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Tips for Better Sleep During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH - Blogs
By Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistApril 23, 2020

Are you having trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every aspect of life, so it’s no surprise people are complaining of disturbing dreams, not falling asleep, not staying asleep, and waking not feeling rested.

Poor sleep can affect your physical and mental health in subtle ways, so it’s important to take notice.  When you’re rested you think more clearly, and your memory and decision-making powers are stronger. Quality sleep also promotes a more positive mood allowing you to cope with life’s stressors with more patience and compassion. Disruptions with sleep are linked with anxiety and depression. Restful sleep is especially critical during this time because it provides a boost to your immune system so your body can fight infections like COVID-19.

The goal is to improve the quality of your sleep, not necessarily the quantity. Most adults need between 7 to 8 hours of sleep. You may enjoy 9 hours, or you may prefer 6 hours of sleep with a nap. For a few days, be aware of what time you awaken to get a gauge on how much sleep is ideal for you.

Here are tips for better sleep at night, so you can be at your best during the day.

Daytime Routine

If you’re staying at home to honor social distancing, the structure of your day may be irregular. You no longer have the usual cues to wake up and leave the house for work or school. Add back that routine by getting out of bed at the same time every day. If you like to work late and get up late, that’s fine. Take advantage of this unique opportunity, but be consistent with your adjusted hours.

Once you’re awake, get out of bed and don’t get back in bed unless you want to sleep. The idea is to train your body to recognize that when you’re in bed it’s time to sleep. I realize many of you are in tight spaces, but please try this. Move off the bed when you’re on your laptop, watching TV, reading, or eating.

If you like to nap, limit yourself to a short one early in the afternoon once a day. If you nap more than that, you may jeopardize your nighttime sleep.

Food and Drink

If you’ve been in “vacation” eating mode, stop now. Try eating meals and snacks at regular times during the day. Be proactive and fill up with meals heavy with veggies so it’s easier to limit processed foods that are often high in calories, salt, and sugar.

There are plenty of memes meant to be humoruous about the COVID-19 weight gain, but it’s a real issue for many people. Obesity is linked to medical illnesses like sleep apnea, which disrupts sleep if not treated. Also, weight gain and heavy late-night snacks can result in nighttime heartburn, which will disturb your sleep.

Look at your caffeine and alcohol intake. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you may only be able to have your coffee in the morning or early afternoon. Some decaf coffees, herbal teas, and chocolate have caffeine, so be sure to check. Even one glass of an alcoholic beverage can alter your sleep pattern resulting in less sleep and more awakening at night. If you do drink, consider stopping completely for 1-2 weeks to see if your sleep improves.

Exercise

The increased stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic are tiring people out. However, this kind of stress-related fatigue doesn’t help people sleep well. Exercise is critical to get the physical fatigue and the mental release needed to relax and fall asleep. If you’re staying at home, you’re missing out on steps during the day you may not have even counted as exercise in the past, like walking to and from your daily transit.

Exercise in the morning, especially in a sunshine filled space can help your body know that it’s time to wake up and be alert for the day. Move around a few times a day to increase your daily step count. Exercise is energizing, so you may want to avoid evening exercise if it’s going to keep you up at night.

There are free videos and apps for at-home aerobics, strength training, and flexibility work. If you’re in a place where you can social distance safely – go outside for a walk, run, or bike ride.  Being outdoors can add to your relaxation and ultimately lead to better sleep in the evening. If you miss the social aspect of exercise, try to add that back – consider a dance party with your kids or roomies.  

Nighttime Routine

Small tweaks can improve the quality of your sleep tremendously. The ideal bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. You may want to add black out curtains, a fan, or a white noise app. 

Wind down with activities that physically, mentally, and emotionally soothe you. It might be listening to music, reading a book, or taking a bath. There are relaxation tools you can utilize to calm yourself before bed. Explore yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and tai chi.

Avoid evening activities that are anxiety provoking. Limit your news intake about world affairs and COVID-19 to a short period early in the day. Also, while social media can seem like a light way to pass the time, it can be challenging to see people posting their best selves. All you may see is the gourmet cooking and DIY projects that make people seem perfect, and not their difficult moments living through this crisis. Limiting evening screen time also has the added bonus of protecting you from the blue light, which can disrupt sleep.

Stay connected

Be kind to yourself and recognize how stressful it is living with social distancing during this global crisis. Poor sleep may be only one of other manifestations of the stress. Reach out to your friends and family for support. Through video chats you can socialize with others meaningfully and maintain your physical distance.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor or a mental health provider if you have questions or concerns. There may be telehealth options available to you. Along with treatment for a mental health condition like anxiety or depression, they can help you build coping skills to address needs ranging from specific family and work stressors or help with feelings of worry and isolation. 

 

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About the Author
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and a WebMD Medical Editor. She is on the team that makes sure all WebMD content is medically correct, current and understandable. She sees patients at the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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