The coronavirus pandemic has grossly undermined the mental health of many college students, affecting their academic work and social regimen among various other dimensions. For many of us, being sent home so abruptly in March was heart wrenching. The widespread uncertainty about the next semester(and so forth), placements/internships, has unsettled our sleep cycles.
We already know that sleep is important for the growth, development and good health of adults and adolescents. It is very essential for our cognitive development and learning. Sleep is not only seen as a physiological phenomenon but also as a behavioural process. Research had shown diminishing hours of sleep among adolescents in both developing and developed countries way before the pandemic.The added COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented changes in human behaviour worldwide.
According to many studies, the key determinant of sleep duration is sleep hygiene, which refers to a series of habits that are necessary to have a normal quality night-time sleep and full daytime awareness. Sleep health has multiple dimensions including duration, regularity, timing, and quality. Anxiety spurred on by the pandemic, seeping into dreams, and messing up sleep patterns is a common occurrence. The stress from thinking about all this reflects in our quality of sleep. Eventually the outbreak led to stay-at home orders and social distancing requirements throughout the country, during which student life came to a standstill and some of us experienced increased flexibility regarding social schedules, led to improved individual sleep-wake timing and overall more sleep. At the same time however, many students suffered from a decrease in sleep quality in this encumbering situation.
Most people are confined to their homes. This confinement is stressful in itself as the young adults are sharing the limited space for a prolonged period with only their family members. In such a scenario, experiencing a lack of novel stimuli for the avant-garde generation, disruptions of routine activity, increased parenting restrictions, and skewed productivity expectations- is the ‘New Normal’.
It’s said that one could either have a problem with sleep onset which means that no amount of counting sheep is enough ; or you could have a problem with sleep maintenance, the frequent fracturing of sleep. At the other end of the irregular sleep, spectrum is those of us who are oversleeping. One reason could be sheer boredom due to the lack of options. The pandemic has also been described as an information epidemic, as most people have constant access to news about negative consequences, much of it through electronic media and consequent increase in “screen time.” Now this may have led to the change in our very bodily rhythms, right down to our dietary patterns. As we juggle between work and domestic chores, for example, breakfast could become brunch and lunch an afternoon snack. The sleep onset-wakeup times and meals’ time was significantly delayed during the lockdown. This too affects our sleep.
For people like us working from home, it is best to mimic our earlier routine by establishing defined work hours and workspace. The reason behind the sleep disruption could be depression, in which case, one would need to consult a professional. Anxiety is just one side of the coin.
In such times it might not be a bad idea to open up about Cognitive Behaviour therapy and try to seek help if a sleeping disorder is developed.