“Sleep can certainly be impacted by COVID-19,” says Dr. Victoria Sharma, medical director of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Sleep Disorders Center. “Some people can experience difficulty falling asleep, while others find themselves waking up throughout the night.”
According to Dr. Sharma, COVID-19 can impact sleep in two ways:
- Added stress and anxiety
This pandemic has added a new layer of worries that we don’t typically experience. Those who work are adjusting to a home office environment. Parents have taken on a homeschooling role. The “new normal” means sheltering in place. Financial hardships are growing. And every day, a negative news loop brings more confusion and concern.
“Staying up worrying about our health and our livelihoods can result in insomnia,” Dr. Sharma says. “And in turn, lack of sleep increases our body’s stress levels, resulting in more loss of sleep.”
- Changes to a set routine
The quality of your sleep relies a lot upon your daily sleep schedule. Changes to this schedule, such as sleeping in or staying up later, can throw off your circadian rhythm.
“With many people working from home, and kids staying home, typical schedules are no longer present,” Dr. Sharma says. “There’s no longer a reason to be strict about wake or bed times. But the combination of excess worry and disrupted circadian rhythm can wreak havoc on our sleep.”
Sleep troubles can be frustrating, but according to Dr. Sharma, they can also leave us vulnerable to illness. “While it’s easy to see how COVID-19 can impact our sleep, it’s also important to note that our sleep can impact how our bodies will respond to COVID-19,” she says. “Lack of sleep can impair the function of our immune system, thus impairing our body’s response to an infection by a virus.”
To help you sleep better during this troubling time, Dr. Sharma recommends the following six tips:
- Keep a schedule
Set a time to wake up and go to bed, and stick with them. To help you stay consistent, set other times throughout the day — such as mealtimes and shower times.
- Avoid doing stressful things close to bedtime
If the news causes you stress, switch off the TV before bedtime. Do the tough things early in the day, such as planning your grocery buying or teaching your child geometry.
- Engage in relaxing activities close to bedtime
Turning your worries “off” before bed prepares your mind for a good night’s sleep. Read a book, write a letter, meditate, watch a fun movie or find other ways to wind down.
- Designate a time for worry
Pick a time each day (not near bedtime) to make a to-do list, and write down your current worries. Then, write a next step or solution. Let yourself worry temporarily, and then put your list away.
Exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, improving both quality and quantity of sleep. Even if the pandemic keeps you from your gym, there are many ways to stay physically active while at home.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
Your morning coffee can help as a pick-me-up, but caffeine at night can keep you up. And while alcohol may make you sleepy initially, it can dramatically reduce the quality of your sleep.