Illustration: Matija Medved

One Day at a Time

A Remedy for Sleepless Nights Under Lockdown

Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer

Elemental
Published in
4 min readApr 9, 2020

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MyMy wife and I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. to the sound of our alarm and cheered. All last week, we’d been waking up regularly between 3 and 4 a.m. without an alarm, minds filled with thought after thought.

After remarking how good it felt to get a normal amount of sleep, my wife told me about her dream: She was flying on an airplane, and for some reason she licked a dustpan, and then started worrying that she would come down with the coronavirus. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to interpret this one.

I’m guessing that you, like us, might be experiencing some interrupted sleep right now too. In my clinic, patients often report two main forms of insomnia — difficulty falling asleep or early morning waking.

Anxiety is a double whammy. It can get in your head and mess with not only your waking hours, but your sleep as well — and then the lack of sleep can make you more anxiety-prone. Anxiety interfering with sleep is such a big problem that the National Institutes of Health created a number of standardized questions for researchers to use to study the link between the two. I’ll share a couple of them here, and you can see if they apply to your current coronavirus anxiety.

Answer on a scale of one to five how much the following statements apply to you, one being not at all and five being very much.

During the past seven days:

1. I felt physically tense at bedtime.

2. I worried about not being able to fall asleep.

3. I felt worried at bedtime.

4. I had trouble stopping my thoughts at bedtime.

5. Stress disturbed my sleep.

If you got a high score, you’re experiencing what a lot of us are right now: Coronavirus anxiety is definitely messing up your sleep. You probably didn’t need to take a test to know this. So what’s going on here?

Here’s the science.

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Jud Brewer MD PhD
Elemental

Addiction Psychiatrist. Neuroscientist. Habit Change Expert. Brown U. professor. Founder of MindSciences. Author: Unwinding Anxiety. www.drjud.com. @judbrewer