Sleep, Trauma & COVID-19

Madeline Warlan, School Counselor
Earlier this week, Governor Baker officially rolled out the reopening plan for Massachusetts. It seems like a fitting time with Memorial Day and the beginning of summer around the corner, but it also has me thinking about the aftershock of our isolation experiences and the impact of our ‘new normals’. Nothing about COVID-19 has been easy considering the many different factors complicating our reality.  While it may sound extreme, this is and has been a traumatic experience for all of us. 

In the field of psychology, we know that sleep and trauma often go together. Experiences of trauma leave us feeling exhausted and emotional fatigue makes us want to sleep more. But trauma also complicates our sleep experiences, making it more difficult to feel fully rested. A recent article in The Associated Press, titled “Infecting our dreams” explains in detail the global scale in which we are all processing our traumas by way of our dreams. From mundane dreams of the activities we once enjoyed to the panic stricken dreams filled with bizarre fears, it is clear that the global pandemic is on our minds all the time. If you agree with the research that states that dreams serve as a way to process our thoughts and emotions, we could say that it is a good thing we are all dreaming of these complicated times, but it still means that our minds are working overtime right now. 

Acknowledging that we are in the midst of a traumatic experience that has the potential to leave a lasting mark, what can we do to safeguard from the aftershock? In an article from The Greater Good Center out of UC Berkeley, author Diana Divecha shares historical research that illustrates the resilience of children. She provides four takeaways that prove helpful in fighting against the effects of traumatic experiences. For me, the two that stand out as the most beneficial are the need for both loving and calm caregivers. Children are evolutionarily programmed to seek cues from their caregivers, including how to react in moments of crisis. Research shows us that children with a consistent and supportive caregiver, be they a parent, another family member, teacher, counselor or other trusted adult, fare much better then those separated during traumatic events or there after. Additionally, it is critical that those caregivers make a conscious effort to tend to their own emotional well-being so they can provide that calm and supportive reassurance that children are innately seeking. That being said, it proves even more important that we take care of ourselves first so that we can take care of others.