In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, San Diego schools closed their doors and sent students home in mid-March to complete their academic year online. Workplace closures soon followed. Over the course of the following weeks, residents found themselves facing stay-at-home orders, job losses or working from home, homeschooling, the prospect or reality of illness, and seemingly endless hours to fill.
In response, everyday schedules were forgotten as people adapted to a new normal. Bedtimes and waking times became later, afternoon naps became a new pastime, exercise routines and regular nutrition were often neglected, and sleep patterns became disrupted.
“A lot of people have shifted their schedule significantly, both staying up later than usual and sleeping in later,” says Dr. Victoria Sharma, medical director of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Sleep Disorders Center. “Others simply disposed of any schedule. As a result, sleep has suffered.”
In fact, a recent survey of more than 1,600 people from several countries found that 46% of participants reported that their sleep has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there has been a nearly 15% increase in sleep medication prescriptions in the U.S. Experts believe these changes are due to pandemic-related stress, the lack of routines and regular exercise, and poor sleep hygiene.
Allow your body two weeks to prepare for the return to work
As restrictions begin to be lifted and people return to work, many are concerned that their current “non-routine” might negatively affect their ability to successfully return to their lives outside the home. According to Dr. Sharma, the key will be easing into your expected work schedule at least two weeks prior to your official return.
“We all have a circadian rhythm, and significantly altering your day-to-day sleep schedule can disrupt it, making it harder to fall asleep at night and also to feel awake during the day,” she says. “While it may seem like a rude awakening — pun intended — to be back on a work schedule, you will do better overall with a regular routine.”
Dr. Sharma offered these additional tips to improve your sleep:
- Avoid doing stressful things close to bedtime, such as poring over the daily COVID-19 infection and death rates — especially on a digital device.
- Engage in relaxing activities prior to bedtime, such as taking a warm bath, reading a relaxing book or meditating.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption close to bedtime.
- Exercise — as long as it’s not close to bedtime, it can improve sleep and be very helpful in boosting energy levels.
Schedule time during the day for the worries that keep you up at night
Dr. Sharma also suggested that you avoid thinking about stressful things right before bed or in the middle of the night. Instead, try a designated worry time during the day.
“Make a list of everything that has to get done and any problems or worries you have and then write down the next step or solution to each problem,” she says. “If there is nothing that can be done about it, let yourself worry about it for a few minutes. Dealing with problems and worries during a scheduled time during the day, but not right before bedtime, may prevent you from thinking about those things at night.”
Sufficient sleep is important for your mental and physical health. Talk to your doctor if you are unable to return to a regular sleep schedule or if worries or negative thoughts are affecting your sleep and overall quality of life.