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Insomnia: why are so many people experiencing bad sleep right now?

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Hollie Richardson
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A lot of people are having trouble getting a good night’s sleep at the moment. Although it might seem like there’s nothing to pin this collective insomnia on, two experts offer their reasons for why this might be happening. 

Lockdown has brought many a sleep problem. From those wild dreams we’ve been having, to the anxiety over news headlines keeping us up at night – sleep patterns have taken a battering. Anyone who’s been affected by a bad night’s kip will tell you just how lethargic and emotional it can make you feel (read: very).

Considering that I, along with a lot of people, have been an anxious wreck for most of this pandemic, it hasn’t affected my sleep pattern that much. Going to bed at 11pm and getting up at 5:30am every morning means I’m used to not getting that much sleep, so I’m usually tired enough to drift off quite quickly after getting into bed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had those occasional anxiety-riddled night frights, but generally my sleep has been OK. 

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Over the last week or so, however, I’ve found myself waking up every couple of hours throughout the night. At first, I put it down to the unbearable heatwave, but that’s cooled off now. I guess I’ve also had the usual mild anxieties over work, small family arguments, credit card bills – but nothing particularly stressful. I’m also drinking a little less than in the early days of lockdown, so it’s not the sugary wine waking me up. 

So, I’ve just not been able to put my finger on what’s keeping me up. I couldn’t even tell you what I think about while I toss and turn, pulling my eye mask down each time, urging myself to sleep. 

And I’m not the only one.

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#cantsleep has been trending on Twitter, with people describing their sleepless nights this week.

“Weirdly #cantsleep is trending in the UK and I woke up randomly at 3am. It’s now 5:30am and I’m still here… is nature fucking with us or something RN?” asserted one woman.

“My sleeping pattern got messed up when quarantine started… and let’s be honest it never got fixed,” shared another Twitter user

“So it wasn’t just me that had the worst nights sleep in all my 34 years on earth,” added a third sleep-deprived soul

When I brought it up with some of my bleary-eyed team members at the morning meeting, they revealed that they too have found the last couple of weeks particularly hard for getting a good night’s sleep. 

“I’m struggling to work out why my sleep has been particularly shocking these last couple of weeks because my standard for a ‘good’ night is four-five hours (not great, I know) but that’s dropped dramatically,” deputy editor Jaz told me. 

“Tried to blame the heat but then it cooled down. Tried to blame the moon but I don’t actually understand that world. Tried to blame stress and anxiety but that’s a common baseline pour moi. So I’m left assuming it’s something happening in my subconscious that’s keeping me on high alert/unable to wind down.”

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Digital editor-at-large Kayleigh said she keeps waking up at 2 or 3am, which then throws her whole sleep out of whack before the alarm goes off at 5.30am: “I am very on edge at the moment, I guess, so I am sleeping extra lightly. But I don’t know if that fully explains why this is has been happening recently.”

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Although people are struggling to find a reason for this collective loss of sleep, The Sleep Geek – James Wilson – reminds us of a few major factors that we might not realise. 

“I think there a number of factors contributing to poor sleep at the moment. Five months into the pandemic and our anxiety and stress around it is still quite high, and we are now returning to work and school so our routines are changing again,” he tells Stylist

“This coupled with the warm weather which is keeping us awake, and our windows being open which means we are being disturbed by outside noises means it is a lot more difficult to sleep at the moment.”

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Sally Bonser, head of marketing at sleep company nanu, has also seen a spike in sleep complaints recently. While she agrees that the heatwave has been the main factor, she also acknowledges that the news of the recession is most likely playing on people’s minds and causing underlying anxiety.

Giving her advice on how to try to combat this, she says: “I know many people struggle with this, but one of the most effective habits to develop if possible is to stop your scrolling and screen time at least an hour before bedtime. 

“In addition to technology’s blue light that disturbs our circadian rhythm (body clock), the news is everywhere in this social savvy era and the chances are that if you’re scrolling, you’re going to be consuming information that can contribute to concerns and ruminations. 

“Give your brain a break from technology for as long as possible before bedtime to allow yourself the chance to really switch off from the outside world.”

You can also take a look at Stylist’s latest news and advice on sleep. 

For more information on anxiety, including what it is and how to cope, you can check out NHS Every Mind Matters or visit the Mind website.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…