Sleep tips during the COVID-19 pandemic, Part I
The new coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) has introduced the world into unexplored waters. Entire countries are in lockdown mode, the economy has stopped, and many people are scared for themselves and their loved ones.
With so many unprecedented changes occurring so quickly, it is understandable that the importance of sleep is out of focus. But as we adapt to mandatory quarantine at home and try to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on quality sleep brings enormous benefits.
Sleep is crucial to the physical health and efficient functioning of the immune system. It is also a major stimulator of emotional well-being and mental health, helping to overcome stress, depression and anxiety.
Whether you have had sleep problems before COVID-19 or they have recently appeared, there are specific steps you can take to improve your sleep during this global pandemic.
What are the challenges for sleep in a pandemic?
Millions of people have suffered from insomnia before the coronavirus, and unfortunately, the pandemic creates many new challenges, even for people who previously had no sleep problems.
The coronavirus pandemic does not affect everyone in the same way. Of course, patients with the virus and front-line healthcare workers face the burden of the direct effects of the disease. But, as we have seen all over the world, the consequences spread far and wide and create significant barriers to sleep.
Breaking the daily routine
Social distancing, school break, quarantine, work from home: all these factors bring about profound changes in the normal regime for people of all ages and walks of life.
• It may be difficult to adjust to, a new daily schedule or have none.
• Keeping track of time and even the day can be difficult without typical responsibilities such as leaving children at school, arriving at the office, attending recurring social events, or going to the gym.
• Staying home, especially if there is low levels of natural light, can reduce wake-up state and sleepiness, which is critical to our circadian rhythm.
• If you are not currently working or your working hours are reduced due to COVID-19, you may be tempted to get oversleep in the morning. Sleeping more than seven-eight hours per night can make waking up on time much harder, even if you use an alarm. Those who fall asleep on a regular basis can also feel tired, irritated and unfocused throughout the day.
Anxiety and worry
Concerns abound during the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, many people are afraid of catching coronavirus because they do not want to get sick or infect other people by accident.
Most people have close friends or family who are older or at risk, which raises concerns about their health and safety.
At the same time, the economic problems affect almost everyone. As the economy stagnates and job losses increase, it is normal to worry about your income and savings.
There is still so much unknown in this pandemic - how far the disease will spread, whether hospitals can cope with the crisis, how long we will be blocked, when the economy can recover - and such uncertainty often leads to anxiety which disturbs sleep.
Depression and isolation
This crisis can lead to isolation and depression, which can be worse for people who have a loved one who is ill or has died from COVID-19. Grief and depression can be exacerbated through isolation at home, and both are known to have the potential to cause significant sleep problems.
Greater family and work stress
Many families are severely stressed by the coronavirus. Canceled travel, isolation from friends, and plenty of time at home can put a strain on anyone. Continuing work from home or keeping a house full of children who are used to being in school can create real problems, generating stress and fights that have been proven to be barriers to sleep.
Too much screen time
Whether you're checking the news on your phone, attending a Zoom video conference, watching too much Netflix, or staring at your laptop while working from home, social distance can mean a huge increase in screen time.
We've talked about it many times, but it's worth mentioning again - too much screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental effect on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that hamper drowsiness, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, the hormone the body produces to help us fall asleep.
Stress related fatigue
Chronic stress from experiencing a pandemic can lead to a variety of physical symptoms, including persistent headaches, memory gaps, and digestive problems. Stress-related fatigue is another common side effect. Fatigue is an almost constant state of grogginess that develops over time and reduces your energy, motivation and concentration. Even if you get enough sleep at night, fatigue can still make you feel tired and unmotivated in the morning.
Why is sleep important during a pandemic?
Sleep is a critical biological process and the truth is that it is always important. However, when confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, sleep becomes even more important because of its wide-ranging benefits for physical and mental health.
• Sleep supports a healthy immune system. A solid night's rest boosts our body's defenses, and studies have even found that lack of sleep can make some vaccines less effective.
• Sleep enhances brain function. Our mind works better when we sleep well, contributing to complex thinking, learning, memory and decision making. For adults and children adjusting to work and school at home, having a good night's sleep can help them maintain a sharp mind.
• Sleep enhances mood. Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, reduce their energy level and cause or worsen their sense of depression.
• Sleep improves mental health. In addition to depression, studies have found that sleep deprivation is associated with mental health conditions such as anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Experts agree that getting a consistent, quality sleep improves virtually every aspect of health, making it worthy of our attention during a coronavirus pandemic.
Look forward to part two of this article in which we will give you practical tips on how to improve your sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic.