The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a major impact on how people sleep. In a recent study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers found people reporting sleeping more, but a decrease in the quality of that sleep.
In the study, data showed that after countries imposed stay-at-home, isolation, lockdown, or social distancing orders to slow the spread of COVID-19, people were sleeping longer at night, but overall sleep quality decreased.
“Sleep is one of the most important health behaviors for optimal immune function, mental and physical health, and quality of life,” said Lori Neeleman, Ph.D., DBSM, a clinical psychologist at Intermountain Healthcare. “Biologically, stress, and sleep just do not play well together.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant stress across individuals, families and communities.
“With the current recommendations to stay home, many people are finding themselves without the structure to anchor a normal day/night routine,” said Kevin Walker, MD, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Sleep Disorders Center. “The lack of routine coupled with increased stress is a perfect storm for the development of sleep problems.”
In times of stress and uncertainty, it becomes even more important to engage in strategies that can help to manage stress such as regular exercise, healthy meals, relaxation/mindfulness, self-care, and connection (within the COVID-19 guidelines for social distancing).
In addition to focusing on healthy behaviors, the following list of 11 strategies from the Intermountain sleep experts provides specific recommendations that can lead to better sleep:
- Create and maintain regular daytime and nighttime routines.
- Prioritize getting outside each day for at least 30 minutes, preferably before noon.
- Go to bed when you feel sleepy and don’t try to “make” yourself go to sleep.
- Calming and soothing bedtime routines are important for kids and adults.
- Dim the lights in the evening and avoid screens one to two hours before bed.
- If you find yourself worrying or having trouble quieting your mind, take some time a couple of hours before bed to write down the things that are concerning you.
- Relaxation exercises, such as slow easy breathing, performed on your own or with the guidance of an app or recording can be helpful at bedtime.
- Pay attention to healthy sleep habits
- For adults, short naps (15-20 minutes) in the midafternoon can feel refreshing and provide a daytime boost. Longer and/or later naps can interfere with nighttime sleep and it is usually best to avoid long naps if you are having trouble sleeping at night. However, if you are ill, napping and extra sleep may help in recovery, so allow for that extra sleep if needed.
- Take sleep medication only as prescribed. Avoid frequent or long-term use of over-the counter sleep aids.
Remember that in times of stress, sleep often becomes temporarily disrupted, but will return to normal in time. If you are experiencing a lot of distress about your sleep, talk with your medical or mental health provider.
To learn more visit Intermountain Healthcare.
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