The Importance of Sleep During COVID-19
Hopefully you know by now sleep plays an important role in how we look and feel, but did you know it's probably one of the single most important aspect to your overall health and wellbeing?
The novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) has ushered the world into uncharted waters. Countries have established various levels of lockdowns, economies have ground to a halt, and many people are afraid for themselves and their loved ones.
Major Changes Can Elevate Your Stress
With such unprecedented changes coming so quickly, it’s understandable that the importance of sleep is flying under the radar. But as we adjust to stay-at-home orders and try to remain healthy in a time of COVID-19, focusing on good sleeping offers tremendous benefits.
Sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune system, It’s also a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health, helping to beat back stress, depression, and anxiety.
Whether you’ve had sleeping problems before COVID-19 or if they’ve only come on recently, there are concrete steps that you can take to improve your sleep during this global pandemic.
What Are the Challenges to Sleep During a Pandemic?
Millions of people suffered from insomnia before the coronavirus, and unfortunately, the pandemic creates a host of new challenges — even for people who previously had no sleeping problems.
“Coronasomnia” is a new term that refers to sleep problems related to the pandemic. With increased stress and anxiety, there is a definite impact on our sleep and mental health, and the best way to combat it is to stick to good sleep hygiene practices.
The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Of course, patients with the virus and front-line medical workers face the brunt of the direct impacts of the disease. But the consequences — economically, mentally, and emotionally — have spread far and wide, and pose significant barriers to sleep.
Disruption of Daily Life
Social distancing, school closures, quarantines, and working-from-home all bring profound changes to normal routines for people of all ages and walks of life.
1. It can be difficult to adjust to a new daily schedule or lack of a schedule.
2. Keeping track of the time, and even the day, can be hard without typical time “anchors” like dropping kids at school, arriving at the office, attending recurring social events, or going to the gym.
3. Being stuck at home, especially if it has low levels of natural light, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep, known as zeitgebers, which are crucial to our circadian rhythm.
4. If you are not working at the moment or your weekly hours have been decreased due to COVID-19, you may be tempted to oversleep each morning. Sleeping more than seven to eight hours per night can make waking up on time much more difficult, even if you use an alarm. Oversleepers may also feel groggy, irritable and unfocused throughout the day.
Anxiety and Worry
Economic concerns are affecting nearly everyone as well. As economic activity stalls and job losses mount, it’s normal to worry about income, savings, and making ends meet.
There’s still so much unknown about this pandemic — how long lockdowns will last, whether hospitals can manage the crisis, when life will return to normal — and such uncertainty often brings anxiety that disrupts sleep as a racing mind keeps the body tossing and turning.
Depression and Isolation
Depression can be more than just feelings of sadness. Other symptoms may include a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, and a low appetite or overeating. Researchers reported the rates of depression tripled1 throughout the pandemic, while a decrease in sleep and an increase in alcohol and tobacco consumption led to spikes in the rates2 of depression.
The pandemic has taken a significant toll on our mental health, which can disrupt normal sleep patterns.
Greater Family and Work Stress
Many families are under serious stress as a result of the coronavirus. Canceled trips, isolation from friends, and an abundance of time spent at home can place a strain on anyone. Keeping up with work-from-home obligations or managing a house full of children who are accustomed to being at school can pose real problems, generating stress and discord that have been shown to be barriers to sleep.
Excess Screen Time
Whether it’s checking the news on your phone, joining a Zoom with family, binge-watching Netflix, or putting in extra hours staring at a computer while working-from-home, social distancing can mean a huge increase in screen time.
Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.
The chronic stress of living through the uncertainty of a pandemic can lead to a host of physical symptoms, including persistent headaches, memory lapses, and digestive problems. Stress-related fatigue is another common side effect. The Mayo Clinic3 defines fatigue as “a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces your energy, motivation and concentration.”
Even if you receive an adequate amount of sleep at night, fatigue can still leave you feeling tired and unmotivated in the morning.
Things You Can Do To Help
Here are just a few of the things that are easy to implement, yet can yield very high results.
Set Your Schedule and Routine
1. Wake-Up Time: Set your alarm, bypass the snooze button, and have a fixed time to get every day started.
2. Wind-Down Time: This is an important time to relax and get ready for bed. It can involve things like light reading, stretching, and meditating along with preparations for bed like putting on pajamas and brushing your teeth. Given the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s wise to give yourself extra wind-down time each night.
3. Bedtime: Pick a consistent time to actually turn out the lights and try to fall asleep. In addition to time spent sleeping and getting ready for bed, it can be helpful to incorporate steady routines to provide time cues throughout the day, including:
4. Showering and getting dressed even if you aren’t leaving the house.
Eating meals at the same time each day.
5. Blocking off specific time periods for work and exercise.
Reserve Your Bed for Sleep
On any given night, if you find that you’re having a hard time sleeping, don’t spend more than 20 minutes tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and do something relaxing in very low light, and then head back to bed to try to fall asleep.
Frequently changing your sheets, fluffing your pillows, and making your bed can keep your bed feeling fresh, creating a comfortable and inviting setting to doze off. If you’ve been considering refreshing your bedroom setup with a brand new mattress, sheets, or anything other sleep products that need an upgrade, now might be the time to consider doing so.
See the Light
Exposure to light plays a crucial role in helping our bodies regulate sleep in a healthy way. As you deal with disruptions to daily life, you may need to take steps so that light-based cues have a positive effect on your circadian rhythm5.
1. If you can, spend some time outside in natural light. Even if the sun isn’t shining brightly, natural light still has positive effects on circadian rhythm. Many people find outdoor time is most beneficial in the morning, and as an added bonus, it’s an opportunity to get fresh air.
2. As much as possible, open windows and blinds to let light into your home during the day.
3. Be mindful of screen time. The blue light produced by electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, and computers, has been found to interfere with the body’s natural sleep-promoting processes. As much as possible, avoid using these devices for an hour before bed. You can also use device settings or special apps that reduce or filter blue light.
Be Careful With Naps
If you’re home all day, you may be tempted to take more naps. Rather than approaching naps haphazardly, consider a more intentional and consistent napping schedule.
In addition to reducing sleepiness, napping can improve learning, help with memory formation, and assist with our emotional regulation. It’s important to note that naps should be limited to just 10-20 minutes, however, as longer naps can leave one feeling groggy, while shorter naps simply aren’t long enough to reap the benefits.
It’s easy to overlook exercise with everything happening in the world, but regular daily activity has numerous important benefits, including for sleep. Excessive activity right before bedtime can adversely affect sleep.
If you can go for a walk while maintaining a safe distance from other people, that’s a great option. If not, there is a wealth of resources online for all types and levels of exercise. Many gyms and yoga and dance studios live-stream free classes during this period of social distancing.
Watch What You Eat and Drink
Be cautious with the intake of alcohol and caffeine, as both can disrupt the quantity and quality of your sleep.
While specific diets vary by person, you should generally aim for a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, as well as lean meats.