As millions suffer from ‘COVID-somnia,’ here's how you can sleep through the night

(GERMANY OUT) Schlaf, Frau liegt schlafend im Bett (Photo by Stefan Klein/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has led to many sleepless nights, insomniacs can improve their sleep by understanding the habits that cause difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, according to American Academy of Sleep Medicine

"The stress and isolation of the pandemic, the reduction in physical activity, none of those are good for sleep," Daniel J. Buysse, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, recently told the Wall Street Journal

A 2021 March survey studied 2,006 adults online, finding over 50% of Americans experienced trouble sleeping during the pandemic, and among those who had sleep disturbances, the most common complaint was difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, with 46% of respondents sleeping less at night and 36% having disturbing dreams, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.  

The CDC defines insomnia as the "inability to initiate or maintain sleep," which could be related to waking up earlier than normal, noting specifically the difficulty with falling or staying asleep can be due to excessive daytime sleepiness, which often doesn’t allow us to optimally perform our daily activities

Chronic sleep problems have been associated with medical problems including diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure as well cognitive dysfunction and mood disturbances, the Journal added

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But before someone is diagnosed with insomnia, the CDC recommends ruling out medication side effects, substance abuse issues, depression, or other medical problems that can cause it

Adults should try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep at night, according to sleep experts.  

Woman relaxing on her sofa. (Photo by: BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

"Two things are important, figuring out how to fall asleep, and once you fall asleep, making sure that you can sleep through the night, and that the quality of your sleep is adequate," says Dr. Elie G. Aoun, addiction and forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University and a member of the American Psychiatric Association board of trustees.

One of the main reasons many people have difficulty falling asleep is "anticipatory anxiety," where a person wants to go to sleep, but starts worrying if they will actually get to sleep and can’t go to bed, he told Fox News.  

It’s not easy to deal with this problem, Aoun admitted, "For example, try not to think about a white bear for the next 60 seconds. You can't." 

"One strategy that I found effective with my patients is to recommend that they stay in bed, close their eyes and focus on staying awake. By shifting their thoughts to staying awake, they are distracting their mind from thinking about the need to fall asleep. This allows their bodies to take over and do what the body wants to do, fall asleep," Aoun noted. 

Difficulty staying asleep and poor quality sleep, on the other hand, is often caused by anxiety, he said. 

"Obviously, when you're anxious during the day, going to sleep interrupts your conscious thoughts, but your mind continues to process all of the anxiety-provoking thoughts and stressors of the day. This causes people to wake up in the middle of the night, or to feel tired, exhausted in the morning or to have a hard time getting out of bed." 

He suggests a strategy to help clear the mind before falling asleep and to improve the quality of sleep.  

"If that fails, or in patients with history of trauma or PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], some medications can effectively improve this," Aoun said. 

Click here for more tips from the CDC about trouble sleeping.