A few months ago, you might have thought that slowing life down under quarantine would come with a silver lining of providing time to catch up on lost sleep. No commute? Fewer responsibilities and outside obligations? Suddenly, many of us found ourselves with those extra hours every week that we used to wish we had.
So why are we not well-rested?
Experts generally recommend between 7-9 hours of good quality sleep every night to be at our best. Good sleep means falling asleep in less than 30 minutes and sleeping through the night with minimal interruptions (no more than one).
Unfortunately, being home with more time on our hands isn’t the key to getting more sleep. Managing stress is. The pandemic that has quarantined millions of people globally has disrupted schedules and contributed to anxiety, fear, isolation, family stress, excess screen time, and stress-related fatigue. All of this puts a considerable stress burden on your body and mind, which, in turn, can cause restlessness, insomnia, and nightmares.
In short, even if we have more time available to sleep, we are experiencing more barriers to sleep than before the pandemic.
Sleep is critical for physical and emotional health, and for your immune system to function optimally. If you’re restless, suffering from nightmares, and waking frequently, you aren’t getting the kind of quality sleep your mind and body need to fight off infection.
If you regularly get less sleep than you need, your body develops a state of sleep deficit that can lead to physical and mental health problems.
A sleep deficit increases inflammation, weakens your immune system, and contributes to chronic conditions, like:
In times of extreme stress, the quantity and quality of our sleep suffer, and we increase our risk of developing long-term health issues.
Managing your stress and being intentional about your sleep habits can help you develop a healthier sleep cycle.
Maintain a consistent sleep cycle Staying up late, sleeping in, and napping at will sound great! And they can be when done consistently. But if your sleep and nap schedules are random, your mind and body may have a difficult time adjusting. Committing to a regular bedtime and wake time can help. And if you do nap, limit yourself to one short nap at the same time every day.
Avoid the “COVID” diet – Comfort food is king at a time like this, but the soothing effects are fleeting. And since we tend to reach for the high calorie, high sodium, or sugary foods when stressed, heartburn and weight gain may follow. They can also affect your sleep. Fight the siren song of the sweets and carbs and fill up on crunchy raw vegetables and water if you need to snack. Your body and mind will feel better for it.
Find a way to be active – Sheltering in place may mean a drastic reduction in the amount of activity you get in a typical day. This can significantly affect your sleep cycle. Your body and mind both need physical activity to decrease your stress and to become fatigued enough to sleep. If you have space to walk safely outside, the fresh air and sunlight will also help your sleep cycle. But if you don’t have space, or can’t get outdoors due to quarantine restrictions, you can still benefit from indoor activity.
Keep bedtime peaceful – it may be tempting to check the news or the numbers at the end of the day, but that can lead you to carry the stress and fear to bed with you. Make bedtime a relaxing, peaceful end to your day. If you have space, make your sleeping area a sanctuary of peace. Keep the lights low, the temperature comfortable, and electronics off.
Make yourself a priority – Lives all over the world were turned upside down by this virus. We have had to change our habits, routines, work and school lives, self-care, social activities, and how, when, and where we shop for necessities. We have lost family, friends, jobs, freedom, and peace of mind. You may be trying to work and care for your family while worrying about finances and health. It can all be too much. Allow yourself to grieve, adjust, and rest. You don’t have to do it all or be perfect at anything. That kind of stress and expectation will definitely keep you awake at night.
Reach out – One of the best remedies for stress is a strong support network. Social support helps build resiliency, helps lower stress levels, and boosts your overall well-being. And it’s a two-way street. Offering support feels just as good as receiving it. Reach out to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. You’ll all sleep better.
By this stage in the pandemic, you probably have a health routine in place that includes wearing a mask, frequent hand washing, and social distancing. Consider adding quality sleep to that list for your physical and mental health.