When it comes to the top concerns of clients, sleep issues have emerged as a big issue since the pandemic, with children as young as eight years reporting them and adults across gender experiencing it.
Sleep issues can show up in varied ways. Many people have been reporting that they struggle with falling off to sleep. A client tells me, “My 15-year-old tosses and turns in bed for three hours before he can fall off to sleep and now has anxiety over going to sleep.” Closely related to this is a concern where clients report that they are too wired and overwhelmed by the time they are ready to sleep, so they struggle. Some people are unable to get any sleep; for others, the problem shows up as ruminating thoughts.
Some clients report that when they use the washroom or are woken up by a slight noise in the middle of the night, they struggle to fall off to sleep again. Some feel they don’t get sleep at all after waking up prematurely, so they don’t get more than five-six hours of sleep.
What’s worrisome is that a large number of people are reporting that they don’t feel well-rested after a full night’s sleep. Sometimes this is associated with having dreams through the night; at other times, with having nightmares. This results in fragmented sleep or panic.
A 33-year-old client tells me, “I have been sleeping eight-nine hours in the night but I continue to feel fatigued and drowsy throughout the day. I have slept through a work meeting when my Zoom video was off, at 11am.”
Hypersomnia, characterised by excessive daytime sleepiness or drowsiness, is also being reported far more often now.
Whether it’s insomnia, delayed sleep, fragmented sleep, disturbed sleep or hypersomnia, all this can impact an individual’s well-being at a personal and professional level. The reality is that while sleep issues are a reflection of emotional stressors, they also exacerbate existing concerns.
The first step in addressing the problem is to become mindful of sleep patterns. The trick lies in learning to identify the intensity and frequency of sleep concerns, rather than becoming hypervigilant about it. Maintaining a simple paper-pencil sleep log can be the first step. Becoming aware of your energy levels when you wake up, and through the day, is the second step.
With a hybrid or remote working model, it’s important to control the itch to check devices on the weekend, at the end of the day and first thing in the morning. How we wake up is what determines how productive and energised we feel. If we wake up feeling wired, it can spill over to the rest of the day. We must learn to keep our devices away for at least an hour before we sleep.
Structure, in the context of having a fixed time for waking up, having a bath, eating meals, even sleeping, can help with circadian rhythms. It also helps to expose yourself to sunlight and reset your body clock.
Our bedroom is a space designed for intimacy and sleep. When we use it for responding to emails, paying bills or taxes, just before going to bed, it confuses the body.
Also read: How to help your child sleep better
Have a sleep hygiene ritual, whether it’s prayer, listening to calming sounds or a guided meditation as you ready to sleep. If you struggle with falling off to sleep, remember that the more you think about it, the harder it will become to fall off to sleep. At those times, what really helps is focusing on the body resting.
If sleep concerns persist for days, interfering with day-to-day life, and you suffer from anxiety, low moods or other emotional concerns underlying sleep, then it’s a good idea to see a mental health professional.
Sleep plays a key role in emotional regulation and how well we sleep is one of the key factors when it comes to emotional well-being.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.