By: Sam A. Kashani, MD
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020, we have all been subjected to give up our usual routines and coping skills, such as going to the gym, socializing with friends, and many other activities that constitute our daily life and well-being. Under these circumstances, our sleep has been affected on a multitude of levels as a result of various factors including loss of daytime structure as well as stress and information overload.
Many people thrive on the consistency of a daytime routine. Loss of daytime routine can affect nighttime sleep as a result of inconsistent bedtimes and wake times, prolonged daytime naps, and other factors that shift the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Stress and information overload surrounding the pandemic can keep our mind racing, in addition to elevating our body’s arousal response, leading to difficulties with falling and/or staying asleep at night. Furthermore, having more down time has led to increased screen time and blue light exposure (COVID-19 updates, social media) in addition to depressed mood as a result of minimal socializing and working. All of these are just a few of the ways in which our sleep has been affected by the current pandemic.
In times like these, it is important that we attain sufficient nighttime sleep in an effort to maintain our mood, energy, brain function and overall productivity. Additionally, healthy sleep supports our immune system, which in turn reduces the risk of infection and can improve outcomes for people fighting a virus. Conversely, sleep deprivation weakens the body’s immunity and can make people more vulnerable to contracting a viral illness.
Many people worry about the amount of sleep they get each night, and while sleep is a vital component of our lives, worrying about sleep often creates more stress and subsequently more sleep difficulties. Rather than focusing on the quantity of sleep, it is crucial to focus on optimizing the quality of sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene such as minimizing screen time at night, limiting daytime naps, and ensuring that the bedroom environment is cool, quiet, and conducive to sleep. Now that we are not obliged to late night activities such as going out, we should take advantage of this extra time by giving our body the sleep and care it needs.