved one, relationship issues between people self-isolating together, boredom, and others.
Many mental health professionals and organizations have already provided tips on how to manage mental health during the pandemic. You can find a lot of useful information on the Internet. For example, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has provided a comprehensive list of suggestions about how to cope in this challenging time.
In this post, I would like to reiterate one suggestion based on what I’ve observed in my practice. If I were to share one advice about how to manage mental health during the pandemic, it would be, “Prioritise and protect your sleep.” Now that many people don’t have to go to work in the morning, there seems to be a tendency to neglect the usual sleep schedule. We all know how tempting it is sometimes to stay later in the evening – to finish watching a movie, to read a book, or to do something else equally stimulating. After we miss our usual bedtime, we often struggle to fall asleep (I know I do). We do it once or twice, and before we know it, we are off our usual circadian rhythm. As a result, the quality of our sleep suffers, even if we manage to get the same amount of sleep.
Poor sleep can create a vicious cycle. There is plenty of research evidence indicating a positive correlation between sleep and mental health. Have you noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to feel sad and pessimistic? My clients also complain about increased irritability, low energy level, and lack of motivation. As a result of poor sleep, not only do our mood and outlook on life suffer but also our relationships and self-esteem. The worse we feel, the more we struggle to fall and to stay asleep.
As you already know, there is also a positive correlation between mental health and the strength of immune system. Now that we need to rely on our immune systems to withstand the pandemic, good sleep has become even more important. If you wonder what you can do to improve your sleep, please follow this link for some helpful cognitive behavioural strategies.
If you need help addressing your mental health concerns, including your sleep difficulties, I am here for you – just a phone call or a few clicks away.
Sleep well and stay healthy!