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June 8, 2020

According to Harvard Medical School, chronic sleep problems affect 50 to 80 percent of the patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared to approximately 18% of adults in the general U.S. population. Sleep problems are particularly an issue for those with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.

This year, Mental Health Month (May) came in the midst of a pandemic, when mental health is already top of mind due to everyday life being turned upside down. Sleep has become a challenge for many of us. How is anyone – let alone someone with mental health issues – supposed to get a good night’s sleep while experiencing what may be the most instability of their lifetime?

For many, sleep was a challenge to begin with, which explains why there’s a booming “sleep economy,” which Frost & Sullivan recently estimated could reach $585 billion by 2024. Those with psychiatric disorders are impacted even more by the effects of limited sleep, which is then compounded by recent events’ limiting access to healthcare providers. 

Globally we are united by unknowns; we face uncertainty about everything from access to healthy food to job security. We work to maintain relationships while respecting social distance. Work-life balance is out the window as we juggle full time jobs with the responsibilities of teaching our children and caring for loved ones, at home and over long distances.

Psychologist and Syracuse University Associate Professor Les Gellis said before COVID-19 that 33-50 percent of the adult population had poor sleep quality. He expects those numbers to be even larger now.

A lack of quality sleep can lead to anxiety, stress and depression. In turn, this anxiety compounds and worsens poor sleep patterns. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly half of all Americans (45 percent) report that stress related to COVID-19 has already negatively impacted their mental health.

We need to stop this downward spiral; our health depends on it.

While all is changing around us, what hasn’t changed is that as humans who have evolved over millions of years, we are highly sensitive to the 24-hour solar cycle and regular exposure to natural light and dark.  Despite what we think -- and how much we struggle to control our lives -- we have internal clocks (circadian rhythms) that influence almost every system in our bodies, from our sleep-wake cycles and moods, to our metabolic, immune, and reproductive systems.

The Global Wellness Summit’s Future of Wellness 2020 report explores the importance of this shift from sleep to true circadian health, and confirms that our biological clock thrives on stable, day-in-and-out light and dark cues, regular sleep-wake times, and lifestyle features such as exercise and healthy eating.

At the same time, we need to remember we have no prior experience with this type of global pandemic. Therefore, we aren’t expected to get it “right.” These are difficult times, and it’s important to experience our emotions without judging them or ourselves.  There is no shame in needing nine hours of sleep, and there is no medal for surviving on only four.  We have to accept that now, some things take longer; errands and work are more complicated, and, as a result, we may not be as productive as we’re accustomed to being.

Take this blog as a reminder to be kind to ourselves and give ourselves permission to get the restorative sleep our bodies and brains need to remain resilient. We need to take care of ourselves, so we have the strength to support those who need help, at work, at home or in our communities. Whether that’s help feeling safe, staying healthy, finding accessible mental health care, or help getting a good night’s rest; we’re all in this together.

 

 

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