Editor's Note: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. The below testimonials represent personal anecdotes surrounding sleeplessness in quarantine. When experiencing symptoms of insomnia, it may be important for you to consult your healthcare provider.
In the past year, while we’ve weathered months on end of prolonged quarantine, the notion of “a good night’s sleep” has radically shifted. And for some of us, it’s been a turn for the worst: erratic sleep schedules, restlessness, insomnia, you name it.
Even for those of us who identify as traditionally healthy sleepers, this is a common phenomenon. Late at night, more and more of us are finding ourselves doom-scrolling, or ruminating on things like health anxieties, finances, and work-life balance (or the lack thereof). And, whether you’ve been diagnosed with insomnia by a health care provider, or you’re just finding it difficult to normalize your bedtime hours in quarantine, it's certainly worth addressing.
That’s why we tapped six different women experiencing some form of sleeplessness right now to share the tried-and-tested personal solutions they’ve discovered to help with more restful nights at home — from lavender essential oil regimens and late-night walks to ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) head lice videos. Of course, you should always consult your doctor first when it comes to consistent sleeplessness, but if you’re looking for a little late-night camaraderie, these first hand accounts from women across the country detail the sometimes silly, always well intentioned, occasionally absurd tactics they’ve employed to combat their own sleeplessness in quarantine. And while these solves won't replace medical advice, they will offer a little voyeurism into other folks' waking hours.
“I am extremely passionate about sleep (I feel best when I'm getting nine or even 10 hours per night), but I also can't resist the siren call of social media, so ‘doomscrolling’ has been my downfall this past year. In March and April, I was glued to my phone, tracking the rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In May and June, I was reading everything I could about Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. Most recently, it's the vaccine rollout and evolving virus variants that have me preoccupied.
So, instead of trying to quit my late-night screen habit, I’ve decided to use it to my advantage. These days, YouTube videos that fall under the category of what I call ‘unintentional ASMR’ have become my sleepy-time secret weapon. Traditional whisper videos don't work for me; I go for interviews or instructional videos featuring nice, pleasant voices that have zero affiliation to the current news cycle. My all-time favorites include a random beauty interview with Victoria Beckham (a vocal icon), anything from my favorite cat-centric Youtube channel (in-depth reviews of different kitty litters and foods, exciting stuff!), and a healthcare video about head lice (so gross, I know — but it works, so I watch!). Occasionally, it'll take a few of these in a row before I drift off, but often, I'm almost asleep after one.”
— Elana, 34, quarantined in Manhattan with her fiancé, and her cat, Liz Lemon
“I’ve never been a good sleeper. Pandemic aside, I’ve always been filled with existential dread. So, I decided to make better sleep my quarantine project. Pre-COVID, I got around four hours [of sleep] a night due to work, constant travel, and stress — but now, I get around five or six hours and I feel much more well-rested. The key for me isn’t going to bed early, but rather, going to bed after 11:30 or midnight so I can stay asleep all night — and also, sticking to a hyper specific nighttime routine.
The first part of my bedtime routine is to go outside and get fresh air. If I work from home, then I require five minutes of outside-time no matter the weather. Next, I take my standard multi-vitamins. Then, I take a scalding hot shower, before moving through my aggressive, Joan Crawford-esque skincare routine, and make sure I have at least two liters of water at my bedside, so I don’t have to exit the room once the turn down starts (I call it that because going to sleep is a process. I’ve never been able to just fall asleep so I need to make it a really sensory experience). I put all of my devices on their respective chargers, refill my humidifier with water and citrus essential oils, burn palo santo, and then stretch. I stop looking at my phone an hour before I should be asleep, and watch a show I’ve already seen, then I’ll usually drift off about 20 minutes after its started. I wouldn’t exactly recommend this routine to everyone, being that it’s highly tailored to my own needs — which demand that I create structure to make sense of this mess — but it’s certainly worked for me.
— Dione, 33, quarantined in Brooklyn with her roommate
“When all this madness started last March, I went to bed at 3 or 4 am every night. The red TV headlines were like tragic lullabies — I’d fall asleep devouring new stats or learning about the outbreak red zones. It was like being trapped in Groundhog Day. Day after day the same tiring-exhausting feeling. But after a few months, I decided those raccoon-like dark circles HAD TO GO. That's when I decided to tweak a few things.
“I started to do online pilates sessions — 45 minutes daily — and I stopped drinking my beloved espressos after 2 pm. I darkened all our bedroom windows, started drinking decaf valerian or Linden tea at 9 pm, and lowered the heat in my house to 62F when I was getting ready to sleep. I also started taking an OTC natural sleep aid and replaced my pillow covers with silk ones. Now, I sleep seven uninterrupted hours and the nightmares have decreased severely in number. The dark circles are still there but at least I no longer feel like Bill Murray!”
— Ana, 40, quarantined with her husband and two sons in New Jersey
“I’ve been a bad sleeper since childhood, but things got way worse in college. I’m a night owl so I’m often my most creative and productive at night. But when I don’t have a reason to stay up working on anything, I still can’t fall asleep, no matter what I do. Once I’m out, I’m gone — I can sleep in easily until 10 am. (sometimes later), but getting to sleep has always been my issue. Most nights, I watch the clock go from 10 pm when I get into bed to read, to 11pm when my husband falls sound asleep, to 1 am when I’m wondering how the hell I’m still wide awake.
“I’ve tried tons of different things throughout the years to help me fall asleep in a more reasonable timeframe, but as of late, I’ve found a pretty solid routine. I love a good epsom salt bath. I love lavender oil on my palms. Some nights, I’ll try a CBD supplement I give myself a few hours at night to zone-out to bad television — usually Real Housewives or HGTV (I worship Leanne Ford!). Some nights, I use a Bluetooth-connected eye mask which lets me black out the world while I listen to a podcast (anything from Wondery to Parcast), and if that doesn’t help me doze off, I listen to a sleep meditation on my phone.
— Stacie, 30, quarantined with her husband and her dog in Scottsdale, AZ
“My sleep challenges have varied this past year. They’ve ranged from difficulty falling asleep, to trouble staying asleep, to struggling with getting out of bed. A few months ago, though, I tried rearranging the layout of my apartment, to support better sleep. I moved my bed near the window, where it now faces a wall with plants instead of my kitchen (oh, the studio life!) and I must say, I've been able to sleep through the night a lot better.
I also love taking night showers so that I feel warm and relaxed before going to bed. Then, once I’m showered, I typically light a candle, have a cup of tea, and try to relax on the couch and watch TV or read a book. I like to occasionally spritz my sheets with a calming lavender scent, moisturize my hands, and finally, turn on some 'rain pipes' sleep music which usually does the trick!”
— Jessica, 33, quarantined alone in Brooklyn, NY
“Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with both insomnia and depression by my primary care doctor. I had no issues falling asleep, but I was having trouble staying asleep. An hour or so after dosing off, I’d consistently find myself wide awake, again. Sometimes it was off and on, and sometimes I wouldn’t go back to sleep at all. Quarantine seemed to exacerbate all of these tendencies, making it harder for me to sleep than ever before. And after trying many over-the-counter sleep solutions, I was still not getting any more rest.
“About four months ago, my doctor prescribed me a sleep medication called DAYVIGOⓇ (lemborexant) CIV, which I was told might help people with insomnia fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Now, I take 10mg every day and am finding that I fall asleep — and stay asleep — in a way that feels natural. There have been a few nights where I’ve still woken up, even on the medicine, but overall, since taking DAYVIGO, I feel like my sleep has notably improved. Of course, results with any medication will vary, but for me personally, this has been a great option for my condition.”
—Emily*, quarantined in Salisbury, NC with her husband, son, and four dogs
Interviews have been edited for concision and clarity.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the respondent
Disclaimer: DAYVIGO is a prescription medicine for adults age 18 years and older who have trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia). Do not take DAYVIGO if you fall asleep often at unexpected times (narcolepsy). Please see additional Important Safety Information included at the end of this article. Please also see Medication Guide for DAYVIGO.