As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, interrupt our everyday routines, and affect our mental health by sowing fears and anxiety—some of us are barely sleeping at night. To make matters more complicated, because sleep deprivation is a risk factor for cancer development, getting a good night’s rest is more crucial than ever.
“We know that sleep is directly related to immunity in terms of the physiological response in our body. If we are not sleeping, we can reduce our immune system and increase inflammation in the body, which can then lead to being more vulnerable to various viruses or whatever might be in our environment,” explained Brittany LeMonda, PhD—a senior neuropsychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City—during an interview with Healthline.
In other words, in addition to the recommended hygiene behaviors and preventive methods from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), quality sleep also plays a direct role in the body’s ability to fight bacterial and viral infections, including the novel coronavirus.
Evidence-Based Tips for Better Sleep During a Pandemic
In line with our ongoing mission to raise awareness about cancer and COVID-19, as well as to commemorate Mental Health Month, we have compiled seven tips to help you avoid sleepless nights during these stressful and uncertain times.
1. Establish a Routine for Yourself
People’s lives have turned upside down as a direct result of this pandemic and the associated shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders. Some are adjusting to working from home, while many others have lost their jobs. However, regardless of how this crisis has affected your life, it is of utmost importance to follow a regular routine to get quality sleep.
“This is actually a time when we need to remember and be mindful of how we are living our lives,” said Navya Singh, PsyD, a psychologist and research scientist at the Columbia University department of psychiatry. “We need to keep our lives as close to our routine as possible,” she instructed.
If you are fortunate enough to be working from home, Dr. Singh recommends getting up at the same time you would before COVID-19 struck, and to slip into something more work-appropriate than your pajamas. “You might just be going to the next room or working from your bedroom, but have that same sense of routine and normalcy, which will help you feel less disrupted,” she said.
2. Avoid Taking Frequent Naps
It can be challenging to resist the call of your bed when, unlike in the office, your fluffy pillows, soft blanket, and secret stuffed animal are right there. Therefore, adding to the importance of maintaining a routine, ensure to avoid napping excessively since it can make you feel even more lethargic and unproductive during the day. Having a normal sleep routine should help “anchor your entire day,” assured Dr. LeMonda.
3. Make Time for Exercise, But Not Before Bedtime
Even if your local fitness studio is closed, exercise should remain an essential part of your life. “Getting exercise during the day is really important. We know that it’s tied to improved sleep for pathophysiological reasons: We will feel more tired if we’ve exerted ourselves. We will also feel more accomplished that day, so there will be a sense of achievement before bed,” according to Dr. LeMonda.
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders may cancel your gym sessions, but there are many other ways to break a sweat without leaving home. Just remember to avoid exercising within a few hours before bedtime since the stimulation of physical exertion can make it difficult to fall asleep.
4. Structure Your News Intake
In a previous article, we discussed the importance of limiting exposure to coronavirus reports for the sake of your mental health. Consuming a 24/7 pandemic news cycle will not only trigger your anxiety, but it can also affect your sleep cycle.
Whenever we watch the news on television or read reports on social media, Dr. Singh stressed that “It’s always about the novel coronavirus, and it’s quite upsetting. It’s reality, but it’s also something that can increase our anxiety. I would say schedule and structure the times when you check your phone for news updates.”
Be diligent in managing how many times a day and for how long you check your phone to read news related to COVID-19. Here is a short and sweet analogy for you to keep in mind: Treat the news similar to how you might caffeine—do not consume it before bed.
5. Limit Your Exposure to Blue Light Near Bedtime
The internet is an indispensable tool for communication, entertainment, and news during a time in which people from different parts of the world have been subjected to self-isolation or shelter in place. The downside, unfortunately, is that staring at a screen before bedtime will prevent you from falling asleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends disconnecting from all electronic devices at least an hour before turning in. Putting your phone down and shutting the TV off will stop delaying your internal body clock and suppressing the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
6. Avoid Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in an attempt to pass out and maybe feel a little better in the morning is the wrong way to escape our current reality. In general, alcohol is never a healthy coping mechanism for dealing with stress. The one-two punch of alcoholic beverages and poor sleep can weaken the immune system, which can increase your risk of contracting and then succumbing to the life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19. To boot, alcohol is a main risk factor for liver cancer.
7. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine for Yourself
Taking a warm bath, drinking a cup of herbal tea, reading a good book, and filling a page in your journal may help you unwind and tell your brain that it’s finally time for bed. Other effective routines may include washing your face, doing your skincare routine, changing into comfortable pajamas, and meditating for five minutes before allowing your bed to escort you into dreamland.
For many people, making these changes can help promote better sleep at night. If your sleep challenges persist, consult a doctor. Your physical health and psychological wellness depend on it.