Expert reveals how sleeping patterns are being affected by the coronavirus pandemic

Colin A Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Oxford University, said the cycles, known as circadian rhythms, are resulting in many experiencing hikes in their anxiety levels due to the current pandemic crisis. He added that other people may have unusual dreams.

“I’ve definitely noted more people having issues with sleep,” Professor Espie told Sky News.

“There’s lots of talk about staying well in the day by staying home and looking after yourself, but it’s also important to stay well during the night time.”

“Sleep is central to our lives and because it happens automatically we take it for granted.

“Now we are in one place [most of the day] it is easy for sleep and wakefulness to merge.”

He said this leads to a “dampening” of circadian rhythms, consequently causing fatigue during the day and groggy in the morning.

Natural light also plays an important part in the sleep cycle as eye receptors react most strongly to white light from the sun.

Professor Espie explained: “We use daylight as a thing that trains our 24-hour body clock.

“People are getting less daylight and not getting up as early. That loss of light and change of habit allows the body clock to drift and can lead to a sense of malaise.

“It’s important to maintain a routine and to get daylight.

“This means get up at your usual time, unless it was very early, getting dressed and so on.

“This helps keep the rhythm, and if you do your exercise outside, do it early in the day to make the most of the outside light early on.”

Sleeping outside of the regular routine is not advised.

“It’s easy to eat more than you need but it’s hard to sleep more than you need. By sleeping outside of normal times, a person’s sleep pattern will fragment and make it harder, with sleep often becoming lighter,” said Professor Espie.

While if feeling sleepy taking a short nap is recommended, people experiencing fatigue are recommended to do an activity and getting enough daylight instead of sleeping.

Sleeping when feeling fatigued would lead to sleep difficulties at night, and potential anxiety and stress spikes.

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Professor Espie explains: “When people were panic buying food it’s because the threat of having no food is alarming. You can compare that to if people then also think that they can’t sleep, they then worry that they are unable to.

“When you sleep fine you don’t think about it, it’s only when it goes wrong and then the more you try to sleep, the harder it can seem to achieve.”

Those who are still working and on the front lines of essential jobs are also experiencing a change in their sleeping patterns.

Steph Barker, 26, a cardiac physiologist in the NHS, told Sky News: “Once you get home you can’t face doing anything else because it’s so much effort to think about anything.”

She has also experienced unusual dreams.

“There was one where I went to see a musical, and then suddenly the main actress got sick and it turned out I was the understudy, but I didn’t know the lines,” she said.

Professor Espie explained that having dreams is normal, but: “At times of stress, however, we might have dreams that feel as if they have more emotional or anxious content.

“And of course we probably are a bit more anxious than usual just now. It shouldn’t surprise us that we are the same person whether we are awake or asleep. That’s pretty much all that is happening.”

However, he urged to not over analyse dreams.

“There are people who take the interpretation of dreams way too far,” he said.

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