Sleep

Feeling tired all the time during lockdown? This could explain why

Do you find yourself asleep on the sofa at 9 pm? Are you spending most of your WFH days struggling to keep your eyes open? You’re not alone. We asked a sleep expert to explain why lockdown makes us feel so tired.

I don’t know about you, but I’m bloody exhausted. Despite the fact that lockdown 2.0 has got me spending most evenings watching TV or talking to friends over Zoom, I’m waking up more tired than ever and regularly find myself yawning my head off throughout the day. 

And that’s not forgetting all the times when I find myself asleep on the sofa before I can even haul myself up to bed.  

It’s a phenomenon which is, for want of a better word, mind-boggling. Try as hard as I might, I just can’t wrap my head around why I’m feeling so tired when I’m doing less than ever – the idea that past me got up at 6 am, showered, commuted for an hour, spent the day at work and then did the whole thing backwards again in the evening feels like a dream.

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I know I’m not the only one who feels like this right now. Searches for ‘feeling tired all the time’ reached their highest point since the start of the pandemic at the beginning of November, and I’ve had enough conversations with friends to be reassured this isn’t just a me problem.

And while I’m well aware that the lack of sunlight that comes with this time of year may be playing into my general grogginess, I’m sure this isn’t the only reason why so many of us are feeling tired all the time – especially when so many of us complained about the same thing during lockdown 1.0. 

A woman asleep on the sofa
Our new bedtime routine looks a lot like this.

So what is it about lockdown that makes us feel even more tired than usual? According to Silentnight’s resident sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, the answer could actually lie in our inactivity. 

“The main reason why inactivity makes us tired is because our muscles become under-utilised and our energy stagnates,” she explains.

“We might think we have no energy when we actually do – it’s in the form of potential (stored) energy rather than kinetic (movement) energy. The best thing to do is to avoid sitting and staring at screens for too long and get up and move regularly – even for just a few minutes. Do this every hour or so to keep your energy moving.”

It’s clear that doing one short burst of exercise after a day sat at our desks maybe isn’t the best way to go about things. Of course, it’s great to incorporate an at-home workout or run into your daily routine, but it’s the little things – such as getting up to make a cup of tea or walking around your home – that could apparently make a difference to our energy levels. 

According to Dr Ramlakhan, a second reason why we might be feeling so sleepy is because we’ve entered a state of “hypnagogic trance”.

“Another reason for drifting off early may be because your body has fallen into a daytime sleep state called a hypnagogic trance,” she explains. “By slipping into a trance-like state the brain cleverly seeks ways of going ‘offline’ in order to empty our mental filing cabinets so that we can come back to the task at hand with renewed focus.”

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She continues: “Hypnagogic trances are more common if you have lots of exposure to screens. Working at home by ourselves, we may fall out of our routines and forget to get up from our desks as often as we would normally. To prevent these ‘sleepy’ trances from happening, you need to take regular screen breaks, make a drink or get some fresh air.”

Waking up later (because we no longer have to face our commute) and going to sleep earlier may also be exacerbating the problem: “Oversleeping can also cause fatigue – so-called ‘sleep inertia’,” Dr Ramlakhan adds. “Set an alarm and maybe keep your curtain’s open slightly to allow some light in as the sun rises – nature’s alarm clock.”

An alarm clock
Sleeping in could be doing us more harm than good.

With this in mind, should we be holding off from our earlier-than-usual bedtimes? Falling asleep on the sofa may feel like a luxury we can afford at the moment, but could holding ourselves off until our ‘normal’ pre-lockdown bedtime help us to feel more awake in the long run?

“I think it all depends on what your ‘normal’ bedtime is,” Dr Ramlakhan points out. “Obviously it is good to keep to a normal routine as it will help with the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in.

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“However, there are certain sleep times that are more beneficial for a good night’s sleep. I aim for around 9pm – the first two hours of sleep we get are vital in rebalancing metabolism and reducing stress levels, and the precious hours before midnight (9-11pm) can help rebalance feelings of hopelessness, confusion and paranoia.”

If you’re feeling tired all the time, the routine changes recommended by Dr Ramlakhan are sure to make a difference – but even she says that it’s OK to go with the flow and not put too much pressure on your sleep at the moment.

“Don’t panic about following a rule book too much at the moment,” she says. “If you are resting, that is good.”

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