Getting better sleep in the midst of a pandemic might not be easy but it’s important – especially when you consider your long term health
Do you feel like you’re getting less sleep while self-isolating and sheltering-in-place through COVID-19? During stressful times (a global pandemic qualifies!) our sleep health can erode dramatically and without warning. Some of us may find ourselves going to bed later or waking earlier while others’ minds spin out of control for hours in the middle of the night.
Let’s be clear on the role sleep plays in our lives. For starters, it’s fundamental to our physical and mental well-being. Far from being a period of rest, sleep fosters muscle growth, repairs cells and fortifies our immune system. It can help our heart and blood vessels repair themselves while our brains are busy sorting and filing memories and improving our ability to learn the next day. But in times of stress and crisis, it can be a struggle to maintain a consistent sleep/wake routine.
So how much sleep do you need to stay healthy today and protect your long-term health? The graphic to the right will help you answer that question. Remember that a night or two of lost sleep can make you feel groggy and grumpy but not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can lead to long term health issues, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Stress and the fight or flight response that’s killing our sleep
Stress is a normal part of life and, in many circumstances, keeps us alive longer by triggering survival responses, like the fight or flight response. And even though we’re safely locked down in our homes, we’re in a perpetually high-stress state, unable for fight or flight – most of us not even in the direct path of the crisis, just feeling the effects of the stress.
“If I had one thing to tell everyone while stuck at home due to the coronavirus, it would be this: don’t let your new, abnormal schedule ruin your sleep,” says Dr. Breus, aka The Sleep Doctor. “Good sleep helps regulate mood, increases productivity, and gives our immune systems a much-needed boost.”
If you’re feeling stress during these uncertain times (who isn’t?) and struggling to get a good night’s sleep, these tips might help.
1. Maintain your normal sleep schedule. For people working from home during the crisis, it can be tempting to push bedtime and wake times later and later. But maintaining a consistent sleep routine, trains our bodies, which makes it easier to fall asleep, which is always better than tossing and turning for hours. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, some before bed coping exercises might help relax you.
2. Soak up the morning sunshine. Sunlight early in the day is an important first step to regulating your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, says Dr. Breus. “Sunlight increases production of serotonin, which is an important hormone when it comes to regulating sleep and mood. And because serotonin is also a precursor to melatonin, sunlight helps our bodies prepare hours in advance for quality sleep by kicking off the natural production of melatonin.”
If you can’t get outside, sit near a sunny window for 10 minutes within a few hours of waking. If you can’t get sunshine during the day, an 8 oz glass of melatonin-rich tart cherry juice an hour or two before bedtime will help. Melatonin is also available in pill form but check with your healthcare provider to see if this is a safe option for you.
3. Exercise regularly. And relax too. Your gym might be closed but there are an overabundance of workout routines available online now. From Yoga with Adriene to a full body 20-minute workout with Pamela, there’s no excuse for not exercising while sheltering at home. But remember that exercise too close to bedtime can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. So be sure to build in time to rest and soothe your anxious mind later in the day too.
4. Set clear work boundaries. Working from home can topple your carefully balanced work/life schedule. Kitchens are for eating and bedrooms are for sleeping but if you’re spending your workday at home now instead of an office, it may be necessary to rethink your home. Even though it may only be temporary, try to keep work out of your bedroom. A sleep space that your brain associates with rest and relaxation will furnish a very different night’s sleep than one that’s associated with stress and worry.
If you’re tempted to check emails when you wake in the middle of the night, ban electronics from the bedroom. When you wake in the morning, get up, get dressed and move to a space in your home you’ve designated for work. And remember, it doesn’t have to be an office – just make sure it’s not in your in your bedroom.
5. Restrict your use of coffee and/or alcohol. While coffee gives us that morning jolt we need to kick-start our day, drinking it after 2 pm can interfere with your sleep. And while alcohol helps us wind down in the evening, it can dehydrate us, causing disruptive sleep/wake patterns throughout the night. According to Nielson, alcohol sales were up 55% the week ending March 21. Change the way you enjoy these beverages through the Coronavirus crisis and beyond to protect your sleep health.
- Coffee, sleep and your health
- Find out where caffeine is hiding in your diet
- The restless sleep alcohol causes – your questions answered
Focus on comfort in your bedroom. Is your bedroom optimized for sleep? Your mattress, pillows and bedding are important but you might need blackout curtains to shut out early morning light. Or maybe earplugs if your self-isolation includes teenagers gaming into the early hours of the night. Bedroom temperature is important too. If your bedroom needs a refresh, these posts will help.
- What do you put on your nightstand?
- How clean (healthy) is your bedroom?
- The essential guide to creating a bed(room) you’ll love sleeping in
Self-regulate your exposure to the news. The sad reality through this crisis is that you can do everything right and still struggle to sleep at night – especially if you’re checking the news every hour. Force yourself to turn it off once in a while. And then do whatever you need to do to relax. For you, it might be a cup of tea or some gentle yoga or maybe prayer. Whatever you do to protect your sleep tonight, know that you’re protecting your mood and energy levels tomorrow and your long term health as we come out on the other side of this pandemic.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- How to practice self-care while social distancing and self-isolating
- 10 healthy breakfast recipes that are under 400 calories
- TED talks about sleep