This is part of Lark’s “Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine” series. The pandemic has drastically altered many aspects of our lives, and the new normal of the stay-at-home lifestyle has likely impacted you both physically and mentally. It is important to check in with yourself regularly to assess how you are coping, so that you can identify self-care practices that will support you. Lark’s “Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine” series is all about slowing down, taking stock of how you are doing, and learning about easy things you can do to nourish your body and mind during COVID-19.
If you have found yourself struggling with sleep lately, you are not alone. Sleep problems have been on the rise since the global pandemic began in 2020. Researchers have seen an increase in anxiety and stress, and a reduction in sleep quality and quantity.[1,2,3,4] In fact, it is estimated that approximately 40% of the population has been affected by sleep problems during COVID-19.
Whether it is the stress, worry, and anxiety that is affecting you, or whether the change in your daily routines and habits has completely thrown off your sleep schedule, there are many reasons why your sleep may be taking a toll during these unusual times.
Checking in on how you are sleeping is as important now as ever; lack of sleep can just add to the list of mental and physical health concerns that you might be experiencing. If you are having a hard time with your sleep, it is time to make some changes and do what you can to sleep more soundly.
Check in with yourself: are you getting a good night’s rest?
Most of us are so busy keeping up with our lives and adjusting to all the changes from the pandemic that we don’t take the time to slow down and check in with how we are doing.
But that is an important practice, as it can allow you to see what’s going well for you and what isn’t. When it comes to sleep, find some quiet time to reflect on the following questions:
- Has my sleep changed since quarantine began – in quality or quantity?
- How many hours of sleep am I getting regularly?
- Is my sleep schedule consistent, or is it all over the place these days?
- Am I feeling rested when I wake up in the morning?
- Do I find it easy to drift off to sleep when I get into bed?
- Do I sleep through the night, or do I wake up often?
- Do I have enough energy during the day, or am I sleepy or fatigued on a regular basis?
If you do notice any changes in how you’ve been sleeping lately, it’s not unusual. The current circumstances of living through a global pandemic can contribute to sleep issues in many different ways.
How the pandemic may be affecting your sleep
The pandemic has been a time full of change that most of us never expected. So it comes as no surprise that our physical and mental health can be affected in a myriad of different ways.
For some people, having more time at home, not needing to commute, and having greater flexibility with their schedules has helped them to sleep better and get more hours of sleep than in their pre-COVID life. But many other people are finding it more difficult to get good quality sleep, or enough of it.
Studies have found that the changes in routine and living conditions during the pandemic have indeed changed people’s sleep habits and timing of their sleep.
And as we shared earlier, about 40% of people have experienced sleep issues during COVID-19. Researchers believe that the isolation, anxiety, and other factors can be behind issues like insomnia and other sleep disorders during the pandemic, not to mention all the changes in schedules and routines.
Here are some of the top reasons you may be having trouble sleeping lately:
- You are under more stress than normal, which can impair your ability to sleep soundly.
- Your schedule has been disrupted, and you may sleep in later, hold different hours than usual, go to bed or earlier or later, etc.
- You are staying inside more often, meaning you aren’t getting natural exposure to light throughout the day that helps keep your body on its 24-hour clock.
- You are spending more time on screens, which can mess with your body’s natural rhythms.
- You may be feeling isolated, which can impact your sleep.
- You may be suffering from increased depression or anxiety, both of which are linked to sleep issues.
All in all, it is not surprising that many of us are having a hard time sleeping well during this time.
If you are struggling with your sleep, it is vital that you take a closer look and prioritize healthy sleep habits; lack of sleep takes a major toll on physical and mental health.
Why sleep is so important for your physical and mental health
Our bodies need sleep to function. Sleep helps to support healthy brain function, emotional well-being, healing of tissues, immunity, and much more.
The less we sleep, the greater toll our mind and body will take, especially over the long term. Here are just a few of the harmful effects of sleep deficiency:
- Increased risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Increased risk of obesity
- Higher blood sugar levels
- More stress and emotional distress
- Lower mood
- Impaired learning and memory
- Higher risk of depression
- Slower reaction time and reduced productivity
- Impaired immunity [3,7,8]
During COVID-19, sleep is more important than ever. Lack of sleep actually affects our immune systems, making us more susceptible to illness and infection.[3,8]
Plus, getting enough rest also helps us to manage stress better – something that most of us could use support with during quarantine. In fact, the CDC recommends focusing on your sleep as one of the best ways to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prioritizing good sleep is an important step to take if you want to stay healthy during the pandemic, both physically and mentally.
Tips for getting a better night’s rest
If you are having trouble sleeping lately, then try out these recommendations:
1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Set regular wake and sleep times, so that you stay consistent with your routines. Keep this up on the weekends, too.
2. Give yourself time to unwind. Create a relaxing bedtime routine that allows you ample time to slow down, decompress, and prepare yourself for bed. Don’t work, exercise, eat, or do anything too stimulating at least an hour before bedtime.
3. Practice relaxation techniques. To help yourself wind down as bedtime approaches, consider practices like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, journaling, stretching, or other stress management activities. Having your head racing with thoughts when your head hits the pillow isn’t conducive to rest and relaxation, so do what you can to release that stress and set it aside before bedtime.
4. Create a soothing environment in the bedroom. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, at a comfortable temperature, and encouraging of relaxation.
5. Take devices out of the bedroom. Smartphones, TVs, tablets, gaming systems, etc. should all be avoided at least an hour before bedtime.
6. Reserve your bed for sleep. Experts recommend that you only use your bed for sleep or sex – not watching TV, not reading a book, and not using your phone. This helps your brain to associate your bed with sleep only.
7. Expose yourself to light during the day. Try to get out in the sunlight during the day to encourage your body’s circadian rhythm to stay in sync. Early morning light is especially helpful. Dim lights during the evening and avoid artificial light sources from digital devices near bedtime.
8. Get active during the day. Exercising and getting physically active while you are awake can help you to sleep better at night.
9. Take a break from social media and the news. If your brain is constantly on, thinking about the latest news or updates, then it may be time to take a break from media sources.
10. Don’t eat large meals late in the day. Steer clear of late meals, keeping any large meals at least a few hours away from your bedtime.
11. Get help or seek support. If you’ve tried a few strategies and still aren’t finding relief, speak with a doctor or therapist. These healthcare professionals can help point you in the right direction to help you sleep better.[3,7,8,10]
Are you getting more sleep than you did in your pre-COVID life? Or are you suffering from sleepless nights spent tossing and turning and more daytime sleepiness?
The global pandemic has been a difficult time for many of us, and it is not surprising if it has taken a toll on your sleep. That is why it is important to slow down and check in with yourself to become more aware of how you’ve been sleeping lately and to see if any changes need to be made to better care for your mind and body.
If you’ve been struggling with sleep, then you’ll want to take simple steps to improve the matter. Many people find that a few simple changes to their daily routines and habits can make a big difference. Start by taking a look at the list of strategies above, and consult with a healthcare professional if you need additional support.
Remember, sleep is vitally important for your body and mind to be able to function at their best. The more rest you get, the better you will feel both mentally and physically.