By Nico Strydom
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant period of isolation resulted in many South Africans struggling to sleep.
According to Prof Pieter Kruger, a consultant clinical psychologist and director of the NWU’s Centre for Health and Human Performance, it is no surprise that people are struggling to sleep what with all the uncertainty, tension and anxiety related to Covid-19.
“Our brains do not handle uncertainty very well. During periods of uncertainty a part of the brain called the dorsal posterior cingulate cortex registers this uncertainty as a fault or a gap that tells the brain to be particularly wakeful because something could be wrong.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and period of isolation completely upset many people’s routines because they were confined to their homes for a very long time. During this period technological devices also received much more attention.
According to Kruger too little sleep can have significant biochemical and psychological consequences, such as absent-mindedness. “If you don’t get enough sleep, it affects not only your working memory but also your attention system, which helps you to focus and understand what is happening in front of you.”
In the long term sleep deprivation can have an effect on the testosterone levels in men and virility in women. “It is important to try and regularly get seven or eight hours’ sleep a night.”
Kruger has several hints for better sleep. “Learn how to handle and defuse anxiety. Get a good self-help book or talk to a psychologist. Maintain good sleep hygiene and evening routine, so don’t read or watch the news before going to bed because this will make you feel uncertain and create anxiety.”
Blue-spectrum light from cell phones, tablets and laptops must be avoided before you go to bed, says Kruger. Exposure to this type of light fools your brain into thinking that it is still daytime. Structure your day by trying to go to bed at the same time every night and rising at the same time in the morning.”
Kruger further recommends that one should stay physically active. “Try to walk for three to five minutes every hour.”
Do not panic if you can’t sleep, says Kruger. Even if you only lie in bed your body and brain are still busy recovering.”