May 8, 2020
Issue 05 2020

Trouble Sleeping? You’re not alone.

By Erika Johnstone

There has been an increase in sleep disturbances around the world since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with people using social media to speak about their experiences. 

Many people reported having unsettling dreams surrounding family members getting sick and being separated from loved ones, or strange dreams that make little sense. 

Essential worker, Brad Wija said his dreams centred around being unable to get to his daughter if she became ill, as she is away at boarding school. 

Massey student Kiera Joblin said her dreams had been negative, often about the “end of the world” and feeling she could not escape the situation. 

Research Officer, Dr Rosie Gibson from Massey Wellington’s Sleep/Wake Research Centre said that having disrupted sleep and vivid dreams is normal considering the situation. Stress, being separated from family, and the change in our schedules can all play a part in sleep disturbances.

“In dreaming, the emotive area of our brain is a lot more active, the dreams are part of our brains processing the situation,” she said. 

The way people are waking could play a part too, as waking naturally without an alarm can leave dreams fresh in the mind. People being more aware and focused on their dreams could also lead to the increase in vivid dreams, said Gibson. 

Sleep is important for our mood and general wellbeing but also for our immunity, so having a routine is important particularly in stressful times. If you are having difficulty sleeping, Dr Gibson suggests ensuring you get exposure to sunlight in the morning and avoid exercise, coffee, alcohol, and blue light emitting devices before bed. 

Keeping the bedroom a “sleep safe zone” is also important in ensuring our brain associates the bedroom with sleep. 

It is not something to stress over though, “we need to recognise that this time is pretty unique and it’s okay to have broken sleep and it’s quite normal to have nightmares… it’s all part of the process,” said Dr Gibson. 

Massey Wellington’s Sleep/Wake centre are conducting a survey about New Zealander’s experience with sleep and wellness throughout the lockdown, available through their website. 

They also have resources for all ages regarding sleep and COVID available here https://www.sleepwake.ac.nz/what-we-do/covid-19-resources/.