Stress is causing increased sleep problems, especially for women, according to some local physicians and therapists.
The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is stressing many aspects of life — from health care to work, school, finances and family life. That stress is causing increased sleep problems, especially for women, according to some local physicians and therapists. Many people are working from home, and women typically have more family obligations such as childcare.
“My patients are feeling it more now since we’re going on nine months. Yes, patients have more insomnia about the virus, work, family and the uncertainty about when there will be an end and a vaccine that can protect us all,” says Suzanne Rogers, a licensed social worker and therapist.
Meeta Singh, M.D., is a psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist with the Henry Ford Health System and a sleep consultant for several of Detroit’s professional sports teams and local high schools. “There is always an emergence of sleep problems when there is a natural disaster or war — it’s localized,” she says. “With COVID there is unprecedented stress — health, employment, money issues, work and family obligations.”
Many health care workers are women, she points out, and they are experiencing more insomnia or waking up without feeling refreshed. Some patients report strange dreams and nightmares.
“Women have a higher predilection for sleep problems,” says Singh. “It could be hormonal. Anxiety and depression are risk factors for insomnia, which can be premenstrual.” She adds that women have “an increased burden” during the pandemic because they have family obligations in addition to working from home.
Nina Robb, M.D., of Bloomfield Township, is a retired emergency physician whose clinic evaluates and certifies medical marijuana patients. She has experienced an increase in people contacting her about anxiety that is causing sleep problems. “Some are anxious about the country’s political situation regardless of the side they’re on, and they have COVID concerns,” she notes.
“While many patients report that marijuana improves their sleep, insomnia is not a qualifying condition for medical marijuana certification in Michigan.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol — a component of cannabis) can be relaxing and sleep-inducing in small amounts. However, for some people, or in larger amounts, it can be stimulating and worsen insomnia,” Robb explains. She adds that CBD (cannabidiol), another marijuana component, can be very effective for sleep.
Miriam Halprin of Bloomfield Township is a social worker and care coordinator for My Covid Response, a partnership through Oakland University and affiliates that helps Oakland County residents with social support and referrals to community agencies for specific services. She is also the Michigan Chapter Region 8 (Oakland and Macomb counties) representative of the National Association of Social Workers. “Anxiety is a common topic for social workers,” she notes.
On a personal level, Halprin takes walks, gardens and reads to reduce stress. She has found that since her two teenagers don’t have to get up to leave for school in the morning, they tend to stay up later. “It’s hard to get them off their technology or a show,” Halprin says.
Homework and socializing with their friends have an impact on this as well. After they are settled, she enjoys reading, watching a PBS documentary or a late night (light) comedy at low/moderate volume in a dimly lit room to reduce anxiety and facilitate better sleep. She “goes to sleep late and gets up early.”
Nikki Budaj-Chatfield of West Bloomfield owns three dog-grooming businesses so she can’t work from home. With two young children, she has the “challenges of childcare, praying that their babysitters are careful and making good choices.”
She attributes an increase in sleep problems during the last six months to “anxiety heightened by the pandemic.” Budaj says that seeing a therapist helps with her anxiety. In addition, she relies on guided meditations before going to sleep and during the night if she wakes up.
Meditation is one of the healthy lifestyle choices that are recommended for better sleep. “General exercise is really important,” Robb says. “The more we wear ourselves out, the better we sleep. Avoid things that create stress before bedtime. Leave things for the next day; voice mail can wait.” She is careful about reading choices before bed — “choosing something that is relaxing and engaging but not upsetting.” She finds that yoga with gentle stretching and a hot bath can be helpful.
Singh recommends developing a “proactive bedtime routine” about 45-60 minutes before going to bed. “Turn off bright lights, television and don’t work,” she says. Helpful pre-bedtime activities can include a hot bath, stretches, meditation and reading, Singh suggests. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided.
While alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, as it metabolizes it “fractures dream sleep,” which can trigger wakeups during the night. Regular exercise is helpful, and naps should be avoided, she adds. If lack of sleep or poor sleep quality impairs the ability to work and wellbeing during the day, Dr. Singh recommends seeing a physician for professional help.