The pandemic has led to a multitude of health-related issues, as well as a rise of individuals struggling with mental illness. Recent isolation has also led to an increase of sleep-related disorders, as fears of losing jobs and catching the virus has left many with restless nights. The U.S. National Institute of Health released a review of 2020 data suggesting the pandemic has affected natural sleep/wake cycles, with more individuals taking naps during the day and staying up through the night, or barely sleeping at all, adding another health consequence to the global pandemic. This phenomenon has been coined as “Covid-somnia,” a culmination of symptoms relating to sleep disorders stemming from the pandemic.
The American Association of Sleep Technologists lists the five most common sleep disorders as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome and REM sleep behaviour disorder, all of which affect an individual’s length and quality of rest. A rise in anxiety and fear regarding Covid-19 has led to more individuals experiencing symptoms of these disorders, with the American Academy of Neurology reporting a 14.8 per cent rise in prescription medication for sleep disorders in 2020.
Causes of sleep disorders can range from seasonal allergies to heightened stress and anxiety. Common sleep disorder symptoms include difficulties falling and staying asleep, nightmares, and night sweats. Covid-somnia, rather than being a single sleep disorder, is a culmination of common symptoms, resulting in a general feeling of grogginess and frustration by those who suffer.
Lack of sleep and a change to the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle affects everyday life. A sleepless night may lead to difficulties focusing on tasks during the day, such as attending class and completing assignments, and having the motivation to go to work. The pandemic has already caused so many life-altering events, and a lack of sleep is another added to the list.
Students are especially at risk of developing sleep disorders, and international students studying in a different time zone are at greater risk. With courses being offered online this year, many students may have decided to stay in their home country and study abroad in a different time zone.
In 2018, Chinese students made up almost 65 per cent of the international student population at UTM, where China Standard Time (CST) is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST). As a student myself, I know how difficult online courses can be, but I could not imagine the stress of having to be awake through the night to attend synchronous lectures, as many students studying in different time zones must do. These students are forced to change their natural sleep cycle, often having to sleep during the day when their families are awake, and work through the night, in order to continue with their studies over the course of the pandemic.
If you are struggling with sleep patterns, do not worry. There are many ways to diagnose as well as treat sleep disorders. Treatments include medicinal-based healing, such as melatonin supplements or prescription medications, dental guards or breathing devices and lifestyle changes. Although intimidating, lifestyle changes can be as simple as incorporating yoga into your schedule and limiting caffeine consumption in the afternoon.