What Is Coronasomnia? Dr. Lisa Medalie Explains

If you've ever struggled with sleep, you know how much you appreciate a good night's rest.

Ever since the start of COVID, there has been a major increase in insomnia cases, which is now being referred to as Coronasomnia. We were interested to learn more about the subject, so we reached out to Behavioral Sleep Medicine provider Dr. Lisa Medalie. She is a board-certified insomnia specialist and creator of DrLullaby, the first evidence-based digital sleep solutions platform for children from four months to 18 years of age.

Keep reading for our full interview with Dr. Lisa Medalie, where she goes into detail about Coronasomnia.

Sweety High: What is Coronasomnia?

Dr. Lisa Medalie: Coronasomnia is how the public describes the significant increase of sleep challenges experienced since the pandemic. There are many aspects of the pandemic that have directly resulted in sleep challenges in children and adults. In the past, roughly one-third of our country struggled with sleep, and now studies show that 56% of our population is struggling with sleep. We suspect that this increase is related to increased screen use, lack of schedule structure, inconsistent bedtimes, elevated stress and mood symptoms, increased alcohol and substance use, decreased exercise and insufficient access to hobbies and socializing.


SH: How is it different from insomnia?

LM: Coronasomnia is different from insomnia because it is specifically said to be a consequence of factors specific to the pandemic. I should clarify that this is a public terminology as opposed to a formal diagnosis, but the uptick in insomnia has been so dramatic, that this term is now used quite often!

When we think about insomnia, we understand it based on the "3 P's":

  • Predisposing factors: Risk factors for developing insomnia (e.g., family history of insomnia, underlying mood disturbance, light sleeper as a child)
  • Precipitating events: Something changes to kickstart the first "bout" of insomnia (e.g., life stressor, onset of medical or mental health episode, traumatic event)
  • Perpetuating factors: Poor habits we engage in the face of sleep loss to try to compensate for the problem but end up worsening our sleep (e.g., spending time "problem-solving in bed," looking at devices to "distract from thinking," taking naps or using caffeine the next day)

The pandemic is a great example of a precipitating event—a significant life stressor that triggers insomnia. While for many, it starts off feeling like it will be a brief bout of symptoms related to this temporary stressor, unfortunately, if healthy sleep habits are not introduced initially, acute symptoms (less than three months) can soon turn into chronic insomnia (more than three months).


SH: Why do people struggle with Coronasomnia?

LM: Lack of mandatory daytime start times leads to decreased daytime structure and inconsistent sleep schedules. Sleep schedule consistency is an important element to proper sleep hygiene.

Depressed moods, more down-time and decreased energy can increase napping. Long naps (i.e., more than 30 minutes) can decrease sleep pressure, which makes it harder to fall asleep.

Increased screen-time to keep up with news updates up until bedtime and during awakenings can trigger the brain to stop producing melatonin, which impacts the ability to fall asleep, return to sleep and entrainment of the circadian rhythm.

Elevated stress and increased thought content can keep the mind racing increasing vulnerability to insomnia.


SH: How do you cure Coronasomnia?

LM: In my clinic, I manage insomnia symptoms triggered by all sorts of unique factors. Regardless of what triggered the insomnia symptoms (pandemic factors, loss of a loved one, back pain), the first-line approach for insomnia treatment is cognitive behavioral treatment for insomnia or evidence-based behavioral interventions. The research states that behavioral methodologies should be worked through first, and only after someone does not respond to this approach (after adhering to the interventions), should a sleeping pill be considered. That said, there are no FDA approved options for prescription medication in children. In general, trying evidence-based behavioral tools are not only most effective, but allow people to feel back in control over their lives during a time that otherwise feels quite uncertain.

The only issue is that there are not many of us that are board-certified and formally trained to deliver evidence-based treatment for insomnia. This is why I developed a digital version of the work I do in-clinic. It is called DrLullaby and allows for all families to access better nights.


SH: What are the typical side effects of insomnia?

LM: Mood consequences:

  • Sleep deprivation results in irritability and poor frustration tolerance.
  • Any underlying symptoms of anxiety or depression are likely to exacerbate with sleep loss.

Daytime functioning impact:

  • Insufficient sleep impacts cognitive functioning and energy level, which can slow daytime productivity.
  • If the days are less productive, the impact on mood is also greater.
  • Productivity in these new circumstances of working from home and having children around is already challenging; sleep loss added would be an unnecessary exacerbation to the problem.

Immune system:

  • We want everyone to make sure they are getting enough sleep right now. Getting enough sleep promotes inflammatory homeostasis and health maintenance. If you are chronically sleep-deprived, it weakens the body's defense system and makes you more vulnerable to contract a virus.
  • Optimizing sleep can reduce your risk of infection.
  • When the immune system is activated to fight a virus, levels of inflammatory molecules called cytokines are associated with elevated fatigue and increased sleep need.
  • Getting more sleep during the infection period can help improve infection outcome.


SH: Anything else we should know?

LM: Work on tools that work! There is a lot out there on the internet about sleep—be cautious to ensure credibility of sources. I can tell you that with our digital health platform, everything in there includes research-backed strategies taught by a sleep doctor in the same sleep logging approach I use in my clinic. We also have all PhD and PsyD coaches to provide expert support along the way. Better nights are at your fingertips!


Feeling sleepy at night? Try one of THESE 10 things before going to bed instead of checking your phone.