If nothing else, the decades-long pandemic we're all living through has given us a plethora of new words for our previously-stale vocabularies. And when Claire Byrne spoke to Andrew Coogan, Behavioural Neuroscientist and Director of the Chronobiology and Sleep Research Laboratory at Maynooth University, about the growing numbers of people experiencing pandemic sleep problems, some juicy new words were included. Chronobiology, for starters, but also Coronasomnia. And how about social jetlag? Research from the University of Southampton found that lockdowns led to an increase in people experiencing problems with sleep, from one in six to one in four. Andrew Coogan took on Coronasomnia first and he quickly dispensed with the vocabulary-expanding portmanteau:
"What we're really talking about here is insomnia and insomnia is a chronic sleep disorder, characterised by an inability to fall asleep, to stay asleep, or to be refreshed when you wake up. Now, nearly all of us will have experienced one or all of those symptoms at some point in our life, but insomnia is a problem when it's chronic, when it's ongoing."
As anxiety and stress are two of the main factors that cause insomnia, it's no surprise that during a global pandemic there should be a marked increase in the sleep disorder.
"If the pandemic and everything that goes with the pandemic is raising anxiety levels, stress levels, symptoms of depression, psychological stress, then we would expect that to be reflected in rising incidences of insomnia."
A major part of the problem with insomnia is a kind of causality loop: lack of sleep causes anxiety and stress, which causes lack of sleep. Unstoppable pandemic sleep problems. The upside when it comes to the pandemic and sleep, Claire suggests, is that people might not be commuting as much and they may not be quite as tired, and so they might need as much sleep? And now we're talking social jetlag. Here's Prof Coogan:
"Social jetlag is basically the discrepancy between when our bodies would like us to sleep and when our social and work and school obligations force us to wake up and force our sleep schedules."
This is why every day isn't a Sunday and it's why we need alarm clocks – we have to get up before our bodies are ready to get up. Weekends are the cure for your social jetlag. If only there were more of them.
To hear the full conversation on pandemic sleep problems between Claire and Prof Andrew Coogan – including the complicated verdict on napping and why there's no solution for shift workers' tiredness – point your ears over here.
Niall Ó Sioradáin