The COVID-19 lockdown has played havoc with sleeping patterns of many individuals. With such unprecedented changes happening so quickly, many people are struggling to get their much-needed sleep.
Sleep and mental health are connected intimately in various ways. The neurochemicals that are responsible for a good night’s sleep help manage our mood. Therefore, sleep is an essential part of our lives when it comes to maintaining our mental health.
Additionally , with the looming threat of COVID-19 infection in the country, it has now become important to strengthen our immune system, and getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to boost the immunity.
What are the challenges to a good night’s sleep during COVID-19 Pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic does not affect everyone in the same way. While frontline health workers and patients with infection are facing the brunt of the direct impacts of this virus, the consequences have spread far and wide. Most of the people in self-quarantine and lockdown are facing significant barriers to sleep.
- Disruption of Routine: Life changed dramatically for everyone, with our usual daily routines like regular commutes, meal times, and time spent outside being altered because of the lockdown. All of these changes impact the natural, 24-hour internal ‘clock’ that plays a vital role in regulating our sleep pattern. The internal ‘clock’ is always running in the background of our brain. It controls our hormones and body temperature to make us feel alert during the day and tired in the night.Regular mealtimes and exposure to natural light are two of the most potent forces in aligning with our internal ‘clock’. But for many, prolonged lockdown has changed meal timings and the time they spend outside.
- Anxiety and Worry: Many fear catching the COVID-19 infection as they do not want to get sick or infect others inadvertently. There are worries about the health and safety of close friends or family members who are older or in high-risk groups because of pre-existing conditions. Besides, economic concerns are affecting nearly everyone, as well. As economic activity stalls, it is quite normal to worry about income, savings and to make both ends meet.There is still not much known about COVID-19 on how much and for how long the virus will spread. Questions how long the lockdowns will continue and when the economy can recover, create uncertainty and often brings anxiety that disrupts sleep.
- Excess Screen Time: Social distancing can mean a significant increase in screen time. Excessive screen time, like checking the news on your TV or phone, joining family or official meetings on Zoom, binge-watching movies, or spending those extra hours on the computer while working-from-home, especially in the evening, can have a negative impact on sleep. The blue light from screens suppresses the natural production of melatonin, a hormone made by our body to help us sleep.
Why is good sleep Important during a Pandemic?
Sleep has wide range of benefits for physical as well as mental health.
- Sleep builds an effective immune system. An uninterrupted nightly sleep builds the defences of our body. Some studies suggest that lack of sleep can make a few vaccines less effective.
- Sleep enhances brain function. Our brain works better after a good rest, contributing to learning, decision-making, complex thinking and memory.
- Sleep improves our mood. Lack of sleep can make us irritable, drag down our energy levels and may cause or worsen feelings of depression.
- Sleep improves mental health. Apart from depression, studies show that lack of sleep is associated with mental health conditions, such as Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder
Solutions – Tips to sleep better during the COVID-19 outbreak
Establish a new routine
If you are working from home, establishing a routine is crucial for getting good sleep right now. Maintain the sleep-wake cycle. Get up and go to bed at normal time, however tempting it might be to do otherwise. You should aim for at least 7-9 hours a night. Setting a routine is not only good for our sleep cycle, it is also beneficial to our mental health.
Do not use your bedroom as your office (if possible)
When it is time to sleep, remove all electronic devices from your bedroom and make the room cool, calm, dark and quiet. It is essential to link your bedroom as a place for sleep, not a place to watch TV or work. This will help you relax and sleep properly. And, electronic devices emit artificial light which can influence our sleep cycle. If you need electronic devices close by, place them in the night mode.
As you are trying to establish a new routine, it is crucial to engage with your natural internal clock. Therefore, avoid daytime napping as you have to save your sleepiness for bedtime. However, if your sleep in the previous night was poor, you may feel tired after lunch. Short naps (less than 20 minutes) at that time can help restore cognitive function and may make you feel energised .
Avoid caffeine in the evening
Although many of us respond little differently to caffeine, it is a known stimulant and can influence our sleep by keeping us awake later. Therefore, while trying to fix your sleep pattern, limit your caffeine intake to earlier in the day.
Both resistance and aerobic exercise have shown to have positive effects on sleep. But, the timing of such activities is important. It is best to avoid vigorous workout an hour before sleep as this may reduce sleep quality and duration, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Our eyes need exposure to outdoor lighting because of a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin regulates our sleep and wake pattern. Besides, exposure to both natural light and darkness during this time can also help in keeping our natural internal ‘clock’ in balance and make us tired.
Change your bedtime routine
Stop work at least an hour before going to bed, reduce screen time, read, or meditate. These techniques allow us to relax and help our internal ‘clock’ take control by releasing hormones that promote sleep and reduce alertness.
Although it is still uncertain what life may look like after the COVID-19 lockdown has ended, one thing is for sure, if we take care of our sleep pattern well during this time, we may feel less fatigued and maybe a little more positive and productive.