The introduction of the novel coronavirus (known as COVID-19) has brought with it changes to nearly every aspect of life. Schools are closed, many are working from home, and stress levels are elevated. Not only has COVID-19 posed a risk to physical health, but it has taken a toll on moods, work productivity, and social relationships. Many people feel more fatigued, overwhelmed, and anxious than ever before. Finding ways to cope with these feelings is an important aspect of keeping your body healthy during these uncertain times.
Sleep is foundational for optimal functioning at all times. However, as individuals cope with the stress of a global pandemic, the benefits of healthy sleep may be even more important. Researchers and scientists have consistently demonstrated healthy sleep to be related to improved immune functioning, mood, energy, and thinking skills such as memory and decision-making while also being associated with decreased irritability, fatigue, and depression.
Healthy sleep is more important now than ever but also may be harder to attain. Follow the tips below for maintaining healthy sleep habits during COVID-19.
- Duration and Consistency: One of the most important things you can do for your health is to set a consistent sleep-wake schedule that allows for just the right amount of sleep each night – not too little and not too much. You should aim to fall asleep and wake up at approximately the same time each day, even on weekends. How much sleep do you need? See the table below.
14-17 hrs 12-15 hrs 11-14 hrs 10-13 hrs 9-11 hrs 8-10 hrs 7-9 hrs 7-8 hrs
- Use a Routine: It's helpful to establish a routine throughout the day that includes time for work, socialization (from a distance), exercise, and relaxation. A routine becomes particularly important as you approach bedtime as it will help cue your body and mind that it is time for sleep. Your routine should start at approximately the same time each evening and should consist of the same set of activities (e.g., clean up room, put on pajamas, brush teeth, read). If you have trouble settling your mind before sleep, try relaxation strategies like diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery. Don't give up on relaxation after the first try – to be most effective, your body must practice these strategies several times.
- Avoid Screens Before Bed: As a part of your bedtime routine, turn off screens and dim the lights. Exposure to light in the evening prevents your brain from releasing melatonin which makes you feel sleepy. Further, the content on screens tends to be interesting, so it is hard to put them down even when we do feel tired. Make a commitment to cut screens off 30-60 minutes before bed for healthy sleep.
- Keep Your Bed for Sleep Only: As we spend more time at home than ever, it is tempting to use our bed as a cozy work spot or place to binge watch TV. However, the more time we spend in bed engaged in activities other than sleep, the more our body and brain associate our bed with being awake, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night. Make a cozy nest on the couch or floor but keep your bed only for sleep.
- Practice Good Sleep Hygiene: There are several things you can do during the day and before bed to promote healthy sleep. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day at a level that makes you breath faster and increases your heart rate. This could be going for a run or doing squats with that coveted bag of flour in your cupboard. But don’t exercise right before bedtime or engage in other activities that will raise your internal body temperature as this will make sleep more difficult. Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before you plan to go to sleep. Try to drink that dalgona coffee before 2pm. Unless you are a child 5 years or younger, do not nap! The adult body and brain function best when sleep is obtained in one chunk. For most people, it is better to have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night than it is to have 6 hours with a 2-hour daytime nap.