Quell Nighttime Pandemic Worries With Sleep Hygiene Tips

By: Sarah Galzerano, Jefferson Health New Jersey

If you’ve found yourself tossing and turning at night since the outbreak of COVID-19, you’re not alone. Heightened stress and anxiety, as well as changes to daily schedules, have caused many to lose some much-needed shut-eye.

Struggling to cope with the uncertainties of the pandemic may contribute to acute insomnia, or, in some people, worsened chronic insomnia – which can involve extreme difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

“As soon as the mind is engaged and you start worrying about things, it’s difficult to stop,” said Dr. Khazenay Bakhsh, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine specialist at Jefferson Health in New Jersey. “It prohibits you from initiating sleep, even when you’re very tired.”

Additionally, people with altered schedules may be going to sleep and waking up much later than they used to, resetting their natural body clock, explains Dr. Bakhsh. Without cues – such as setting an alarm or needing to get ready for work – this reset is natural, which is why it’s so important to create a new stay-at-home schedule.

Whether you’re struggling with stress or lacking a routine, proper sleep hygiene can help improve your sleep. Dr. Bakhsh recommends the following tips:

  • First thing’s first: Keep a schedule! Stick to a normal bedtime and set an alarm in the morning, even if you aren’t working from home. It may be helpful to make a list of tasks you want to complete the next day; that way you feel that “cue” to wake up.
  • Limit your screen-time in front of bright lights, prior to bedtime. Try not to stay up on your phone or computer out of boredom. The bright lights will keep you alert and communicate with your brain that it’s time to wake up, even when it’s not.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment. It’s helpful for many people to keep their room dark and quiet. It’s also recommended to keep the atmosphere peaceful by not working in your room; you don’t want to associate it with stress when you try to sleep.
  • Stay active. This is simple – it’s important to fit physical activity into your day, even when you’re stuck at home, to stay healthy. Exercise is also key to making you feel more tired at night, thus improving sleep quality. However, you should avoid any strenuous workouts prior to bedtime, as it might have the opposite effect.
  • Above all else, give yourself time to decompress. This is beneficial all the time, but it is especially helpful during the pandemic. Don’t keep everything bottled up during the day. Express your concerns and socialize with your friends and family. Before bed, create a relaxing routine and give yourself plenty of time to wind down.

The short-term consequences of sleep deprivation, while not ideal, are minor, says Dr. Bakhsh. “You’ll feel sleepier throughout the day, which can hamper your functionality and productivity, and further offset your sleep schedule.” In the long run, however, there can be adverse effects on your overall health.

If you adjust your routine and practice these sleep hygiene habits and still see no improvements, consider speaking to your doctor about seeing a sleep specialist. It’s important to rule out any health complications that may be contributing to your difficulty sleeping.

“We’re here to help people pinpoint what’s disrupting their sleep, so they can get back on track,” said Dr. Bakhsh.

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