An alarming truth... is Covid playing havoc with your sleep?

Trying to keep ourselves safe while coping with lockdowns, school closures, home-schooling, quarantines, and working-from-home is guaranteed to play havoc with sleep patterns, says Trevor Laffan
An alarming truth... is Covid playing havoc with your sleep?

WAKE-UP CALL: Many people are reporting sleep deprivation is an issue during the pandemic

“I COULD sleep for a week,” is an expression we’ve all used from time to time. Usually after a long period of activity when we’ve used up all our reserves and we’re on the verge of keeling over — but I suspect very few have actually tried it.

Peter Powers, a hypnotist from the UK, did though, and he holds a record for the longest hypnotic sleep that lasted eight days. It doesn’t say whether he was any the worse for wear after his experience, but I imagine he was hungry.

When I was a teenager, I’d have given Peter a run for his money, but these days I don’t need much shut-eye. 

Whatever about the after-effects of a prolonged snooze, the lack of sleep can definitely cause problems and sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture for centuries.

Believe it or not, our Scottish cousins spent a lot of time chasing witches back in the 16th century. They participated in several nationwide witch hunts at the height of a sorcery and witch hysteria period. Women who allegedly practised witchcraft were captured and sent for trial, and once they were convicted, they were burned at the stake.

To secure a conviction, though, a confession was required and to get that, their captors resorted to torture. They deprived the women of sleep for days until they eventually began to hallucinate, and what they said and did during these hallucinations was used in their “confession”. That led to the term ‘waking the witch’.

These days, sleep deprivation is still a problem for many, especially those suffering from sleep disorders. Insomnia is a familiar one but there are a couple of others less well known. Did you know for instance that there is such a thing as restless legs syndrome? It’s a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually because of an uncomfortable sensation, and it typically happens in the evening or the night-time hours when you’re sitting or lying down.

Moving the legs eases the unpleasant feeling temporarily, but it can continue throughout the night.

Sleep apnoea is another problem. This is a condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep and that interrupts normal breathing. It can lead to regular interrupted sleep and can have a big impact on your quality of life.

Narcolepsy is another one and that causes excessive daytime sleepiness because the brain can’t regulate a normal sleep pattern.

Any one of these would be enough to drive you to distraction, but some people can have a combination of issues.

We all require a good night’s sleep to deal with the stresses and strains of modern day living and I read somewhere that, on average, we need around eight hours a night at least. 

I’m not part of that cohort though, because I reckon I can survive easily on five or six hours, and that includes getting up at least once or twice during the night to visit the hedge at the bottom of the garden, in a manner of speaking.

I don’t think I’ve had an unbroken night’s sleep since my mother tucked me into the cot, but it doesn’t bother me because I don’t need it.

Lack of sleep isn’t as much of an issue for most of us retirees because we can stay in bed longer to make up for it, or just go for a doze in the recliner in the afternoon when the urge takes us, but it is a problem for anyone required to be productive.

Life is funny because during my working days we had one shift that started at 6am and that meant getting up around 5.15am, which was always a struggle, especially if I was late getting to bed in the first place. Now that I’m retired, I regularly wake at that hour full of the joys of spring but with nowhere to go.

Many of those unfortunate enough to be suffering from sleep disorders now find themselves in a whole new world of pain since the arrival of Covid-19. Sleep deprivation is associated with the pandemic, which is understandable. 

Trying to keep ourselves safe while coping with lockdowns, school closures, home-schooling, quarantines, and working-from-home is guaranteed to play havoc with sleep patterns.

Something else that upsets our sleep, apparently, is turning the clocks back an hour to mark the end of daylight saving, but there might be some good news on that front. The European Parliament has voted to end the practice of the clocks jumping forward and backwards, so EU member countries that wish to remain permanently on winter time can change their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday of October, 2021.

That’s good news because, according to Realsimple.com, these time changes at the end of daylight saving affect your sleep schedule, and cause depression for some. A 2016 Danish study, which examined 185,419 diagnoses of depression between 1995 and 2012, found an 8% rise in depression in the days following the time change in the autumn, especially for people with a tendency towards depression.

Moving the clock back also increases your odds of having a stroke. According to one Finnish study, the national incidence of stroke rises by about 8% over the two days following daylight saving time transitions. As to why that happens, it all comes down to messing with our circadian sleep rhythms (body-clock to you and me.)

You’re also more likely to get mugged. Apparently, getting just a bit more sleep inspires people to commit crimes. According to a 2017 study by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, who specialize in criminology, psychiatry, and psychology, the assault rate spikes just after the clocks fall back.

Don’t know about you, but I need a lie down after all that.

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