Improving Your Sleep During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Stress-related insomnia is often short-lived, but if it gets in the way of your daily activities, including sleep, for several days in a row, it’s important to contact your health care provider or reach out to a mental health professional.

If your sleep issues persist for more than a month, seek treatment for the sleep problem, regardless of what may have triggered it, Perlis says. “And know that an ounce of early intervention can save you a pound of cure (and a lot of unnecessary suffering).”

According to most experts, including the American College of Physicians, the first line of treatment for chronic sleep issues is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), a tailored approach that helps people identify the underlying causes of their insomnia and adopt behaviors to change it. (You can locate a provider on the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine’s website, and many are offering services virtually because of the coronavirus.)

Changes in routines upend sleep schedules

The pandemic has ushered in a number of changes that have impacted daily routines, including sleep. People plagued with long commutes to the office are finding that a work-from-home life means they can stay up later at night and sleep in longer, come morning. Less structured days also allow more time for naps.

For some, the extra sleep flexibility is working out just fine. Individuals whose busy lives were preventing them from getting the minimum seven hours of recommended sleep are finally feeling well-rested. For others, the extra sleep time is causing problems.

Perlis likens sleep flexibility to pizza dough: If you stretch your sleep time out at night and/or nap during the day because you can — and not necessarily because you need to, you will end up with a dough that gets “thinner and thinner and thinner, until it starts breaking into pieces,” he says. And similar to thin and broken pizza dough, a thin and shallow sleep cycle doesn’t do a person much good — it can disrupt the body’s internal clock and lead to insomnia.

The key, Perlis says, is to find a balance. “It has forever been assumed more sleep is better … but it’s a dose thing. Dose too little, bad. Dose too much, bad. Dose just right? Perfecto.”

Changes in sleep routines extend beyond the ability to hit snooze or take a mid-afternoon nap. Many are finding themselves in new living situations that also present challenges when it comes to sleep, says Vivek Jain, director of the Sleep Disorders Center and associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University Hospital.

For the first time since the Great Depression, a majority of young adults (52 percent) are living with their parents due to pandemic-related circumstances, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. Grandparents also have moved in with their children to lend a hand with childcare while schools and day care centers remain closed.

Pointing to possible space constraints and conflicting schedules, Jain says these major changes mean “everybody’s sleeping life has been affected.”

Solution: Get back on a schedule

If your sleep issues are due to a newly inconsistent or intermittent sleep schedule, go back to what was working — even if that means you accumulate fewer total hours of sleep. (And yes, this may mean you need to cut out the naps.)

“If you can anchor your wake time and wake up at the same time every day, that’s a great start for a consistent sleep schedule,” Medalie adds.

When you do sleep, make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature, the CDC recommends. It also helps to avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.

More screen time, less exercise

An increase in screen time is further contributing to the uptick in sleep troubles, experts say. Bedrooms once reserved for downtime have been transformed into makeshift offices, and in-person meetings have been replaced by online conferences. Even time spent with friends has moved to the virtual world.

How is this affecting sleep? Medalie explains that the blue spectrum light generated from screens “tells the brain to stop producing melatonin,” a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. And when this biological clock gets disrupted, insomnia can set in.

This content was originally published here.


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