The Margin: Losing sleep over the coronavirus? Having strange dreams? Here’s what to do

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The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just disrupted our waking lives; it’s wreaked havoc on our sleep, as well.

More than one in five people (22%) say their sleep quality has suffered since the rise of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to a new survey of almost 1,000 Americans conducted by the website

Americans were already alarmingly sleep-deprived before the outbreak, as more than a third don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to the CDC. “Now with people working from home, children being home from school, and the overwhelming stress of the situation, our sleep structure has been turned upside down,” Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach with the National Sleep Foundation, told MarketWatch.

And skimping on sleep has been linked to increased stress and weakening the body’s immune system, as well as making people more prone to getting sick — which is the last thing anyone wants right now.

Yet among those surveyed by, 14% said the fear of contracting COVID-19 was keeping them up at night. And one in three believed that the wall-to-wall news coverage of the joint health and economic crises has kept them tossing and turning.

Understandably, survey subjects with confirmed COVID-19 cases in their counties reported sleeping the worst, and they expressed more fear and practiced more safety precautions at home as compared with those without confirmed local COVID-19 cases.

Sleep isn’t the only bedroom behavior that’s suffered of late: just under 1 in 10 of those surveyed said they have been less intimate with their partner lately. And as for other examples of social distancing at home, 5% have started sleeping in separate beds from their partners, and 2% aren’t letting their kids crawl under the covers with them anymore.

“A lot of the issues we’re going to see around this pandemic are tied to general anxiety, so primarily insomnia,” Logan Foley, managing editor of, told MarketWatch. “These can be exacerbated by working in bed, being stuck with a partner/significant other in tight quarters for too long, and by not sticking to a consistent rise time.”

Related: These are the 3 biggest sleep myths

What’s more, being on lockdown can also cause people to have more dreams — and more weird or intense ones, at that. “Many people will have experienced a change in their circumstances recently, and any type of stress may be dreamt about,” Mark Blagrove, a leading expert in sleep and dreaming at Swansea University in Wales, told the Press Association news agency.

Even those who don’t generally recall having dreams may now notice they are dreaming “more,” he said, because, “if the current situation gives people more interesting things happening, it may happen that people are dreaming more.”

“There’s going to be a lot of people having quite emotional dreams,” he added.

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City, agreed. “The truth is, we are all living a real-life science-fiction movie every day,” she told MarketWatch, noting that coping mechanisms like consuming more alcohol, changing sleep schedules or taking anti-anxiety or sleep medications can also contribute to strange and vivid dreams.

“Very often, our conscious minds will not allow us to ‘go’ to certain places that are unpleasant or beyond what our emotions can handle,” she added. “When we dream, our subconscious minds open and allow our brains to flow more freely into these areas, and ‘weird’ dreams can result that are symbolic of various things that have been on our mind.”

So if you’ve found that you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep lately, the National Sleep Foundation lists these tips for improving your sleep hygiene:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time. Even if you don’t have to get up for work or school, set an alarm and stay consistent. This helps regulate your body’s clock and gets you in a rhythm of falling asleep at the same time every night, and staying asleep. “The benefit of a regular sleep schedule during this pandemic is also structure,” said Foley. “Especially if your job has been terminated and there’s less to do, this helps keep regular hours and sanity during such a trying time.”
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. Part of getting into a sleep rhythm includes giving your body cues that it’s bedtime. This can include dimming the lights, playing relaxing music, reading a book or writing in a journal. It’s not watching Netflix NFLX, -1.62% or checking social media or email. Foley also recommends taking a hot bath or shower before bed.

Related: Doing this relaxing habit every day could help your heart — even while you shelter in place

  • Stop looking at screens an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, laptops and TVs messes with your body clock, making it harder to get to sleep. And the content you come across could wind you up, instead of helping you wind down.
  • Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you’re struggling to sleep every night, then cut out the catnaps so that you’ll feel more tired when it’s time for bed.
  • Exercise daily. Make sure to get the blood flowing and some movement in during the day, as exercise as been shown to aid in getting more sleep and better quality sleep.
  • Make your room cozy. Keep it dark, quiet and cool; ideally between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider ordering blackout curtains to eliminate any street light, or wear an eye mask and earplugs to block lights and sounds from your partner. White-noise machines or apps can also lull you to sleep with soothing sounds.
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals in the evening. Booze, nicotine and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Big or spicy meals can also cause indigestion that can make it hard to doze off.
  • If you can’t sleep, go to another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Lying awake and stressing about the fact that you can’t sleep will probably just keep you awake. Try reading a book someplace else or making a cup of tea, and see if that does the trick. (Again, it’s not putting on the TV or getting on your phone.)

You can also check out these sleep and meditation apps to help you breathe through more stressful moments moving forward, and to put you in a more relaxed state to catch some Z’s.

Headspace: This meditation app has a free two-week trial; afterward, a subscription runs $12.99 a month. But to support the public through the coronavirus crisis, it’s also unlocked some free meditations to be listened to anytime under its “Weathering the storm” collection, which features sleep, meditation and movement exercises.

Calm: This meditation app also features sleep stories to send you off to la-la land. It has a free one-week trial, followed by a $69.99 yearly subscription. It’s also posted several soothing meditations, sleep stories, calming music and soundscapes (like rain falling on lives) that can be accessed for free here.

Sleep Cycle: After tracking and analyzing your sleep patterns (using your phone’s accelerometer to keep tabs on your movements during the night, and tapping the microphone to listen to your snoring), this app will gauge your sleep quality, and also pinpoint the best time to wake you up each morning. While it generally offers a free one-week trial, and runs $29.99 a year, it’s currently making all of its “Sleep Aid” content for free until further notice.

White Noise: Download an entire library of soothing sounds to drown out the rest of the world and send you to sleep for 99 cents. You can create a favorites playlist, and download sounds (from ocean waves to Tibetan singing bowls) to listen to offline.