Time for shutdown

Updated: Apr 13, 2020, 09:50 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

The lockdown has turned many into night owls and disrupted routines. Here's what you need to do to rectify your sleep patterns

I have not slept yet, it's 5.21 in the morning and I am eating ramen alone in the kitchen downstairs," model Chrissy Teigen said last Friday, venting about quarantine anxiety on her Instagram stories. Sleep and the lack of it has always been a hot topic. But never before have we had a universal cause for its disruption — a virus. A popular TikTok video shows a teenager fuelled with rage smacking her bed mattress and on Twitter, you won't miss people tweeting "Anyone up?" at an unearthly hour.

According to a study released by Bengaluru-based sleep solutions start-up Wakefit.co last week, the lockdown has altered the sleep schedules of 67 per cent of the 1,500 respondents they surveyed. From this sample, 46 per cent would sleep before 11 pm prior to the lockdown, and only 39 per cent do so now, while 35 per cent have started sleeping after 12 am.

Dealing with demotivation
A writer working for a media company, Tess Joss was never one to indulge in binge-watching. Post-lockdown, the activity is now equivalent to an essential good for her. "I think I'll spiral if I quit this," she says. Joss was accustomed to a strict work and sleep routine. The 32-year-old would travel from Chembur to her Lower Parel office for her 7 am shift, finish work by 3.30 pm and go to bed by 10.30 pm. Now, her eyes aren't shut before 1 am, even though her shift timing remains the same while working from home. Noon naps, she says, are dangerous because they last for at least two hours, which only delays bedtime.

Tess Joss
Tess Joss

Another of Joss' concerns, is the weight gain owing to constant snacking.She attributes this change to the lack of physical activity since her commute to office would exhaust her. In fact, Joss hadn't even realised that her routine was disrupted all this while until she engaged in a discussion with her friends last week. "I have stopped watching the news due to the overload of information and it made me feel better. I'm also someone who prefers hands-on work; I love to draw but the material in front of me is still untouched. I can't make sense of this demotivation," she shares. When the lockdown ends, Joss hopes to engage in physical activity.

Why go to bed?
Consultant psychiatrist at Breach Candy and Lilavati Hospitals, Dr Vihang Vahia says that currently while the focus is on preventive measures, minimal attention is given to finance and emotions. Drawing from a webinar he attended by Maclean Hospital's Dr Christopher Palmer, he says that broadly there are two kinds of people right now: busy and bored. While healthcare, water and sanitation workers, farmers, government and bank officers are working tirelessly, the latter group is facing job insecurity. "Being at home is like solitary confinement. You lose track of what is day and night," he says.

Dr Vihang Vahia
Dr Vihang Vahia

The importance of sleep cannot be undermined at a time like this. A study in the journal Sleep showed that a shorter duration of it was associated with an increased susceptibility to common cold. In the monthly reviews journal, Nature Reviews Immunology, Michael R Irwin, one of the world's foremost experts on psychoneuroimmunology suggests that sleep provides a "survival" advantage; it supports the immune system and helps vaccines work. Referencing a proverb, Vahia adds, "Don't worry yourself sick. If you worry about what you don't want, you'll get what you don't want."

Spacing out
With college lectures scheduled from 8.30 am until 1 or 3 pm, Shreya Nair's bedtime would vary although she made it a rule to sleep before 1 am. On Fridays and Saturdays, though, she would often stay up all night to study or binge-watch when she didn't have anywhere to be the next morning. Once the lockdown was announced, the Wadala resident saw her sleep schedule change massively. "I sleep only by 5 am, and wake up by 12 pm. This is mostly because in the day, I find it difficult to focus on anything as the entire family is awake, engaged with watching TV. There is, thus, a lack of privacy. So, at night, I can focus better due to fewer distractions. If I start writing an assignment after midnight, I might finish it in two hours of focused work, as opposed to it taking much longer in the day — due to distraction, procrastination and the constant anxiety that TV news induces," she shares.

Shreya Nair
Shreya Nair

Although Nair, 23, says this schedule hasn't affected her health yet, she acknowledges that it might not be sustainable. It is difficult to change this pattern but she is hopeful of doing it once her online classes begin this week. She adds, "Once the lockdown ends, I will definitely make an effort to bring life back to whatever new normal we adopt."

Brushing away negativity
"This thought of 'marna hi hai, toh kya kare,' ie learned helplessness isn't helping anyone. When Charles Darwin mentioned his theory of survival of the fittest, he wasn't referring to physical fitness but adapting to the emerging reality," Vahia says. So, instead of contemplating about, 'What is this life?' ask yourself, 'What purpose have I set in my life? What do I want to do now and in the future?'

Another cause for sleep-related concerns he gets from clients is loneliness. "People tell me that they're sleeping during the day because the night makes them anxious. There is nothing to do then, and everyone is asleep," he says, advising, "When you have bad thoughts at night, write them down on a paper and tell yourself that you will think about it in the morning. As much as possible, refrain from medication to induce sleep." Vahia believes that alcohol won't solve the problem; it affects consciousness and could make you feel worse. And if you do want to talk to someone, don't text. Pick up the phone and engage in a meaningful conversation
with them.

Steps for sound sleep

Steps for sound sleep

Dr Vahia recommends the TIPP skill suggested by psychiatrist Dr Blaise Aguirre. Here is how you can go about it.

Temperature: In India, it is often said that if you're angry, go bathe in cold water. Similarly, use this method to be more mindful. Dip a towel into icy water and dab it on your face like a cold compress.

Intense exercise: Do something that is physical and repetitive — cut vegetables, climb up and down a flight of stairs or skip a rope.

Steps for sound sleep

Paced breathing and progressive muscle relaxation: Calm down through yoga or meditation. Relaxation will leave you with energy to cope when things get bad. Ask yourself how many difficulties you've overcome in the past — if you can overcome a bad boss, why can't you overcome restrictions around a virus outbreak?

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