Sleep and the ability to cope with coronavirus

Yesterday was unusual because 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 left 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, have 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 the 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. Being out that early was beautiful, 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 to talk to you about the importance of sleep and the 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 support 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 due to 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 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.

It would likely impact my sleep if I mulled this over long enough. Then I would have two nights of 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 possible to get a good night’s sleep. This meant

  • No mulling it over
  • No making my emotions worse.
  • No alcohol (there was none in the house, but for those who drink when sad, you’ll know it doesn’t help.)
  • Take 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 ignoring the scenery entirely as I’m too involved in feeling lonely.
  • Pay active attention to my surroundings; let that fill my thought processes.

In doing this, I am not dismissing my feeling of 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 of my thought processes.

Sleep and our ability to cope with day-to-day life are intricately linked, like two sides of the same coin. Just as a good night’s sleep prepares us to face the challenges of the day, chronic sleep deprivation can throw our mental and physical resilience off balance, making even the most mundane tasks feel overwhelming.

Here’s a closer look at the connection:

Physiological Effects:

  • Brainpower: During sleep, our brains consolidate memories, remove toxins, and rebuild neural connections. Skimping on sleep impairs these processes, leading to foggy thinking, difficulty concentrating, and poor decision-making. Imagine trying to navigate a busy city with a blurry map – that’s what sleep deprivation does to our cognitive abilities.
  • Emotional Regulation: Sleep deprivation disrupts the delicate balance of hormones that regulate our emotions. This can lead to increased irritability, anxiety, and difficulty managing stress. It’s like trying to ride a rollercoaster blindfolded – emotions become unpredictable and overwhelming.
  • Physical Resilience: Sleep is essential for physical repair and recovery. Without adequate rest, our immune system weakens, making us more susceptible to illness and injuries. It’s like trying to run a marathon on tired legs – fatigue compromises our ability to handle physical demands.

Psychological Effects:

  • Motivation and Productivity: Sleep deprivation zaps our energy and motivation. We become less likely to engage in activities we enjoy and more susceptible to procrastination. It’s like trying to climb a mountain with a heavy backpack – the simplest tasks feel like uphill battles.
  • Creativity and Problem-Solving: Sleep fuels our creativity and problem-solving abilities. When sleep-deprived, we struggle to think outside the box and find innovative solutions. It’s like trying to paint a masterpiece with a broken brush – our creative expression becomes limited and dull.
  • Mental Health: Chronic sleep deprivation is a risk factor for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. It’s like a vicious cycle – stress disrupts sleep, and sleep deprivation worsens stress, creating a downward spiral.

The good news is that prioritizing sleep can significantly improve our ability to cope with day-to-day life. Aiming for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night can work wonders for our physical and mental well-being. By investing in sleep, we invest in our resilience, making us better equipped to handle whatever life throws our way.

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