Sleep and the ability to cope with coronavirus

sleep and coronavirus
Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

Yesterday was unusual for me in that I struggled a bit with lockdown and felt lonely. That was unusual for me as the older I get, the more content I am spending time alone, and I am naturally quiet as a person.

I am self-isolating at home with my dog, as I have mild asthma. I leave the house only to walk the dog, and up until yesterday, I felt normal. I am blessed that I live in a beautiful part of the world and have both a beach and the countryside nearby and usually feel happy, even with lockdown restrictions. But yesterday, I didn’t.

I am sharing this with you not to have a whinge, as that won’t help; instead, it made me aware of the need to talk to you about the things that will help you live with the restrictions imposed by coronavirus.

Yesterday my dog woke me at 5 am; I needed to go to the loo. I’m usually an early riser, but 5 am was a bit of a stretch! I got up, let him out, got some breakfast and took him for his walk by about 5:45 am. It was beautiful, being out that early, and the day started well.

By about tea time, I started to spiral. My mood was not great. I knew it was related to sleep, but to be truthful, that still did not improve my mood.

I was in bed by 9:30 last night and asleep by 10:30 (I read in bed.). Charlie (my dog) didn’t wake me; I woke naturally around 6.30 am, which is okay for me. I felt okay again today, back to my usual self, and decided I wanted to talk to you about the importance of sleep and coronavirus.

Lack of sleep is a vulnerability factor. Lack of sleep affects your ability to cope with your day.

I did not feel lonely today.

Things to be aware of when feeling sleep deprived.

Your ability to cope with day to day can be affected.

During the lockdown, your typical support systems have taken a knock. Usual supports could be meeting with friends, sports, travel, anything you do that you enjoy and taking you away from harmful things that can go in your head.

If you find that your mood is affected and find your thoughts spiralling out of control, label it as that, do not mull it over.

For example, this is what I did last night.
I told myself, these thoughts and feelings are to do with lack of sleep.

That’s it.

Sounds too simple? I shall give you two scenarios of what my choices were and the impact they would have had on me.

Scenario 1. Run with the thought processes.
My mood was low, and my thoughts were something like
I’m on my own; I’m lonely.

The brain likes to make connections, and mine is no different. It wouldn’t be long before my mind made connections to other times in my life when I felt alone. Now not only do I have a low mood relating to last night, but I can also remember all the other times in my life when I felt depressed.

If I mulled this over long enough, it would more than likely impact my sleep. Then I would have two nights of feeling sleep deprived, and my mood would be even worse today.

You might also find Cognitively Reframing Coronavirus useful.

Scenario 2. Do nothing
Rather than engaging with the mood and the thought processes, I tell myself they are more problematic because of lack of sleep.

Problem solves this scenario by going to bed early and doing everything I can to get a good nights sleep. This meant

  • No mulling it over
  • No making my emotions worse.
  • No alcohol (there was none in the house, but for those of you who drink when sad, you’ll know it doesn’t help.)
  • Taking a walk early in the evening and resist the urge to bring my problems with me. There’s no point walking on a beautiful beach and completely ignore the scenery as I’m too involved in the thoughts of feeling lonely.
  • Pay active attention to my surroundings; let that fill my thought processes.

In doing this, I am not dismissing the fact that I felt lonely. Instead, I allowed for the possibility that my low mood was due to a lack of sleep. If, after a good night’s sleep, I would be able to know for sure the cause of my low mood without adding fuel to the fire with my thought processes.

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