Is COVID 19 and the Pandemic Making it Hard to Sleep?

June 03, 2020

There is no secret that “normal” was hijacked a few months ago when the novel coronavirus and COVID 19 became a part of our collective conversation. It has brought the planet into uncharted waters. Entire countries on lockdown, jobs lost, and the economy in a standstill has people afraid for themselves and their families. All of these challenges came so quickly and absorbed what we knew as normal so completely that it is understandable the importance of a good night’s sleep dipped below the radar. 

Pandemic Challenges Sleep 

Insomnia was a health problem before COVID 19, since March the pandemic has created a host of new challenges, even for those who had no prior sleeping problems, according to the Sleep Foundation. As individuals react differently to a world since the start of the pandemic it is important to acknowledge that the struggles are real and while we adjust to stay-at-home orders and the interruption of normal routine and schedules it is important to remain healthy and focusing on sleeping well offers many benefits. The Sleep Foundation goes on to say that sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune system. Sleep is 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. 

Disruption of Daily Life 

Social distancing, school closures, quarantines, working-from-home, home schooling children all bring profound changes to normal routines for people. 

  • It can be difficult to adjust to a new daily schedule or lack of a schedule.
  • 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.
  • Being stuck at home, especially if it has low levels of natural light, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep which are crucial to our circadian rhythm.  
  • Furloughed workers or decreased working hours due to COVID-19 change the daily dynamic. While you may be tempted to oversleep in the morning, sleeping more than your normal seven to eight hours per night can make waking up on time much more difficult and leave you feeling groggy, irritable and unable to focus throughout the day.  

Anxiety and Worry

  • Worries abound in the COVID-19 pandemic; fear of catching the coronavirus or infecting others inadvertently. 
  • Close friends or family who are older or who are in high-risk groups due to preexisting conditions spur worried about their health and safety.
  • Economic concerns are affecting nearly everyone as well. The economy is stalled, lost jobs and wages, difficulties in obtaining unemployment benefits lead to worry about income, savings and making ends meet. 
  • The great unknown about the pandemic, how much the disease will spread, hospitals managing the crisis, how long the lockdowns last, when the economy can recover all feed into the uncertainly that brings on anxiety disturbing sleep as a racing mind keeps the body tossing and turning. 
  • Depression and isolation are real byproducts of the pandemic that may be worse for those who have a loved one sick or has died from COVID 19. The grief and depression can be exacerbated by the isolation at home and the result can be significant sleeping problems. 

Greater Family and Work Stress

The coronavirus has added stress to people’s daily lives. Isolation from friends, canceled vacations, too much time stuck at home can put a strain on anyone. Add to that mix trying to work from home with a house filled with kids who are used to being in school with friends all day and the stress adds up and can keep anyone’s mind racing long past their normal bedtime. 

We are staying apart but still trying to be together and that can be stressful as well. 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; all that excess screen time, especially in the evening can have a negative impact on sleep. Not only can the screen time stimulate the brain and make it hard to wind down but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. 

Model and encourage habits that help promote good sleep. Setting a regular bedtime and rise time, including on weekends, is recommended for everyone—children, adolescents, and adults alike. Adolescents with parent-set bedtimes usually get more sleep than those whose parents do not set bedtimes.

Stress-Related Fatigue

With no definitive end in sight, living through the pandemic can lead to a host of physical symptoms, including persistent headaches, memory lapses, and digestive problems that the Mayo Clinic describes as stress-related fatigue. They define the fatigue as a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces energy, motivation and concentration even with adequate sleep.  

Why is Sleep Important During a Pandemic? 

Sleep is a critical biological process. When confronting the COVID-19 pandemic sleep becomes even more essential because of its wide-ranging benefits for physical and mental health. 

  • Sleep empowers an effective immune system. A good night’s rest strengthens the body’s defenses. Cytokines, a protein that targets infection and inflammation, are created and released in deep sleep.
  • Sleep heightens brain function. Our mind just works better when we get good sleep that contributes to complex thinking, learning, memory and decision making
  • Sleep enhances mood. Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy level, and worsen feelings of depression. 
  • Sleep improves mental health. Besides depression, The National Sleep Foundation indicates that studies have found that a lack of sleep is linked to mental health disorders like anxiety, bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.   

Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Guidelines to Sleeping Well During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Set Your Schedule and Routine

Establishing a routine can facilitate a sense of normalcy even in abnormal times.  Sleep-specific aspects of your daily schedule should include: 

  • Wake-Up Time: Set your alarm, say no to the snooze button, and have a fixed time to get every day started. 
  • Wind-Down Time: It is important to relax and get ready for bed. Given the stress of the pandemic, it might be wise to allow extra time to wind down each night. Read, stretch, meditate, along with brushing your teeth and putting on pajamas. 
  • Bedtime: Pick a consistent time to actually turn out the lights and try to fall asleep.    
  • Keep routines: 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: showering and getting dressed even if you are leaving the house, eating meals at the same time and blocking off specific times for work and exercise. 

Reserve Your Bed for Sleep

Sleep experts emphasize the importance of creating an association in your mind between your bed and sleep. This means working from home should not be working from bed. It also means avoiding bringing a laptop into bed to watch a movie. Do not 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. 

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 rhythm.     

  • 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
  • Open windows and blinds to let light into your home during the day. 
  • 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. 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 and Stay Active 

If you’re home all day, you may be tempted to take more naps. While a short power nap early in the afternoon can be useful to some people, it’s best to avoid long naps or naps later in the day that can hinder nighttime sleep. Naps should not be more than 15 to 20 minutes, reason being is that the body needs to avoid getting into REM sleep, which would compromise circadian rhythm. Also make sure to include regular daily activity -It has important benefits including promoting sleep. 

Practice Kindness and Foster Connection

It might not seem critical to your sleep, but kindness and connection can reduce stress and its harmful effects on mood and sleep. 

Despite all the bad news that you may come across, try to find some positive stories, such as how people are supporting one another through the pandemic. Stay in touch with friends and family and hold on to social connections while maintaining social distance.  

Utilize Relaxation Techniques

Finding ways to relax can be a potent tool in improving your sleep. Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music, and quiet reading are just a few examples of relaxation techniques that you can build into your routines. If you’re not sure where to get started, check out smartphone apps that have programs designed for people new to meditation. 

Watch what you eat and drink. Keeping a healthy diet can promote good sleep. Be cautious with alcohol and caffeine, especially later in the day as both can disrupt the quantity and quality of sleep. 

Shore Sleep Center might be able to help. For more information on a screening for a sleep disorder please call 609-820-9822.