I Should Have More Energy Than Ever Right Now – So Why Do I Feel Like A Sloth?

Photographed by Beth Sacca
While you’d be hard-pressed to think of anything that’s happening right now as 'good', I have tried to see the positives. When we first went into lockdown I (tried to) allay anxieties by thinking about how I can spend more time with my wife, get really into my hobbies and get more sleep. Surely, I told myself, the lack of commute and late nights at the pub will leave me feeling more energised than ever?
Ten weeks into lockdown, it’s become clear that this is not to be. I’m groggy during the day and restless at night and feel generally consumed by lethargy. After initially embracing working out in my living room (thanks Fitness Blender), I increasingly found myself too tired to do so. Which meant that, even though I knew it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, I became more and more sedentary and horizontal. Some days, despite not having done anything strenuous the day before, I feel so worn out that I can’t even pretend to get into work mode, instead craning my neck at my laptop as I lie on my sofa, typing away. It’s obviously not helping my tiredness but I feel stuck in a cycle of groggy exhaustion.
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Struggling to sleep well at night and tiredness during the day isn’t uncommon at times like this. Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert and author of How To Sleep Well, told R29 that the two most significant causes of poor sleep right now are heightened anxiety and the absence of familiar routines. "A degree of stress is actually a good thing (it is our early warning against threats); however, too much anxiety puts our brains into a high state of alertness. This is the opposite of what you need for getting to sleep, which is a quiet mind." Then there’s the fact that the societally defined events that structure many people’s days are no longer there: getting up at a time that factors in your commute, eating at work-structured lunch breaks and only once you’re home, and having a bedtime that allows you to get what you want done… None of this is possible when you’re in lockdown. "A lack of [routine] or considerable variation in routine can cause difficulties sleeping."
Disturbances to sleep during the night can cause 'sleep inertia' during the day (what we’d colloquially call grogginess). Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, writes that "this sleepiness usually lasts between 15 and 60 minutes for most people, but in some, it can last for many hours" and can cause "difficulty concentrating", "disorientation or confusion" and "clumsiness". When working from home, this is not ideal.
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The best way to combat a lack of energy during lockdown is by working on what you can control with good sleep hygiene. Neil advises that being sedentary and having no exposure to sunlight can make you feel groggy, so make sure you get out every day for a walk, even if it's just for 15 minutes. You can use meals as a way of creating structure that will help you adapt to new schedules: "Maintain a routine of eating three meals a day and not just snacking throughout the day. Avoid eating too late at night and avoid the excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine." Much of your old routine may have gone out the window but Neil emphasises the importance of developing a new one. If your work hours are flexible, this could even be an opportunity to figure out the sleep times that work better for you by developing a new routine around when you naturally want to sleep or wake.
Perhaps most importantly, try to create an environment that doesn’t exacerbate anxieties in the run-up to bedtime: avoid watching the late news or, if you can, engaging in anxious thoughts. Instead focus on how you can tune out of the world as peacefully as possible, which should allow for better quality of sleep and, crucially, more energy the next day.
I can confirm that it helps. Since I began researching this topic I’ve become more strict with myself: I'm slowly getting back into exercise, creating clearer delineations between workspace and relaxing space, and not reading the news late at night. I’m not bouncing around with energy quite yet but I have to admit that I do feel less like a sloth.

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