Has COVID-19 Impacted Your Sleep? You Are Not Alone

Every day, our world is learning more about the new coronavirus and the illness it causes (COVID-19). We are finding out how the virus is spread and what kinds of symptoms or complications it can cause. One thing that may not be as obvious when it comes to COVID-19 and its effects, is its impact on sleep.

Whether you have been struggling with insomnia for years, or are just now starting to have sleep issues since the pandemic began, you are not alone. Many are feeling the sleep-related effects of the COVID-19 era.

The COVID-19 pandemic and sleep

Our lives have changed in many dramatic ways since the new coronavirus made its way into our world. Many schools and businesses are closed, social outings have been canceled, and, for many, work is now at home. While the COVID-19 virus may not have a direct impact on sleep (besides potentially having a tough time getting comfortable and going to bed if you are physically sick), all of these life changes certainly do.

Having kids at home and trying to navigate school or activities from home can be exhausting. Finding ways to work from home or learning new technologies can be frustrating. Losing a job or having hours reduced can be financially frightening. Being in the house all day every day with several other people can be chaotic. Not being able to see friends or loved ones, or worrying about their health and safety, can be isolating. Many of these new adjustments can lead to significant stress, anxiety, or depression, which can significantly impact our sleep.

These changes can also completely upheave our routines and the normal time cues we have that help us get through the day. For example, not needing to take the kids to school, go to an activity, or run daily errands can make it easy to lose track of our sense of time. Going to bed later and/or waking up later can be an easy pattern to fall into. Especially when working from home or if working hours have been changed. Losing our routines and dealing with significant fear, stress, or uncertainty can impact sleep in a big way.1

Sleep and the immune system

Sleep plays a big role in the immune system and how well it works. The immune system is our body’s way of fighting off invaders, like viruses, bacteria, and other threats. When we lose sleep, our immune system cannot recharge and boost up like it normally would. This can lower the number of infection-fighting cells or chemicals in our body that keep us healthy. When these are affected, we are not able to defend ourselves like usual.

Although some of the best ways to prevent coronavirus infection are through physically distancing yourself from others, washing your hands, wearing masks, cleaning surfaces, and eating well, getting good sleep may be just as important in protecting yourself.1,2

Getting a better night’s rest during uncertain times

As mentioned, the current state of the world can affect our routines in a variety of ways. Tips for getting a better night’s sleep during this time include:

Creating a schedule and sticking to it

Trying to mimic a normal day’s schedule can be helpful, even if you are not leaving the house. Having a consistent wake-up time, showering, and getting dressed can help you start your day off strong. Maintaining a normal wind-down routine and bedtime can also help keep your body on track for a better night’s sleep. Some may also find it helpful to create a schedule with time cues throughout the day, like having a specific time for meals, working out, or screen time.

Reducing screen time

On the topic of screen time, many may see a dramatic increase in screen usage while at home. The blue light from screens can impact the normal secretion of melatonin, and impact our circadian rhythms. Trying to reduce screen time as much as possible, especially an hour before bed, can be helpful in getting to sleep.

Getting natural light

Being at home may lead to a decrease in natural light. Especially if your home does not have many windows. Getting outside early in the day and opening blinds inside (if you are able) can help keep your natural rhythm as normal as possible.

Staying active and practicing stress-reducing techniques

Getting exercise can be a challenge when at home, however, going for a short walk or doing an online exercise video may be helpful in getting you to sleep at night. Reducing stress through exercise, as well as yoga, meditation, hobbies, or other techniques can also help reduce your mental burden and help you rest better.

Being mindful of naps

Chronic stress and lack of sleep can lead to fatigue, or severe tiredness, during the day. It may be easier than ever to want to take a nap while at home. However, long naps, especially later in the day, can prevent a person from falling asleep at their normal bedtime. If you do need a nap, try to plan for shorter power naps earlier in the day.

Maintaining your sleep environment

Many experts say that the bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. This is to help your body naturally be prepared for sleep when you head into your room for the night. However, navigating work or school from home during the pandemic may lead to more time in your bedroom when you need a quiet space to get things done. Although it may not be possible for everyone depending on your space, trying to avoid doing work or hanging out in your bedroom as much as possible can be very important in maintaining a regular schedule. If your body only associates your bed with sleep, it may be easier to tell it to settle down and get some rest when it is actually time for bed. Keeping your room cool and dark, as well as your sheets and blankets clean can also help maintain an environment that is best for sleeping.1

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