The coronavirus pandemic has upended many of our daily lives, from the ways we shop and eat, to how we work and socialize. Now, it’s affecting our sleep. According to a survey of 60 countries by the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University in Melbourne, 46% of people reported poor sleep during the pandemic, up from 25% who said they had trouble sleeping before the outbreak. Meanwhile, sleep medication prescriptions rose 14.8% in the U.S. between February and March, according to the pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts.
Between financial worries, fears about the virus, and concern for loved ones, there are plenty of things that may be keeping you up at night. For many, it’s the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, while for others the lack of daily structure and change in routine may be interfering with a good night’s sleep. While the pandemic has shifted many of our priorities and schedules, getting a full night’s sleep has never been more important. Here’s what you need to know about sleep and your physical and mental health amid the pandemic:
Sleep & COVID-19
While there is little data on the link between sleep and COVID-19 specifically, studies show a lack of sleep is directly related to a weakened immune system. Research shows that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick when exposed to viruses like the common cold. When we sleep, our bodies produce proteins known as cytokines, as well as white blood cells, which target infection and inflammation. Sleep deprivation can decrease production of these proteins and cells and reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to infectious diseases like COVID-19. A lack of sleep can also affect how long it takes your body to recover from an infection.
Additionally, sleep plays a vital role in our mental health. Poor sleep can impact your memory, judgement, thought process, productivity, energy, and overall mood. It can cause irritability, anger, and even affect your ability to cope with stress. Studies show that sleep can also increase your risk of developing, as well as aggravate existing psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Given that the global coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of stress and uncertainty, restful sleep can help you maintain your mental health during this time.
How can I improve my sleep?
Follow a schedule
While it may be tempting to stay up late or sleep in since you are no longer commuting or taking the kids to school, sticking to a schedule can help create a sense of normalcy. Getting up and going to bed at the same time everyday will help your body establish a rhythm and set an internal clock. If you do have a sleepless night, it’s important not to overcompensate by going to bed earlier or later to catch up on sleep. You should continue throughout your day to the best of your ability and try to go to bed at the same time despite the previous night’s sleep. Adults should aim for about seven to eight hours each night.
Reserve your bed for sleep
With social distancing and stay-at-orders in place, you’re likely spending more time in your bedroom than normal. Though it may seem comfy to eat or work or otherwise spend the day in bed, it’s important for your mind to associate your bed with rest. Try to reserve your bed for sex and sleep only. If you find yourself tossing and turning, spend no more than 20 minutes trying to sleep before getting out of bed and doing something relaxing to put your mind at ease. This will maintain your body’s association with your bedroom as a sleep environment.
Limit your screen time
Though you may feel the urge to stay up late following the news or scrolling through your social media feeds to keep up with the latest coronavirus updates, your electronic devices may be interfering with your body’s natural sleep cycle. The blue light emitted from your screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin and reset your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. As much as possible, try to avoid using your smartphone or tablet at least an hour before bed. You may even consider making the bedroom a device-free zone altogether.
If you’re home all day, you may find yourself dozing on the couch more than usual. While a short, power nap can help you get through the day, long, irregular naps may make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night. You may also feel sleepier during the daytime. If you absolutely must take a nap, limit it to 30 minutes or less.
The gyms may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you should give up your regular exercise routine. Studies show that people who exercise regularly sleep much better than those who do not. We recommend exercising during the day and avoiding exercise near bedtime as this can make it harder to fall asleep.
Practice breathing exercises
Relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, and mediation have been proven to help improve quality of sleep. Try a breathing exercise or guided meditation. Calm your mind by practicing daily mindfulness either on your own, or with an app like Headspace or Calm.
If you still are struggling to sleep after following these tips, reach out to your primary care provider. You may be prescribed a short-term sleep medication or referred to psychotherapy or another behavioral health specialist. Read here for more tips on sleep and managing coronavirus anxiety.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.