Humanity has been living with the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, for over a year. Although the first cases were diagnosed in Wuhan, China, in November 2019, it was throughout 2020 that the virus spread, causing one of the most severe global pandemics in recent history.
Some of the consequences of COVID-19 are well known and are still present:
● economic hardships,
● virtual work and study,
● countries have tried various ways to contain contagion (including closing their borders), and
● more people feel isolated, unable to see their relatives and distrustful of friends and neighbors.
Other consequences are less noticeable but equally common: living a radically different new normal, many people have seen their sleep affected by the pandemic. Sometimes they even stopped sleeping at all.
While nations face COVID-19, it’s up to each individual to stay healthy to prevent the virus from proliferating. And sleeping well is a practice that can bring many benefits to your health, physical and mental.
The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
Millions of people had insomnia before the coronavirus. But the pandemic has brought sleepless nights for those who used to have a healthy sleep—a disorder that some experts call Coronasomnia
Sleeping well and for six to eight hours daily is mandatory to maintain physical and mental health. Numerous studies confirm the adverse effects of insufficient night rest in the body, increasing the risks of hypertension, diabetes, and other illnesses. A good night’s sleep also improves brain function and is critical in avoiding or lessening the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Finally, inadequate sleep affects our immune system. A recent study
shows that a good night’s rest strengthens the body’s natural defenses, while lack of sleep can make people more susceptible to disease and even make some vaccines less effective.
How the Pandemic Affects Your Sleep
There is no doubt that the current situation is dire for certain groups, like those with pre-existing conditions and the frontline health professionals combating the disease. But even people far from this reality are suffering the various impacts of the pandemic.
In times of uncertainty, with people losing their jobs or being forced to close their businesses, sleep is easily affected. A 2020 article
published in the Sleep Medicine Journal
found that the pandemic caused a significant increase in the prevalence of insomnia and other related disorders in people who slept well before.
● Changes to the Daily Routine– Suddenly, you need to avoid leaving the house. With schools and offices closed, the whole family is confined within the same four walls, 24/7. This new routine makes it difficult even to control the time—who also lost track of the day of the week during stay-at-home orders?
To make matters worse, spending so much time at home can directly affect your sleep because your body doesn’t easily recognize the contrast between day and night anymore. This is especially true for those now struggling with a work-life balance since working from home.
● Too Much Time in Front of Screens– Since staying at home more, have you stopped to think how much of your day is spent looking at a smartphone, watching TV, or working at a computer?
In general, social distancing has caused an increase in exposure to screens
, which directly affects your sleep. These devices’ blue light reduces the natural production of melatonin by the body, and this hormone is linked to healthy sleep. Besides, too much time looking at screens stimulates our brain and may take some time to slow down afterward.
● Anxiety– It’s not just the fear of the virus; people are also far from friends and family, with economic difficulties, without knowing whether they will get laid off or find a new job.
No one knows for sure how long the situation will last, which naturally increases our anxiety levels. This also impacts your sleep directly because it’s common to go to bed at night with an accelerated mind and all kinds of depressing thoughts.
● Depression– Uncertainties about the future and the feeling of isolation can also worsen the symptoms of depression. It’s even more serious for those who have family members at-risk groups or have lost close people because of COVID-19. Being locked up at home definitely doesn’t help, and you will have to deal with the psychological side very carefully.
● Stress– Those who now work from home live in particularly challenging times since it’s necessary to focus on work while at home with the family. If you have hyperactive children around the house and noisy pets, concentrating can be very difficult. This ends up causing work-related stress, with more demands and less productivity.
Steps for Healthy Sleep
If you have started to lose sleep because of COVID-19 or are exposed to any of the above scenarios, it’s essential to maintain healthy sleeping practices.
Some cases are more severe and may require medical treatment, but following the steps below can help ensure a good night’s sleep in uncertain times:
● Keep a Busy Routine– Spending so much time at home can be an invitation to boredom. Keep busy by adopting a routine even in isolation. Have scheduled times to wake up, get out of bed, eat your meals, work and sleep, and follow them to the letter.
Use social media and online communication apps to keep in touch with family and friends. If you are not working, instead of sleeping late, enjoy reading, watching movies, and engaging in healthy hobbies.
● Sleep at the Right Time– With fewer places to be, you may be tempted to sleep in later or spend more time in bed in the morning. Sleeping and waking up at different times can mess up your body’s sleep schedule, making it unable to shut down at night. Get out of bed as soon as you wake up in the morning and stay active during the day, avoiding out-of-time naps.
● Practice Exercises– Stay-at-home orders can also be an invitation to a sedentary lifestyle, and this can bring some health problems—in addition to affecting your immune system. It’s important to stay active, and exercising helps the body to fall asleep more quickly at night to restore energy.
If the isolation rules in your area don’t allow you to take walks outdoors, go up and down the stairs of the building, or adopt simple exercise programs via live-stream to do in your living room, balcony, or backyard.
● Adopt Relaxation Exercises– Lying in bed, nervous or anxious, won’t help you get good sleep. Before laying your head on the pillow, adopt some simple relaxation exercises.
A good option is Autogenic Training (AT)
, a relaxation exercise that tries to promote feelings of calm in your body through self-suggestion techniques. Deep breathing exercises
can also help to decrease body tension. They only require you to breathe in and out slowly and regularly in a comfortable position.
● Keep Your Sheets Clean
– COVID-19 brought a paranoia about cleanliness and hygiene that can benefit our overall health. Recent studies
prove that a well-made bed with clean sheets (and even the smell of new ones) is inviting for a good night’s sleep. Wash your sheets and pillowcases at least once a week. It’s also recommended to change the bedding entirely at least once every five to eight years.
● Buy a New Mattress– If nothing is working, perhaps the answer to your insomnia is simpler than it looks—your mattress is not suitable for your body or your style of sleeping, or it’s too old and no longer offers the comfort you need.
When buying a new mattress
, there are various aspects to consider. For example, if you have back or neck problems, a physical therapist can recommend a specific model or material for good spinal alignment and more comfortable sleep. Depending on your sleeping position, a mattress too firm or too soft may not always be the best option.
Finally, there are several materials, from coils to latex and foam, and even an air foam. Before buying a new mattress, research your options by reading consumer reviews.
Sleep Well Can Keep You Healthier
The measures motivated by the pandemic caused significant behavioral and societal changes. Sleeping difficulty can be a reflex of such profound changes.
Sleep is a process that depends greatly on our daily routine and can be impacted by disorders such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Therefore, it’s understandable that the forced changes affect how some people are sleeping and the time and quality of their night rest.
To prevent sleep disorders from affecting your immune system (leaving your body susceptible to disease at such a delicate time), try to change your habits and adopt healthier practices to sleep better.
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