November 1, 2016

Election causing sleepless nights? We offer solutions for a sleepless constituency.


In about a week, it’ll all be over. The winning candidate’s supporters will breathe a collective sigh of relief, the losing candidate’s supporters will decry the unfairness of the outcome and possibly demand a recount, and all of us, we hope, can get a good night’s rest.

Because make no mistake: The election is stressing out a lot of us. So much so that, yes, it’s been causing some sleep problems along with general anxiety. While there doesn’t seem to be any way to quantify it, anecdotally, healthcare professionals across the nation have been seeing an uptick in insomnia and disrupted sleep.

But until then?

“Short of having somebody take a sleeping pill that lasts for the next several days, I think there are two solutions,” said Beth Ann Malow, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Center.

Tried-and-true methods of combating sleepless nights are just as relevant during this emotionally charged campaign season, Malow said.

1. Do something worthwhile.

“My feeling is one of the root causes is that people feel disconnected,” Malow said. “There’s a whole disconnect with what’s going on in our society and in our communities. I’ve been encouraging people to get involved in something at the local level.”

Malow took her own advice, getting involved in a local push for later school start times in Williamson County, to be more in sync with teenagers’ natural body clocks. Now, Metro Nashville schools are considering the same issue.

“I found that helped alleviate the stress I was feeling,” Malow said. “I got to feel like I’m making a difference in my world and connecting with other people. That’s very helpful and meaningful.

“You can find something that’s meaningful for you — volunteer at a food bank, help build a house for Habitat for Humanity, or do something where you’re going to feel at end of day, ‘I’m an American and I’m making a difference in my community.’”

2. Skip the evening news until after the election.

Really? Yes. “Probably the worst thing you can do is look at the news on your phone before you go to bed. Take a break,” Malow said.

And if all else fails, Malow suggests turning to all of the traditional tried-and-true methods for combating sleeplessness:

  • Separate the day from the night by creating comforting routines.
  • Disconnect yourself from all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Take a soothing bath or drink warm milk or decaf tea.
  • Try yoga or meditation.
  • Read.

“Try to put your problems to bed before you go to sleep,” Malow said.

While this might not be the first time people have lost sleep over political campaigns, it may be among those rare times when we as a nation seem to be so stressed out over the same event.

“I’ve had patients, friends, family members tell me they’re losing sleep over this. I think I’ve felt it myself,” Malow said. “It’s an interesting phenomenon.”

And, we hope, one that will be over by Nov. 9.



If you have lingering sleep issues, talk with your healthcare provider about finding a sleep disorder program. Vanderbilt’s Sleep Disorders Center can help.

Beth Ann Malow, M.D., is Burry Chair in Cognitive Childhood Development, and professor of neurology and pediatrics in the Sleep Disorders Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her research focuses on the interrelationship of sleep and neurologic disease.