Coronasomnia: Keeping Good Sleep Hygiene During the Pandemic
Rowida Mohamed, MS, West Virginia University, School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Systems and Policy
COVID-19 has given us plenty of reasons to lose sleep. Social isolation, modification of daily routines, and financial insecurity are just some of the stressors created by the pandemic. Increased stress can lead to insomnia. Insomnia increases stress. This creates a vicious, never-ending cycle. Worldwide, the prevalence rate of insomnia during COVID among all populations reached 35.7%. The current sleep crisis has been nicknamed “Coronasomnia.”
Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Insomnia has numerous detrimental health impacts. These range from depression and high blood pressure to higher risks of heart attack and stroke. It affects cognitive function in many ways, often contributing to anxiety and dysregulated mood. Most importantly during the pandemic, insomnia can significantly impair our immunity and reduce the efficacy of vaccines. This makes us more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. To favorably boost one’s innate immunity, one of the most critical health pillars is to have adequate sleep and consider receiving proper treatment for sleep disorders. Acute insomnia induced during COVID can be addressed and managed. Without treatment difficulty falling and staying asleep can become ongoing, chronic insomnia.
Just as health is a multidimensional concept, so is sleep health. Good sleep health typically means:
- Being personally satisfied with sleep
- Having a consistent bedtime
- Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours/night for adults)
- Staying asleep (at least 85% of total time in bed)
- Feeling rested and alert during waking hours
Healthy sleep requires practicing good sleep hygiene, which is a set of behaviors that contribute to effective, restful sleep. Consistent use of these routines can help our brains trigger sleep responses more readily. The stressors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic make good sleep health difficult to maintain. Here’s how you can keep good sleep hygiene during the pandemic:
- Keep a regular bedtime and wake-up time
- Limit the activities you do in bed to just sleeping
- Limit exposure to anxiety-inducing news, pandemic-related or otherwise
- Exercise regularly during daylight hours
- Spend some time each day in natural sunlight
- Do some relaxing activities before bedtime: e.g., reading a book, yoga, etc.
- Avoid looking at screens 30 minutes before bedtime
- Eat your last food of the day 2 hours before bedtime to prevent sleep disruption and avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine
- Only go to bed if you’re feeling sleepy
- Keep the bedroom quiet, dark, and at a comfortable, cool temperature
- If you nap during the day, limit the nap to only 30 minutes
- Do not toss and turn. If you cannot fall asleep, get up and do a laid-back activity (like reading) in dim light until you start to feel drowsy
The good news is that you can start practicing good sleep hygiene immediately. These behaviors are a great first step for adults who want to improve their sleep. There are sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, that require medical intervention. If your sleep doesn’t improve after practicing good sleep hygiene, it’s best to check in with your physician.
Besides sleep hygiene, several digital applications offer guidance in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia, such as CBT-I Coach . This is offered to veterans free of charge by the Office of Veterans Affairs. CBT-I is a short, structured, and evidence-based approach to combating the frustrating symptoms of insomnia. It typically involves a wide range of therapies, exercises, and practices to alleviate insomnia.
The endless cycle of restless nights and stressful days is something you can start breaking right now. It all starts with commitment to these proven routines and behaviors. Practicing good sleep hygiene can both enhance your own quality of life and make you less vulnerable to COVID-19 virus. In turn, these simple behaviors can help mitigate the impact of the current pandemic on our physical and mental health.
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