The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged virtually every aspect of life, and for many of us, sleep has been severely affected.
Everyone knows that if they don’t sleep well they typically feel tired and generally lousy the next day. However, sleep is also important for immune function and overall wellness. In this pandemic, it’s worth focusing on a few key areas that can make a difference in your slumbers and, hopefully, in your body’s defense against the coronavirus.
I have created a simple mnemonic using the letters S-L-E-E-P to help you remember these points:
S - Structure
Many people have had their daily routines upended in the last several weeks as a result of stay-at-home orders, unemployment, and managing kids’ schooling at home. Along with that change has been a loss of the usual structures and obligations that keep us on a regular sleep schedule. It can be easy to stay up late, oversleep, linger in bed, and excessively nap in the afternoons. It’s important to assess your schedule and stick to a consistent bedtime and wake time.
L - Light
Light has a powerful influence on regulating your body clock. Expose yourself to sunlight shortly after waking in the morning (which may also improve your mood). It is important to manage your screen time, as the blue light from screens can also impact the body clock, especially if there is excessive evening exposure.
E - Exercise (Including Self Care)
Staying physically active will help you sleep better. Start with walking and step up to more vigorous activity as your medical condition and physician allow. However, avoid vigorous exercise within a couple of hours of bedtime, as it may increase your body temperature and make it harder to fall asleep. As for self care, watch your diet, limiting junk food. Caffeine can disrupt sleep, so try to avoid it at a minimum after the noon hour. Be particularly careful about excessive alcohol intake and avoid using alcohol as a sleep aide. While alcohol may induce sleep for a couple of hours, it disrupts your sleep cycles, making the overall quality of sleep much worse.
E - Emotions
The COVID pandemic has been emotionally challenging. Many people have experienced stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression. These emotions can all impact sleep, but there are things that can help. If you are spending more than usual time at home with various family members, invest in those relationships with conversation and special activities. Social distancing does not have to mean relational distancing. Make an effort to stay connected with others through a phone call or one of the myriad of technology options now available. You may want to contact one of the multitude of community outreach services available as well as local churches and ministries. Certainly if your emotional state is substantially affecting your daytime functioning or seems more than you can handle, contact your physician or other professional services for further guidance.
P - Patience
We’ve all been asked to be patient as the pandemic runs its course. Improvements in sleep can also take time, so be patient if your sleep does not immediately get better with the above recommendations.
There are several other measures that may improve your sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has published Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which can be accessed at SleepFoundation.org.
Perhaps you have let poor sleep habits develop over time and your symptoms are now amplified by the pandemic. Pay attention to your sleep as normal routines resume. It might be helpful to see a sleep specialist if your difficulties persist.
Andrew Wilson, Jr. M.D. is with Pulmonary & Sleep Associates of Alabama and Director, Sleep Center for Brookwood Baptist Medical Center
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