Ahh, February 2020. The good old days, when we went to restaurants with friends without having a panic attack, we could casually chat with our co-workers at the coffee machine in the office kitchen, and we were getting eight hours of glorious sleep every night. (Well, sometimes.) Now, everything has changed—including our sleep patterns. We’ve learned the hard way that COVID-19 and sleep don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. There’s even a term for it: coronasomnia. So whether you’re currently recovering from COVID-19 or you just want to get your sleep hygiene back on track after staring at screens for 12 hours, read on for tips to get more quality z’s in the time of corona.
My sleep has been awful since the pandemic started. Why?
Raise your hand if you’ve had a big change in your daily routine and have felt more stressed since the pandemic started. Well, according to Dr. Rachel Manber, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Stanford Sleep Health and Insomnia Program (SHIP), this is definitely no coincidence. “The two main contributors to potential worsening of sleep are changes in stress levels and changes in sleep behaviors,” she explains. So it makes complete sense that less-than-stellar sleep (not to mention crazy stress dreams) would be a big issue for lots of people right now.
If you are a front-line worker, there are obvious challenges and stressors you are now facing on a daily basis that you weren’t before. But even if your routine has been relatively unchanged and you are merely adjusting to working from home instead of in an office, it can greatly impact your sleep. “Being stuck at home, especially if it has low levels of natural light, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep, known as zeitgebers, which are crucial to our circadian rhythm,” says the National Sleep Foundation website.
If you are unemployed due to the pandemic, being faced with a lack of routine can have a big impact on sleep too. If you’re sleeping in later than you usually would, it can be difficult to fall asleep on time the following night. A 2006 study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that most people who suffer from depression also experience some type of sleep disturbance. And if you’re busy homeschooling kids all day and trying to cram in your extra work or chores after the kids go to sleep, it can be a challenge to give yourself adequate time to unwind for bed—leaving your mind racing instead of resting for the day ahead.
If you are currently recovering from COVID-19, your symptoms might be affecting your sleep—these symptoms might include a fever and chills, muscle aches, headaches, shortness of breath, a sore throat, congestion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the CDC tells us. (Not to mention the worry about potentially spreading the illness to your friends and family, or wondering whether your symptoms are improving or getting worse.)
And this, friends, is why you’re having trouble sleeping right now. You aren’t alone—but luckily, there are a few things you can do to get back on track.
How can I improve my sleep hygiene during the pandemic?
First, acknowledge the fact that nearly everyone is having trouble sleeping right now. And if you stop beating yourself up about your crappy sleep, it should help reduce your stress level a tiny bit.
But it’s important to get quality sleep whenever you can, especially during a pandemic. “The most important immune supporting tool that I see most [people] in the Western world eschew is adequate sleep, Rand McClain, M.D. tells us. “Regular sleep—seven to nine hours nightly—and during roughly the same period, daily exercise and proper nutrition (including hydration) are keys to maintaining health and a well-functioning immune system.”
How do you give yourself the best chance to get more sleep? It’s time to revamp your daily habits.
1. Set a schedule
Even if your day has become more flexible since the pandemic started, that doesn’t give you permission to throw your entire schedule out the window. Try to wake up and fall asleep roughly at the same time every day, even if your day-to-day tasks vary.
2. Resist the urge to work (or eat) in bed
If working at home is new for you, it can be tempting to want to clock in from under your duvet. But having no separation between work and your personal life can negatively impact your sleep. “Unless you are careful to maintain boundaries, you may start to feel like you’re always at work and losing a place to come home to,” says the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Being More Productive. If you have no other quiet workspace besides your bed (we’ve been there), get dressed and sit on top of your made bed, using a pillow to support your back.
3. Spend time outside
On a cold day when you don’t technically need to leave the house, it can be tempting to skip your daily walk around the neighborhood. But exposing yourself to even a few minutes of natural blue light in the morning can be a game-changer. “Expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning by going for a 15-minute walk, suggests behavioral sleep medicine specialist Lisa Medalie, PsyD, CBSM. “It improves circadian rhythm and morning alertness, thereby reducing insomnia.”
4. Create a “worry log”
If your mind starts racing as soon as you turn out the lights, you might benefit from writing a “worry log” before bed, suggests the Massachusetts General Hospital Offload everything that’s been running through your brain into a notebook on your nightstand, so you can clear your head for a good night’s sleep.
5. Take time to relax before bed
You know you’re supposed to turn all screens off an hour before you fall asleep, but how often do you actually do it? (We thought so.) Use that hour to do a nighttime yoga routine, take a warm bath or listen to a sleep story (we like the Calm bedtime story app) instead.
And what if I have COVID-19? How do I get some rest?
If your doctor approves, some patients with COVID-19 are advised to take melatonin supplements to improve sleep quality. In fact, a recent study conducted by Columbia University found that critically ill patients who took melatonin had an increased likelihood of recovery. Running a cool mist humidifier in your bedroom while you sleep can also help loosen congestion, the Virginia Mason Medical Center website advises. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor.