Stress, Sleep and the Coronavirus

With the ongoing uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and self-isolation, many people are experiencing increased stress. Whether it’s financial strain, loss of control or worries about loved ones getting sick, these added anxieties are likely affecting the quality and duration of nightly sleep.

“We are especially vulnerable to poor sleep during COVID-19, due to spending more time in front of blue light-emitting screens and the loss of traditional daytime structure and schedules,” said sleep psychologist Dr. Emerson Wickwire, an associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Director of the Insomnia Program at the University of Maryland Medical Center – Midtown Campus, and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). “An adequate amount of healthy sleep is crucial to help regulate mood, improve brain function, and increase energy and overall productivity. Without enough sleep, our bodies simply cannot function at their best.”

Below are tips from Dr. Wickwire and the AASM on how to focus on healthy sleep habits during the stressful COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Get enough sleep: Determine the duration of sleep you need and prioritize that amount of sleep each night. If you are unsure about how much sleep you should be getting, the AASM bedtime calculator can help identify the appropriate bedtime based on your needed wake time and age.
  • Keep a sleep routine: Control your new at-home routine. Structure your schedule to support a routine bedtime and wake time. And, if possible, skip naps.
  • Create a comfortable environment: Make sure your bedroom is separated from your workspace and conducive to sleep. Keep the room temperature cool, use an eye mask and try a white noise machine to block noise or distractions.
  • Minimize technology: Refrain from checking your email during meals or designated family time and turn off your electronics one hour before bedtime. Leave your devices charging away from your bed so you are not tempted to look at stress-inducing news.
  • Increase your positive outlook: Focus on “what is” instead of dwelling on “what if” to reduce stress. Or, write a gratitude list before bed. Remembering to reflect on and appreciate the small things can have a positive impact on our stress and overall happiness.
  • Relax your body before bed: Try meditation or patterned breathing exercises to help relax the mind and prepare the body for restful sleep.
  • Stay connected: Rely on supportive friends, family and colleagues who can put worries into perspective. Use texting, video or phone calls to maintain needed connections with loved ones.

Visit SleepEducation.org for more information on how to improve your sleep during the coronavirus pandemic.

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