Sleep is a critical piece of physical and mental health. With all the change, uncertainty, and stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are experiencing difficulty sleeping. There are several concrete steps you can take to improve your sleep during this troubling time.
First, it’s important to recognize that challenges with your sleep right now are understandable. Many of our patients report often going to bed later than usual, and getting up later, as a result of being out of work, even temporarily. Our normal routines have been disrupted with school closures, working from home, social distancing requirements, and the advice to stay at home as much as possible. Further, we are all experiencing anxiety related to fears of ourselves or loved ones – especially those in high risk groups – becoming infected with COVID-19 or inadvertently spreading the disease to others. The economic impact of the pandemic also leads to concerns about income, savings and making ends meet. All of these create barriers to sleep.
Sleep offers a broad range of physical and mental health benefits, which are always important, but even more so during times like these. Sleep strengthens our immune system and sleep loss impairs the body’s defense systems. Sleep improves brain function, aiding complex thinking, learning, memory and decision making—which are all key for adults and children adjusting to work and school from home. Sleep also enhances mood and improves our mental health, helping us to cope and stay positive during challenging times.
So what can you do to promote better sleep? There are several steps you can take. You may not notice an immediate improvement, but don’t give up. It can take time to stabilize your sleep and you may need to tweak the recommendations to meet your individual needs.
Keep a routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends. Make sure you get enough sleep; the baseline recommendation for adults is seven hours per night. Incorporate time for winding down before you go to sleep. This can include light reading, stretching, meditation and preparation for bed like brushing your teeth.
Make your bedroom a comfortable, relaxing place for sleep. It’s important to create an association in your mind between your bed and sleep, so try to reserve your bed just for sleep as much as possible. Don’t bring your laptop in for work or watching a movie or series. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
Optimize exposure to light. Light provides cues to our bodies for rest and wakefulness. Try to spend some time outside in natural light every day. Keep windows and blinds open to let light into your home during the day. Be mindful of screen time, which easily may have gone up during the pandemic. Avoid using your devices in the last 30-60 minutes before bed, or use them with blue light filter settings.
Stay active. Regular exercise can help you fall asleep more easily at night. Take a walk around your neighborhood (while staying a safe distance away from others), follow along with an online workout or class, or take care of household jobs like cleaning and gardening.
Be mindful of food and drink. Keep a healthy diet. Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. Also try to reduce your fluid intake before bedtime and stay hydrated throughout the day.
Use relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, yoga, stretching, mindfulness meditation, calming music and quiet reading are a few examples. Limit your intake of coronavirus-related news, which can cause stress. Visit one or two trusted news sources during a short, pre-set amount of time each day. Connect with loved ones for support.
If you have severe or worsening sleep or other health problems, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor. Mount Nittany Health is committed to providing you the care you need, when you need it and continues to offer in-office and telehealth options for patients.
For more information on how Mount Nittany Health is safely opening more of its services, visit mountnittany.org/open.
Joseph Cable, DO, is a provider with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pulmonary Medicine and Sleep Management program. He sees sleep patients at Mount Nittany Health—Sieg Neuroscience Center and pulmonary patients at the Mount Nittany Health—Park Avenue location.