Getting Healthy Sleep During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Jason Cassidy & Aaron Jolly

 

With the instability and uncertainty caused by this global pandemic, stress is building, tensions are higher, and negative emotions are bubbling up more than usual.  We must adapt to these lifestyle changes and help those around us to do the same.  One easy, straight-forward way to give ourselves an advantage is to ensure we get healthy sleep. 

Our mental health, emotional stability, as well as our immune system, depend on healthy restful sleep.  With anxiety, depression, and stress, looming due to the stay-home order, optimizing sleep is far more important than usual.  

Whether you’ve had trouble sleeping in the past or you notice it getting worse since the COVID-19 pandemic began, here are some Gold Standard tips for getting restful sleep and staying healthy.

Tips for sleeping well during COVID-19 pandemic:

 

Tip 1. The bedroom is your temple for healthy sleep

Try to associate the bedroom exclusively with sleep, and only use the bed for sleep, sex, and of course, lucid dreaming. It is important that you feel relaxed and safe in this environment. Remove any screens or distractions, minimize any noise or light pollution, turn your phone to airplane mode, and use calm mood lighting. 

Make it easy on yourself and create a space for optimal relaxation and nothing more.  

Don’t work in the bedroom

We associate what we do with the places in which we do them.  So if we spend time working in the office, the mind adapts and shifts into a work-mode every time we go to the office. 

If we work in the bedroom, the mind does the same thing – it associates the room with the work and all that comes with it – the context of the job, the demands, the high-stress levels, etc.  But for sleep to occur, we need to be at ease, relaxed, and calm.

So while it can be tempting to lie comfortably in bed with the laptop and get work done, you’d be doing yourself a disservice.  Best to do all work in another room – not the bedroom.

No TV in bed for 2 reasons:

  1. TV’s emit bright blue light which promotes wakefulness (darkness promotes sleepiness by contrast).  You might be tired and comfortable in bed, but the bright light is telling your brain to produce less melatonin which is a hormone necessary for inducing and maintaining sleep.
  2. Watching TV might seem relaxing and a useful distraction from the stressors of the day, but you’re developing a dependence on it. Many people say they can’t sleep unless they have the TV on in the room – this is because they’ve conditioned themselves over the years to be that way.  Try to limit TV use in the bedroom, or cut it out entirely if you can. (The same goes for tablets and smartphones, of course).

Tip 2. Maintain your natural sleep rhythm

If you’re working from home and have more freedom to go to bed and wake up whenever you like, it’s especially important to keep regular sleep-wake routines.  Our bodies have an internal clock called the circadian rhythm (circa meaning ‘around’ and dian meaning ‘day’).  

If you are looking to improve the overall quality of your sleep, the most effective way is to maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle and stay in sync with your circadian rhythm.  Here’s how:

  1. Total Sleep Time: Though optimal total sleep time varies from person to person, most healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
  2. Wake up Time: The body likes regularity so keeping a regular daily wake-up time (yes even on weekends) is more effective and more important than setting a strict bedtime. Ideally, keep both consistent, but if you had to pick one, be more strict about when you wake up.  Sidenote – the snooze button is not doing you any favors; it’s a disruptive, bad habit for sleep.
  3. Bright light: Try to get natural sunlight exposure in the morning – Take a walk outside or at least let as much sunlight as you can into your home first thing in the morning. Also, avoid bright screens after the sun goes down.  Turn the lights down and limit screen time so your body gets the hint that the day is winding down.
  4. Be careful with naps: since most of us are spending more time at home, it’s more tempting and convenient than ever to take naps.  While naps (10-20 minutes only) are restorative, they reduce sleep drive and might make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime.

Tip 3. Move your body to increase sleep drive

Shoot for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and raise your heart rate for at least 10 minutes a day. While this is a general guideline for improving your overall health, it has the added benefit of improving the quality of your sleep as well. 

When you exercise during the day, your appetite for restoration and recovery (sleep) will increase accordingly. It is advised not to exercise before bed though, as it takes two to three hours for the body to relax and downregulate the production of adrenaline. But it is fine before bed to engage in relaxing activities such as stretching, tai chi, or yoga. 

Adding long morning walks, jogs, or bike rides to your daily routine would be great for promoting wakefulness at the beginning of your day, and promoting sleepiness in the evening as you approach bedtime. 

DownDog is a great FREE Yoga app full of workouts and yoga routines you can do from home: 

Tip 4. Eat healthy food to promote healthy sleep

The three pillars of a healthy lifestyle are diet, exercise, and sleep.  Each of these has a reciprocal relationship with each other. Sleep enhances athletic performance and regulates appetite, while diet and exercise both have a strong influence on sleep quality. 

Stay mindful about your appetite and notice whether you’re eating because you’re hungry, or because you’re trying to be healthy. To ensure a restful night of sleep, avoid eating large meals late at night.  It’s even better if you can eat early in the evening. Wait at least an hour after your evening snack before going to bed.  Go to sleep too soon, and you’ll be running the risk of indigestion and disrupting your sleep. 

Research has shown that calcium and magnesium deficiency can impair sleep by reducing the amount of time spent in deep NREM sleep and REM dream sleep. It may also cause you to wake up after a few hours, and make it more difficult to get back to sleep[1].

Calcium is responsible for converting tryptophan into melatonin. The higher our calcium intake, the more melatonin we produce, and melatonin influences our sleep-wake cycle. 

Many natural food sources contain high levels of melatonin including cherries, almonds, walnuts, and turkey. While, it is best to avoid using melatonin as a supplement, you can use these food sources to support you in establishing a natural sleep-wake cycle. 

You can also try magnesium, which contributes to muscle relaxation and the deactivation of adrenaline. Nutritional expert James Balch suggests it can help change your sleep cycle in a matter of days[2]

It can be difficult to source though, as most natural food sources only contain a small amount of magnesium. Try magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, oily fish, pumpkin seeds, and a variety of nuts. If that does not help, try magnesium supplements. 

Tip 5. Stay socially connected

We are highly social creatures, and while social distancing and staying at home is the best way to flatten the curve, it’s important to maintain social connection with others.  Stay in touch with family and friends and find ways to socialize without coming in close physical proximity.  

It might not seem directly connected to getting healthy sleep, but it is a great way to minimize stress and anxiety which can negatively impact how you sleep.  Remember we’re all in this together and practice kindness towards others – it will make their day better and it is personally rewarding.  

Tip 6. Practice mindfulness and relaxation

Mindfulness teaches us how to identify maladaptive thought patterns, moods, emotions which might be preventing us from falling asleep.  And more than just identifying and recognizing this self-talk, Mindfulness teaches us to observe it with curiosity, compassion, and acceptance. 

Mindful observation and acceptance of even the most stressful thoughts can be much more relaxing than A. getting caught up in those thought patterns without realizing it and B. recognizing the pattern and then self-criticizing or self-judging and beating yourself up.

Remember to check in with yourself and resist the urge to be constantly distracted or entertained. Binge-watching shows, or fixating on the news too much can perpetuate stress and anxiety – especially during the pandemic.  The mind needs to process what’s going on so you can relax and ease into sleep when the day is over.

Finding other ways to relax can also really promote sleepiness and improve overall sleep patterns. Nightly wind-down routines like stretching, listening to relaxing music, meditating, or breathing exercises are a few great examples. 

Summary for getting healthy sleep

Generally, an active healthy day will promote a restful healthy night of sleep.  But try to think longer-term than just day by day.  The body and mind need a well rounded, overall healthy lifestyle.

Sleep is one of the foundational pillars of living a healthy lifestyle.  It augments memory and learning, improves cognitive function, and boosts our immune system. Healthy sleep also promotes better mood and emotional regulation.

The above tips include some of the gold-standard recommendations for getting healthy sleep generally, but during this pandemic, they’re even more important.  Our immune system and our mental well-being depend on our ability to get restful, restorative sleep.

So how are you sleeping these days?  After reading this article, do you see any room for improvement in your daily routine?  Feel free to comment below and let us know!

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