Where did the sleep go? Here is why you’re experiencing insomnia


What you need to know:

  • Insomnia is a condition that makes it difficult for one to either fall asleep or stay asleep for the recommended six to eight hours.
  • This condition can be caused by a number of factors, including stress, anxiety, depression, medication, caffeine, sickness, unpleasant sleeping conditions or change in sleeping patterns.

“Your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep"  — Mesut Barazany

It’s Monday again, but instead of Monday blues, a majority of Kenyans are suffering from never-ending quarantine fatigue. And with it comes the sleepless nights, aka insomnia. The hashtags #can’tsleep and #insomniac litter timelines. Once you get into bed, the tik tok sound from the wall clock seems to grow louder by the hour. You stare at the ceiling and the ceiling stares back, as if in mockery.

You turn to the wall, but it offers no relief. You decide to check your phone, maybe play a game to see whether it will sooth you to sleep, but then you remember what you read online about screens being the number one robbers of sleep. Never has sleep eluded so many before.

Mr Festus Nzinga, a sales and marketing professional, has always had a regular sleeping pattern... until Covid-19 came and threw it in disarray. He would go to bed around 11pm and at 5.30am, his alarm would go off, signifying another work day ahead. When the virus made its way to Kenya, his place of work was shut down three days later, until further notice.


Mr Nzinga found himself at home with more time than he knew what to do with. He also found that he was no longer keen about what time he went to sleep and when he woke up; after all, there was nowhere to go. He was at liberty to watch an entire series if he so wished.

As a result, he would sometimes go to sleep at 1am, and when he did not have anything to watch or do, he would go to bed as early as 10am. Having been used to a set routine for so many years, the change in day and night patterns started affecting his ability to sleep soundly. He could not sleep for more than two hours continuously.

Anxiety and insomnia

Mr Ken Munyua, a psychologist, explains that a change in sleep pattern is bound to cause sleep difficulties such as insomnia. Insomnia is a condition that makes it difficult for one to either fall asleep or stay asleep for the recommended six to eight hours. This condition can be caused by a number of factors, including stress, anxiety, depression, medication, caffeine, sickness, unpleasant sleeping conditions or change in sleeping patterns. Insomnia can be a short-term or long-term problem depending on how an individual handles it, as well as the causes.


As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, many people are reporting experiencing insomnia and other sleep disorders as they struggle to adjust to changes in their lives. Like Mr Nzinga, some have been forced to work from home, while others were told to just go home and wait until “things” get better. The uncertainty accompanying such situations is bound to cause anxiety, stress and even depression that catalyse insomnia.

There’s also the curfew, which initially demanded that everyone be indoors by 7pm, and now 9pm. For those that were used to working late or passing by their favourite joint for a drink, this new norm has disrupted their routine.


Insomnia started in early April for Mr Nzinga. “I’d toss and turn in bed for hours, and when I finally managed to sleep, it was short-lived. I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night and it would take me hours to fall asleep again,” he says.

After days of sleepless nights, he started experiencing moodiness. He also found it difficult to concentrate.

“Lack of sleep made it impossible to think clearly, which made me unproductive,” he recalls. “My eyes were constantly tired; it was depressing.”

Mr Munyua explains that poor sleep patterns hamper productivity. The body needs adequate rest to recharge. Besides, when we sleep, our bodies repair themselves and the vital organs such as the heart and kidneys do less work in readiness for the next day’s work. Mr Munyua adds that we also process information and thoughts during sleeping sessions, in the form of dreams. With so much going on in the world, there’s a lot of information to process, and we need quality sleep to stay sane at such turbulent times.

Different traumas

It’s interesting to note that some people are more predisposed to sleeping disorders than others. For instance, people who overwork are more likely to experience insomnia more than people who underwork. “To a workaholic, sleeping feels like a waste of time and missed opportunities. They may, therefore, be too restless and anxious to sleep soundly, thinking about the bulk of the work they left undone,” Mr  Munyua says.

He also notes that people who are unable to meet their financial obligations or afford basic needs due to job loss or pay cuts are also likely to experience anxiety and subsequent sleep disorders.

And yet insomnia is not the only sleep disorder people suffer from. It may be the most common, but just a tip of the ice berg. Nightmares are also frequent robbers of sleep in both adults and children. “People who have had traumatic experiences are likely to have nightmares,” the psychologist says.

Different people are dealing with different traumas. For instance, media reports show that cases of domestic violence are on the rise, which could lead to trauma in the victims.

There’s also the issue of families dealing with pre-existing chronic conditions that might have been traumatic all through. Adding to this a virus that has no cure could worsen their trauma.

The sheer thought of a chronically ill loved one contracting the virus is chilling enough to cause nightmares.

It’s also important to pay attention to people who may have lost loved ones to the virus or those with the disease. Couple this with the fact that they don’t receive sufficient social support due to restrictions on gathering put in place by the government and what you have is a crisis.

Sleep paralysis

In cases where sleep deprivation and abnormal sleep patterns are prolonged and out of one’s control, sleep paralysis is likely to check in. Sleep paralysis is a frightening episode entailing inability to move or even speak upon waking up or immediately after falling asleep.

 It’s also accompanied by seemingly real hallucinations such as the feeling that someone is pinning you down. Even though sleep paralysis may cause intense fear, experts say it’s not a serious condition, and like other sleeping disorders, it can be remedied by lifestyle changes.

Ms Mary Mwakio, a lifestyle coach, recommends finding creative and engaging ways to keep busy instead of watching too much TV or spending lots of time online.

“There are many things we can do to engage our minds and bodies. For instance, you may de-clutter, explore new hobbies, write a book or volunteer for charity work as long as it is safe,” she says.

Diet and water intake

The goal is to work every muscle in your body and distract your mind from stress and anxiety. Come evening, you will be so tired, your body will be crying for sleep.

Jogging or running in the morning is recommended.

Diet is another important ingredient for quality sleep. Nutritionists recommended that we eat a heavy breakfast, mild lunch and minimal supper.

Ms Mwakio, who is also a nutritionist, advises avoiding drinking too much water before bedtime. Taking water right before bedtime could lead to many trips to the toilet, disrupting sleep.

In an effort to banish insomnia, Mr Nzinga takes his final glass of water or beverage around 7pm. He has also added soft instrumental music to his sleep recipe.

“Soft music calms me down and distracts me from having negative thoughts. It’s a welcome lullaby,” he says.

On anxiety and stress, talking to friends and family can go a long way in easing them. Once in a while, Mr Munyua says, we all go through a difficult patch that keeps us awake. When this happens, most people make the mistake of keeping it to themselves, fearing that they will be judged for exposing their weakness.

“The truth, however, is that many of us are in the same boat. For instance, we’re all affected by the pandemic and sharing about what we’re going through is a relief to not only the person sharing, but the one listening as well,” the psychologist says.

Sleep disorders in children

Children are not immune to sleep difficulties. It is, therefore, important to pay attention to your children because they, too, could be going through an anxious time, which could disrupt their sleep pattern.

“Children respond better to routine. As much as possible, therefore, ensure they do not veer so much, off the routine they had before schools were shut down,” Ms Wakio suggests.

Mr Munyua advises parents to spend some time with their children every day before bedtime because it provides an opportunity to have heart-to-heart conversations with them. This way, the parents can detect any anxiety that might be going through the little one’s minds.