4 Ways to Protect Your Zeitgebers During the Pandemic

I am sitting in a coffee shop. The bare brick walls provide a backdrop for the steaming cappuccino clouds that fill the room. Crowded tables reveal chattering smiles. Anxious baristas call out a variety of names over the din. Impatient patrons sigh and check their phones as the endless serpent of a line winds its way to reach the front door. I grasp my coffee cup, my nails grazing the cardboard paper in delight.

It is early 2019, and there is not a mask in sight. Customers shoot furtive glances at the tables around them due to social anxiety rather than pandemic anxiety. An innocent patron coughs, and not a single pair of shoulders cringe in fear.

Health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

Today this scene looks very different since the novel coronavirus has swept its way across the globe. The changes that have taken place in the past few months have resulted in increased anxiety, acute panic, obsessive behaviors, paranoia, PTSD, and depression in the population at large.1

Perhaps even worse, a study recently found that people with narcolepsy have borne the brunt of the pandemic, demonstrated through worsened symptoms.2

Survey findings

In a survey exclusive to people with narcolepsy, it was found that 69 percent of people that participated experienced worsened excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) since the onset of the pandemic. Over half of the people suffering from narcolepsy also reported worsening quality of life, increased cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and nocturnal awakenings. The use of stimulants had also increased in this population.2

What are zeitgebers?

Zeitgebers are stimuli that the body uses to set its biological clock. People with narcolepsy are more sensitive to disruptions of this clock, called the circadian rhythm. This is because our bodies have much more difficulty regulating sleep and wake cycles. In fact, this is considered a hallmark of narcolepsy.

How has COVID-19 affected zeitgebers?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of certain zeitgebers that the human body depends on to regulate its biological clock. The ways that the pandemic has destroyed some zeitgebers include:

  • Changing from office work to working from home
  • Prolonged periods indoors
  • Less outdoor activities
  • Indeterminate mealtimes
  • Loss of regular social interaction

As the onset of the pandemic began, many people have been required to work from home instead of their usual office environments. It is important to note that working from home was not the source of worsening symptoms. Rather, it was the change in environments and schedules.

Preserving my zeitgebers

The loss of these zeitgebers has presented itself in the narcolepsy population through more severe symptoms. As a person suffering from type 1 narcolepsy, any fluctuation in my symptoms can be detrimental to my health and overall well-being. Like most people with narcolepsy, I rely on a variety of zeitgebers to survive with this condition.

Some ways that I preserve my zeitgebers include:

  • Daily exercise routine
  • Increasing sunlight exposure
  • Eating and napping at regular times
  • Scheduling virtual daily social interaction

Focusing on what I can control

We currently face an indeterminate amount of time left in our situation. I have found that focusing on what I have control over helps reduce my anxiety and improve my quality of life during this uncertain time.

I protect these zeitgebers of mine at any cost. When my zeitgebers suffer, I suffer!

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