Akanksha Patra (25), who works with a top marketing firm in New Delhi, has always struggled with insomnia. Blame it on her late working hours or the urge to binge-watch Netflix shows every night — but her troubled sleep patterns have only exacerbated amid the pandemic.
“With work-from-home taking precedence, the boundaries between personal and professional life have been blurred. This has made it difficult to get any ‘me time’ during the day. I can only manage to do something I like post 11 pm; that has completely screwed up my sleep cycle. It wasn’t that I didn’t struggle before the pandemic, but the situation has only gotten out of hand now,” she adds.
Clearly, Patra is not the only one — more people than ever are finding it hard to deal with ‘coronasomnia’ or as the name suggests, insomnia induced by pandemic-related stress. In March 2020, the International Institute of Sleep Sciences in Mumbai conducted a randomised study of 150 people, out of which 25-30 percent of people were found to have non-restorative sleep patterns. The numbers are only going to rise, believe experts.
What’s important to note is that women are more susceptible to coronasomnia than men. But why is that?
“When you look at the prevalence of insomnia, it’s higher in women, which means the ratios will remain the same. Plus, because of the lockdown, there are decreased social interactions and increased workload, and a lot of responsibilities fall on women’s shoulders. Even if she’s a homemaker, work has increased, because in our country, we are accustomed to having a house help. Also, with most family members working from home, everyone’s timings have gone haywire, so there’s added pressure on women. So, she is perpetually bogged down by work,” says Manvir Bhatia, Director of Neurology Sleep Centre – New Delhi.
The struggle to strike a balance
With increased responsibilities, women struggle to find time for themselves. As a result, they enjoy some quietude late at night, when they are done with their daily chores, says Bhatia. It could also be that they are so wound up and stressed that it’s hard for them to get adequate sleep. The situation isn’t any better for working women.
“Previously, a working woman had help at home. She would step out every morning and return home at a designated time. But today, she’s working from home, and is also the caretaker of the house. There are some men who share responsibilities, but in most cases, everything falls on women,” adds Bhatia.
In agreement with this is Kamna Chhibber, Head - Mental Health at Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, who believes that women play multiple roles in a household and it is this aspect that adds to their sleeplessness.
“Women have a constant need to strike a balance, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. We don’t always have the most proportionate distribution of chores at home; that creates additional stress and pressure. Even when it comes to work pressure in general, glass ceilings do exist in reality. So, you do not want to be underperforming at work, because it is attributed to your gender several times. But that apprehension lurks in the background,” she adds.
There’s also a model of insomnia, called the ‘hyperarousal mode’, in which you release large amounts of stress hormones if your brain is overstimulated. Bhatia explains that when these ‘wake-promoting’ hormones are released in such high doses during the day, and close to bedtime, it becomes increasingly difficult for women to fall asleep.
“Some women also wake up in the middle of night, thinking their tasks aren’t complete; others wake up early to complete all that’s left from the previous day. The circumstances have made it worse,” Bhatia explains.
Coronasomnia is also prominently visible in those who already suffer from pre-existing anxiety or other mental health issues.
“Acute insomnia can aggravate and turn into chronic insomnia due to various factors. That is exactly what experts want people to avoid. Once it turns chronic, we would be dealing with a bigger problem on our hands,” adds Bhatia.
Arresting the problem
Bhatia has a piece of advice — she says there’s nothing more critical than a consistent routine. Women must follow the same waking up and bedtime routine to tackle the problem, so that it doesn’t go out of hand.
Getting adequate light is equally crucial – even if stepping out is not an option, soaking in sunlight in your balcony is not a bad idea. That’s because it increases the sleep drive.
Chhibber believes it is also important during such times to be prudent about the type, amount and source from which one is consuming information.
“Avoid information overload particularly towards the latter part of the day. Ensure that you attempt to switch off from media and social media at night to be able to get a mental break from all the news around you and this digital detox would also facilitate better sleep,” she adds.
Packing in any form of physical activity is equally important, so is having a good bedtime routine.
“Listen to some music, do some chit chat on a topic except Covid, and anything else you love. The brain needs to relax pre-bedtime,” says Bhatia, adding that it is important to focus on these things even in the morning to improve sleep at night.
It might sound paradoxical, but Bhatia advises against focusing too much on sleep. If you want to have a good night’s rest, do nothing about it, she says.
“One of the factors that is converting acute insomnia to chronic is this worry about sleep,” she says.
If you do all these things, and yet face an issue, Bhatia suggests appropriate intervention from a specialist.
“Do not self-medicate or listen to off-hand advice from your friend. It is important to educate the public not to do this. Instead, seek a specialist to tackle your problems,” she concludes.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)