Not getting enough sleep? How to overcome “coronasomnia”

(Photo above by Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels)

Staying in bed for hours before you can sleep? Do you suddenly wake up at 3 a.m., your mind racing? Getting a good, restful sleep now seems almost like a pre-pandemic luxury. Terms like “coronasomina” describe the anxiety and disruptions the pandemic have made to our sleep cycle.

Though vaccines are now available and restrictions are being lifted, our collective insomnia hasn’t gone away. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that 60% of Americans are experiencing some type of pandemic-related sleep disruption, up from 20% last summer.

Sleep is precious, as it’s a factor in so many other aspects of our well-being. According a recent New York Times article, not getting sufficient sleep weakens our immune system, reduces our memory and attention span as well as increases the risk of depression.

This is alarming, especially for Buddhists as how we take care of our health is an expression of how much we value our life. The 13th-century Buddhist teacher Nichiren writes, “One day of life is more valuable than all the treasures of the major world system.” Each of our lives is precious; a good night’s sleep nourishes us and makes it possible for us to function. Sleep powers us to live our best life.

Sleep powers us to live our best life.

Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda once said to a group of Buddhists who were also doctors:

Sufficient sleep is another important foundation for good health. Not getting enough sleep is like leaving a car’s engine constantly running. Eventually, it will malfunction or break down.

How can Buddhism help us get a good night’s sleep?

“Coronasomina” exists not only because of the underlying dread that keeps us awake, but also because we choose to go to bed late. Take the recent phenomenon known as “revenge bedtime procrastination.” We stay up late watching TV or YouTube, doing whatever we please so we can regain the sense of freedom that we feel is lost due to work pressures or safety restrictions.

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a tool for challenging our shortcomings and bad habits. Instead of giving into the negative narratives we tell ourselves, like “Who I am today is the way I will always be,” we challenge our weaknesses and consciously push ourselves to sleep earlier.

Ikeda writes,

Getting stuck in an unhealthy cycle of staying up late, either out of routine or force of habit, and then oversleeping and waking up without ever feeling refreshed is definitely not putting faith into correct practice in daily life.

We can change. We can motivate ourselves to go to bed early so we can nourish our precious body and mind and bring our best self to the table each day.

Find creative solutions

Buddhism also teaches us that there is always a way forward. Even if we have a demanding schedule, we can unlock our creativity and find different ways to get the right amount of sleep. This might mean taking mini-naps during quiet moments in the day to refresh ourselves. Or if we are having trouble sleeping, we read a book in low light so we become drowsy enough to dose off.

Even if we have a demanding schedule, we can unlock our creativity and find different ways to get the right amount of sleep.

Dr. Ilene M. Rosen, a sleep medicine doctor and associate professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, recommends getting up consistently at the same time each day regardless of how little we’ve slept. This nudges our body to get in a healthy cycle of sleep, as after a few days we naturally feel tired earlier.

Reduce the anxiety that fuels insomnia

The major cause of “coronasomina,” according to The New York Times, is the deep anxiety we feel about our health and well-being during the pandemic. No surprise here.

This type of anxiety can often stem from a sense of hopelessness. We feel at the whim of forces that our much bigger than us and outside our power to control. However, Buddhism teaches that nothing is more powerful than our own life.

While we should never feel ashamed for experiencing anxiety or feel weak for seeking help for it, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo does helps address the sense of hopelessness that can often be at the root of it. It awakens us to the infinite power of our life each day. We are inspired by it to believe in ourselves against all odds, that there is no challenge we cannot surmount, no situation that does not have a path forward.

There are countless stories of people who have become infinitely more confident about their Buddhability to overcome any problem that comes their way.

Desperate to overcome “coronasomnia”? A daily Buddhist practice of chanting can help us reduce our anxiety, find wise practical solutions to getting enough sleep and win over our bad habits.

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