Stress-related insomnia troubled more than a third of medical caregivers during peak periods of coronavirus activity in China, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

These sleep-deprived healthcare workers were also more likely to experience depression and anxiety. And while stress-related insomnia typically disappears after a few days, prolonged sleeplessness could lead to lasting problems, said Bin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., from Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China. 

“If the COVID-19 outbreak continues, the insomnia may gradually become chronic insomnia in the clinical setting,” said Zhang.

To help prevent or alleviate sleeplessness during these high-stress times, insomnia expert Les Gellis, Ph.D., recommends adhering to the following evidence-based actions (Gellis, from Syracuse University, N.Y., was not involved in the study):

General lifestyle behaviors:

  • Stay away from the bedroom when not sleeping and leave the bed when you’re unable to fall asleep and/or feel frustrated about the inability to sleep.
  • Maintain a dark environment and avoid electronic devices before bedtime.
  • Limit napping and caffeine intake.
  • Avoid watching the clock.

Managing related worries:

  • Attempt to refocus pre-sleep thoughts to emotionally neutral thought processes (away from worry, problem solving, planning, rehashing).
  • Actively problem-solve during the day to deal with current stressors.
  • Avoid worrying about your sleep. Sleep is a biological need that will happen naturally when we’re in a calm state.
  • See a professional if general tips do not work and be wary of pharmacologic management.