By Charles J. Abate, MD, FCCP, Sleep Medicine, CareMount Medical
March 10, 2021
The continuously evolving COVID-19 virus and news about it, is exhausting. Getting enough good sleep can be difficult in the best of times, but it’s particularly challenging as the stress of pandemic life leads to sleepless nights. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says getting enough sleep is not a luxury – it’s something people need for good health. Not getting enough sleep can be linked to many chronic heart diseases and hazardous health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and depression.
According to pre-pandemic CDC data, one third of U.S. adults reported they usually got less than the recommended amount of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says that, “one key benefit of getting enough good sleep is strengthening your immune system to help prevent or limit infection in your body.” During this pandemic we are making extra efforts to stay healthy. Now, more than ever, we need the restful sleep that boosts the body’s immune defense in addition to its vital overall role in our physical and mental well-being.
Here are some steps you can take to encourage good sleep:
• Be aware of the health disorders that can affect your sleep including insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy or sleep apnea.
• Get the right amount of sleep: the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours per night for adults between 18 and 64 years and seven to eight hours for those over 65.
• Recognize some signs of poor sleep such as not feeling rested after the recommended amount of sleep, waking up during the night or experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders including snoring or gasping for air.
• Adopt healthy habits that can optimize sleep.
In the evening:
• Avoid eating large meals, drinking caffeine or alcohol at least two hours before going to bed.
• Don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
• Relax. Try deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music, and quiet reading.
• Keep your bedroom cool (around 70 F degrees), well-ventilated, dark and quiet.
• Reduce blue light exposure to screens in the bedroom including television, smartphones or laptops. Excess screen time, later in the evening, can stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to sleep, and the blue light from screens can suppress natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.
• Don’t toss and turn: if you can’t get to sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing in very low light. Then, go back to bed to try to fall asleep.
During the day:
• Move your body and stay physically active, according to your doctor’s recommendation.
• Spend some time outside in natural light which has positive effects on circadian rhythm.
• Keep a consistent sleep cycle: go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
• Avoid daytime naps or limit them to short power naps.
Make sleep awareness a priority! If you are experiencing sleep disturbances or have concerns about the quality of your sleep, schedule an in-office or virtual visit with your medical provider. She or he can try to uncover any underlying conditions that may be causing your sleep problems and make treatment recommendations.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Sleep Foundation