Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Sleep Solutions for COVID-19 Pandemic Nights

What I've learned from treating my brain-injury sleep problems.

Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy
Source: Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy

Rising with the unknown enemy of brain injury lodged in your head, spending the day with it, and being able to fall asleep with it is similar to what people are facing today with the novel coronavirus.

Good sleep at night begins in the morning. You want to feel like you can face the day when you awaken. Empowered. Understanding the crisis.

Getting Up

I discovered cranioelectrical stimulation (CES) 100Hz calms my feeling of trauma-driven panic that rockets out upon waking in the same way beta-blockers had, but without side effects and without waiting for the pill to be digested.

I put it on; then to seek understanding, I read through the credible sources I've curated on Twitter over the years to find out what's happening with COVID-19, to learn about hopeful developments, to see how the world is responding, and to see research into SARSCoV2, tests for SARSCoV2 antibodies, portable tests, and an effective vaccine. I check on Asia's progress. I retweet useful info and tweet my ideas because I've learned from brain injury stealing my control over my own life that sharing my thoughts in public gives me back some control. That has helped me cope with the roller coaster of brain injury and, today, with an invisible enemy.

Dealing With the Day

Deep breathing is an essential skill. I learned it in the first year of my brain injury and practiced it until it became automatic. Automaticity saves. When the anxiety hamster wheel hits and the obsessive checking of social media begins, your body will automatically begin to breathe deeply, thus countering the physiological stress response.

But deep breathing doesn't heal the hamster-wheel rumination, the wandering and obsessive thoughts, and the brainwave spindling that brain injury—and perhaps this crisis—creates. It doesn't stop the vigilance that uncertainty and unknown danger brings on.

Audiovisual entrainment (AVE), CES, and low-intensity laser therapy (LILT) provide neuroplastic at-home ways to harmonize brainwaves, improve blood flow to the brain, and calm the body and the mind. I'm currently experimenting with gamma AVE sessions because I'm missing my weekly gamma brainwave biofeedback; so far, they drop my vigilance, drop my anxiety.

Living my daily life in social isolation for years, there was rarely a person I could turn to who could reassure, speak actions to help me with my brain injury. (Only health care workers during appointments did that for me.) That lack felt like standing on sand.

Today, with so many providing knowledge, speaking actions we can take to help the world, with having the time I need to process my injury and this crisis, and without the pressures from the outside world to work at their speed, I no longer feel like I'm standing on sand. That's improved my sense of control, my energy, and sleep. I am no longer alone.

Watching someone calm—confident that we'll get through this—reassures in the same way as a musician giving lessons or an author reading poetry or a friend who's good at giving support and raising people's spirits up does online. Don't forget your local radio station with familiar DJs for a sense of stability. For exiting the crisis for precious minutes or hours, read, plunge into a novel, lift weights or filled water bottles, binge-watch what the world is or something you wouldn't normally.

Remember: You control the outcome of the pandemic. You decide its progress when you choose to physically distance, keep social connections virtual, wash hands thoroughly with soap, collaborate with your neighbors.

Going to Bed

Sleep hygiene doesn't work that well for brain injury. The injury is greater than measures that may work for the worried well. Still, a routine is important for people with brain injury and for people swamped by the SARSCoV2 onslaught. I've found that going to bed at the same time gives me something to hang on to in a whirling world. Yet I'm not always ready to sleep at the same hour. Going to bed when I'm actually sleepy increases the odds of sleeping.

I turn the thermostat down.

Most nights, I begin calming my brain with the neck session of my LILT unit while watching something funny or journaling or listening to music. This session apparently has a systemic effect. Because the pandemic situation changes hourly, I begin ending my day with journaling and with a glance through knowledgeable, thoughtful Twitter sources in the same but briefer way I had begun my day. Going to bed with a sense that your morning won't be rocked by unseen nighttime news provides a small measure of control, a soother to heightened vigilance. Using nighttime color settings on your smartphone or tablet and an app like f.lux on your computer and also reducing screen brightness allows your brain to release melatonin to induce sleep.

I then turn to my Twitter list, The Antidote, which opens the door to smiles. Laughter is medicine. And distraction is a well-worn method to cope with trauma and the hourly difficulties brain injury throws into your life from broken social engagements to memory lapses to racing heart to fatigue that crashes you onto the couch or the too-busy brain that wakes you up in the middle of the night.

I finish in bed with my hypothalamus fix (updated in Concussion Is Brain Injury: Treating the Neurons and Me), a combination of CES 100Hz and sub-delta AVE. In difficult times like these, I've been adding an AVE sleep session. It takes longer, but I'm going to be awake, anyway, for two hours instead of 40 minutes without it. I raise the head of my bed (or build up pillows) to raise my head so that congestion from infection or stress rhinitis won't slip into my lungs. I sleep under my weighted blanket.

Copyright ©2020 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.