Insomnia a commom problem

Referring to the cases I am following, I have found that one of the most frequently reported problems during this period concerns sleep: difficulty falling asleep, awakening during the night without being able to get back to sleep or, more simply, sleeping but waking up in the morning already tired and listless as if you hadn’t slept at all.

The presence of such situations is now quite common, as I can also see in my professional practice, so much so that more than half of the population is affected. The appearance of coronavirus, with all its health, social and economic consequences, has led to the disruption of certainties and habits and to changing customs and lifestyles, leading to an uncertainty for which we are not prepared to face psychologically.

Although the symptoms are more or less the same for everyone and have as a common origin the problems induced by the epidemic, the reasons can be different in individuals, and therefore strategies to adopt have to be different.

Especially if you are young, the lack of a social life and the support of friends as well as the uncertainty of the future and the extinguishing of the ability to dream, will be among the most frequent causes. Although young people make great use of social media and are in some way always connected, this often does not translate into real socialization, which is indispensable.

If you are an adult, the lack of certainties, especially economic, and the financial risks for both you and your family will often be the basis of the problem; to deal with both our not being eternal and fear, fueled by the continuous bulletins that report the number of dead and sick, generate a state of anxiety that cannot be resolved and that is also evident, but not only, through sleep disorders.

What to do.

Generally speaking, there are activities you can do, and help you can request, while remaining at home.

First of all, it is important not to let go but to establish a routine, so no to pajamas all day, maybe without even washing, yes to dressing and taking care of yourself as if you were going out normally: it can help to keep an agenda of things to do and the things you would like to do in most of the free time you have available and organize your day by developing the commitments that you have decided to make to ‘yourself’.

No to unregulated meals and maybe to the sandwich eaten standing, even if you are alone, and all the more so if you live with your family, set the table and cook normally. If you used to exercise in the gym, do it at home, maybe at the same times you would in the gym. Don’t fixate on bulletins and news about the epidemic: being informed is fine, but it doesn’t have to become an obsession. In any case, if you happen to wake up at night, don’t get mad, don’t focus on this problem, you’re not a machine, you have emotions, accept them and always remember that the more you try to sleep the more likely you are to fail to do so, better occupy the time by reading a book or making yourself a relaxing herbal tea.

Do not be afraid to ask for help, personalized psychological support provided by a professional with whom you can establish a helping relationship is important and can also be done by staying at home via video calls, in this context of practical, appropriate and decisive supportCognitive behavioral therapy has developed very effective methods, validated by widespread international literature, for the resolution of these types of problems especially because you can treat not only the “insomnia” but also the problems that have generated it. Knowing dysfunctional thoughts and turning them into functional thoughts, gaining awareness, applying relaxation techniques, stopping trying to fall asleep at all costs, and applying in practice positive behaviors concerning in particular sleep hygiene, are just some of the practices that can be adopted during this type of therapy.

It is therefore an integrated approach in which, in addition to the basic techniques related to sleep hygiene such as attention to the brightness of the room, you maintain a regular bedtime, avoid naps and apply the so called ‘stimulus control’ by avoiding using the bedroom for non-sleep-related activities and going to the bedroom only at bedtime. Behavioral measures are also important, such as not staying in bed if after 15-20 minutes you did not get sleep but, instead change room and carry out a pleasant activity, and always getting up at the same time, for example.

Cognitive behavioral therapy provides a diagnostic framework that allows you to evaluate and treat the causes of the disorder so that you can apply other techniques, whenever possible, in order to carry out an intervention that is not only valid and integrated, but also personalized.

Dr. Patrizia Pietropaolo

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