How COVID Catalyzed a Surge in Sleep Challenges

13 September 2022

How COVID Catalyzed a Surge in Sleep Challenges

Humans are the only creatures on the planet that deprive themselves of sleep. But why is that?

Every living thing has a biological clock: microboes, plants, fungi, and mammals. And every creature on earth gets the rest they need to perform their tasks. Well, every creature except one, humans.

Recent events have made it fundamentally more difficult to get the sleep we need. The COVID-19 pandemic has directly affected the way we sleep, both by how it impacts our sleep when we’re sick and because it has caused so much stress and worry.

How do we find a new normal with our sleep habits?

Why is being "up" so much more difficult right now?

Humans love to be "up." We rise and shine. We guzzle nervous system stimulants like coffee and energy drinks. Chugging coffee pays off. We get promotions at work for being on all the time. Constant emails and quick response times on Slack and phone calls get rewarded. People notice.

Being “up” has been a lot tougher since the beginning of the pandemic. We worried, we worked and learned remotely, we isolated. And many of us were still expected to be “on” all the time.

Now, as the years tick on, there’s still a lot going on that continues to make sleep worse and being “up” harder.

  • First, there’s COVID itself; getting it wears you out for weeks even when you’re feeling better, and being sick throws off your sleep cycle because you need to sleep more.
  • Second there’s Long COVID, which disrupts sleep, and healthy routines that support good sleep.
  • Third, there’s general stress; worrying about getting sick, worrying about going back to the office, or kids in school, older parents getting sick, political stress in the U.S and in the world—you name it.

The problem is that worry and stress are the top factors preventing folks from sleeping. While being "on all the time" has its perks, the stress it causes creates more sleep disturbances and insomnia for many individuals.

Whether you've made it here because of work culture, the stress in the world, or hundreds of other reasons why you could be struggling to sleep, now is the time to focus on sleep.

In this guide, we'll:

  • Look at how COVID-19 has caused a surge in sleep struggles.
  • Learn how pinnacle sleep is for your health and employee base.
  • Show you how to lessen sleep challenges.

To set the stage, let’s define insomnia and how factors arising from COVID contribute to it.

Insomnia is defined as experiencing recurring difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early in the morning.

Three of the top factors that contribute to persistent sleep issues and insomnia have gotten significantly worse in the last few years due to COVID. Those factors are:

  • Worrying
  • Stressing1
  • Not adhering to a consistent sleep schedule, which has resulted from a lack of routine, inability to disconnect from technology and other factors primarily driven by working from home


The Pandemic Was a Recipe for Catastrophically Bad Sleep2


insomnia

The pandemic was the ultimate ingredient for bad sleep.

Collectively, many of us had a sleep problem to begin with. But a variety of factors throughout the pandemic dialed up our “wake system” and caused our sleep signals to become entirely out of order. Why?

We had a sleep problem before the pandemic began.

In 2014, the CDC declared sleep deprivation in the U.S. a public health epidemic. Before 2020, an estimated 32% of adults were suffering from insomnia3 and 66% of adults were struggling to sleep every, single, week. In other words, even before the catastrophic event of the pandemic, the backdrop was that we were not sleeping well.

The pandemic caused a dramatic increase in overall mental health concerns.

The World Health Organization estimates that mental health concerns have increased 25% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.4 Related to that, there is not one mental health disorder in the diagnostic manual that doesn't have insomnia listed as comorbidity. Furthermore, sleep struggles make mental health worse, and create a vicious cycle as mental health challenges also harm sleep.

Being sick, or caring for someone who’s sick, disrupts our sleep.

Whether we were sick ourselves, or had someone in our household who was, the direct illness of COVID disrupted our sleep. When you’re sick, you don’t sleep well, when you’re stressed about caring for a loved one, you don’t sleep well. And yet, sleep is critical for our immune systems to function robustly and keep us healthy.

Lost routines.

Since 2020, all of our routines have been upended. As a whole, we switched to remote or hybrid work and maybe had kids home all day. While the lack of commute saves us time, it makes it harder to disconnect from work. All preventing our brains from getting the necessary signal that it’s time to relax and wind down.

It is now almost 2023, and the stress surrounding the pandemic has dwindled. However, sleep struggles have not. Many people still lack a routine. Maybe you love the flexibility of remote work, but haven’t figured out how to transition from “work” to “home” as well as you did when you left a physical office. Maybe you don’t leave your home in the evenings as much, staying under bright, fluorescent lighting, instead of seeing the natural darkening of the sky, thereby confusing your brain and preventing the signals that indicate that it’s time to wind down.

Recall that the brain relies on a routine to send the appropriate signals to wake up and stay asleep. Without a routine, our brains and circadian rhythm become confused. Your brain does not get the message that it's time to wake up. And in the evening, you don't get the cue that it is time to fall asleep.

This confusion causes sleep struggles to persist. And that becomes harder to manage once you’ve started sleeping poorly.

To learn more about how routine and light are critical for healthy sleep, check out our Sleep Essentials: Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule and Get Sunlight Exposure at the Right Time.

Why a sleep program can be the critical piece of your company’s wellness benefits

Studies have shown that sleep programs can lower health care costs by over $1,600 per employee.

Sleep is the foundation of many forms of wellness. And many HR teams haven’t yet realized the in-depth nature of solving sleep issues and the issues that result because of poor sleep.

One-off sleep programming, like 6-week courses, simply isn’t enough. This is evidenced by the fact that all of the “gold standards” of sleep therapy require ongoing support.

Still not convinced?

Without sleep, no other wellness initiative can take effect.

Here’s why.

Wellbeing starts with sleep


your_health

The “four pillars of health” model shows us that sleep is one of four pillars that supports our health. These pillars also support work performance. And much like architecture, you need a solid base to support growth to higher levels.

Simply removing one of the pillars of wellness causes the whole structure to sway. Sleep influences nutrition, stress, and movement. Without sleep, the entire foundation is tenuous, and that's something no team should bet on.

How to build on sleep for increased performance

We, at Chorus Sleep, aren't trying to be all "doom and gloom." The last few years may have eroded one of the core pillars of wellness for many. But as shown in this guide, there is one pillar beyond others.

Starting with sleep enables other wellness initiatives, like therapy and coaching, to be effective, building synergy, and better supporting cognition and the ability to handle stress.

In addition, executive skills—which are thrown out of the window with lack of sleep—return for workers with a solid wellness foundation. Reminder: executive skills help people to monitor their behaviors and achieve goals.

This is what we support at Chorus, where we believe in focusing on the lynchpin of wellness to improve the personal and professional lives of people across the world.

Chorus is the only full-stack sleep platform on the market. We expand beyond other solutions that simply provide sleep tracking or bed-time content. Our program is based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), which has been clinically proven more effective than sleeping pills. However, contrary to existing CBT-I solutions that don’t give you tactical tools to get to sleep, Chorus provides relaxing practices that help people to fall asleep in a pinch and fast.

The Chorus program uses CBT-I and other well-studied practices to help people set a routine, and get their sleep back on track. Our robust approach, which addresses the full spectrum of sleep needs, will help you if you’ve been struggling to sleep for years, or are just having a hard time getting shuteye amidst a particularly stressful quarter.

Ready to add Chorus Sleep to your wellness package? We're here when you need us!

Learn More Now

Footnotes

1 https://www.cbtforinsomnia.com/
2 https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/news-concerns-sleep
3 https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
4 https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide