2020: The year of little sleep

This year has seen an increase in sleep issues and stress-induced insomnia. 

  • Eliminate alcohol and late-night phone usage to fall asleep faster.
  • Find ways to relax before bed without sleep aids.
  • Dr. Darius Zoroufy at Swedish Sleep Medicine gives you tips to get the sleep you need.


Do you often find yourself lying in the dark with your thoughts when you should be asleep? Is it happening more this year than ever before?

If you answered “yes,” Darius Zoroufy, M.D., sleep medicine specialist with Swedish Sleep Medicine – Issaquah, would not be surprised. Insomnia affects 60-75% of people in a regular year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Based on what he’s been hearing from his patients in recent months, Dr. Zoroufy is fairly certain that statistics will show higher numbers for 2020. In addition, he expects that people who suffered from sleep conditions such as apnea before the pandemic are likely faring worse now, as they experience stress-induced insomnia on top of their existing issues.

We’re juggling work and school and parenting in settings that aren’t designed for it. It’s no surprise that these pressures are showing up in the way we sleep.

“What’s happening out in the world has had a personal impact on all of us,” Dr. Zoroufy says. “Between the news, politics, coronavirus…We’ve been worried for ourselves and our families. We’re juggling work and school and parenting in settings that aren’t designed for it. It’s no surprise that these pressures are showing up in the way we sleep.”

In his practice, Dr. Zoroufy has seen some dysfunctional behaviors creep into his patients’ daily routines as they do their best to cope and get to sleep. “It’s understandable that people tend to rely on what’s readily available, even if it’s not necessarily good for their health. The most common habits I see are using over-the-counter sleep medications, drinking alcohol, and looking at the cell phone right before bed.”

Some “not ideal” ways of getting to sleep

Over-the-counter meds are likely leave you groggy the next morning. More troubling, several studies report that long-term use may contribute to cognitive decline and slowly accumulating risk of dementia.

Alcohol tends to help you get to sleep at first, but then interferes with your deep sleep cycles later, so you don’t get quality rest even if you are asleep.

Alcohol tends to help you get to sleep at first, but then interferes with your deep sleep cycles later, so you don’t get quality rest even if you are asleep.

Cell phone screen light stimulates you physically, even in night-time mode, while the content you’re viewing, like news or email, stimulates you cognitively. This is the opposite of sleep mode.

What can you do instead?

Dr. Zoroufy counsels his patients to use these techniques to help improve bad sleep patterns:



Try to change everything at once. “It’s like losing weight. If you need to lose 25 pounds, adopting a vegan diet and exercising six hours a day will do it, but do you really have the capacity to implement that?” Be realistic.


Add sleep time in small increments. Add 15 minutes to your bedtime or waketime for a few weeks, then add 15 more after another few weeks. This should help you start to feel better. 

Pick up your phone.

Listen to quiet, relaxing audio stimulation, such as nature sounds or calming music. Use earbuds if you’re sharing a bed. Dr. Zoroufy has a set of headphones that charge during each day and never leave his bedside, along with queued up listening material. “This may not work immediately, but give it time. You’re developing a healthy habit,” he says.


Added bonus: The soothing sounds occupy your mind and make it harder to think about what’s stressing you.

Rely on over-the-counter sleep medications or alcohol.

Try herbal alternatives such as melatonin, valerian root or hops, which may be helpful.

Think about (and try to solve) the world’s problems at 11 p.m.

Let the world take care of itself until morning. “And remind yourself that even though you’re not accomplishing all you want to right now, you’re doing ok under the circumstances. You’ll make a little more progress tomorrow.”


Thinking ahead: What are the long-term consequences?

As the pandemic continues, do we need to worry about our long-term health? “It’s not that we’ll have a large group of people developing horrible diseases overnight from lack of sleep,” Dr. Zoroufy says, “but chronic bad sleep is not good for our health and wellbeing overall.”

Poorly rested people have a diminished capacity for managing stressors the next day.

“Poorly rested people have a diminished capacity for managing stressors the next day,” he says. “When the kids misbehave, or people are rude to us, we’re much more likely to be upset and react with frustration. There’s irritability and discord; we get on each other’s nerves. We don’t face hard challenges well. And we may accumulate worse dysfunctional habits over time.”

Are you concerned about your sleep?

Talk to your health provider or contact:

Swedish Sleep Medicine - Issaquah | 425-394-0024

751 NE Blakely Drive, 4th Floor, Issaquah, WA 98029

Swedish remains committed to the safety of our patients, caregivers and the community at large. In response to the recent surge in COVID-19 infections throughout the Puget Sound, Swedish is taking extra precautions in safeguarding patients and caregivers from risk of infection by restricting our regular visitor policy until further notice.

Meet our providers

Morris B. Chang, M.D., MBA, is a sleep medicine specialist whose primary focus is clinical medicine. He also has worked in sleep medicine policy through American Academy of Neurology and American Academy of Sleep Medicine . He is a clinical instructor for the department of neurology at the UW School of Medicine. With a private pilot license, he has an interest in excessive daytime sleepiness as it pertains to pilots and others in the transportation industry.



Iryna M Sapieha, M.D. is a sleep medicine specialist who believes her role as a physician is to provide patients with the education, support and encouragement they need to care for themselves. She is committed to a compassionate and patient-centered approach.





Darius Zoroufy, M.D., is a sleep medicine specialist who uses a cooperative and compassionate approach to improve the quality of sleep and contribute to overall health. He works hard to understand his patients’ symptoms and concerns in order to provide meaningful and understandable advice and clinical care. By using a wide array of diagnostic tools such as home testing and overnight sleep studies, and a network of the best consultant resources, patients can achieve restful sleep and improved health.



Related resources

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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