If there was ever a time to struggle with sleep, living amidst a pandemic is an “opportune” time. So much so, that we even have a word for our sleep woes/problems: COVID-somnia to some, Coronasomnia to others.
Regardless of the term, neurologists specializing in sleep disorders are identifying everything from insomnia (sleeping too little) to hypersomnia (sleeping too much), to misusing sleep meds and having night terrors. More depression, more worry, more anxiety and a new daily schedule —or lack thereof — are just some of the culprits to our sleep troubles— along with the fear and isolation associated with the pandemic.
Any of these sleep difficulties sound familiar? While theoretically we should all be sleeping for about third of our lives, chances are that many of us are not getting the seven or eight hours a night that we should be.
Why Sleep Matters
Getting a good night’s sleep makes us more alert the next morning, better able to concentrate, and more productive and energetic throughout the day. Sleep allows our body to recharge, and it can also have longer term health effects. Did you know, for example, that chronic sleep problems — such as ongoing quality sleep and insomnia — can increase our risk for serious health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, anxiety, depression and Alzheimer’s disease?
How to Sleep Better
Our circadian rhythm is basically our internal clock or 24-hour cycle that affects different biological processes, like our sleep-wake cycle. So if you are having sleep problems, your internal clock may need a bit of a reset. External factors, such as our exposure to light, have a huge effect on circadian rhythm. It is thus important to slowly move into darkness as we prepare for bed, and then get into bright light in the morning to wake us up.
Fortunately, there are ways we can improve both how long we sleep and the quality of our sleep. But we need to change how we look at sleep, says Dr. Abhinav Singh, medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center.
“We won’t get a good night’s sleep by trying hard. It’s like going after a butterfly. You do better not to chase it. It’s better to let it come to you,” he says.
Tips to Better Sleep
But there is lots we can do to prepare our bodies for a good night’s sleep.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
That means going to bed at the same time each night, and — even more important — getting up at the same time each morning. (Yes, that means keeping a similar bedtime route on weekends that we do during the week.)
- Get exercise.
Exercise during the day, but avoid strenuous exercise late in the evening.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
Try not to drink coffee after about 2:00 p.m., and minimize how much alcohol you drink and how late you drink it, as it can contribute to snoring and sleep disorders.
- Wind down in the evening.
Wind down in the last hour before bed. To do this, Dr. Singh recommends dividing the last hour before bed into four 10 to 15-minute segments. Have a warm shower, journal or write down a to-do list for the next day, read something enjoyable, and meditate or do yoga. For the latter, there are many free mediation apps, such as Head Space, and also some great online yoga exercises like we offer at Mayfair Clubs via our Virtual On Demand library.
- Get comfortable.
Keep the bedroom a comfortable temperature — ideally between 15.6 and 19.4 degrees Celsius.
- Darken your bedroom for sleep.
Try blackout drapes if there is a lot of street light, wear a sleep mask and get off your screens! If you can’t get off your screens, use blue light blocking glasses. (Blue light suppresses our body’s ability to release the hormone melatonin, which helps us feel sleepy and calm.)
When Should You See a Specialist?
There are many different sleep disorders and it is very difficult to self diagnose. Keep a journal to track your symptoms and speak with your doctor if you are experiencing disordered sleep like chronic insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, snoring regularly during sleep, or sleeping too much.
Looking for More Sleep Resources?
For more information about sleep, we’ve rounded up some great online resources below:
Sleep On It Canada | sleeponitcanada.ca
The Canadian Sleep and Circadian Network, the Canadian Sleep Society, Fondation Sommeil and Wake-up Narcolepsy Canada have joined forces to launch Dormez là-dessus – Sleep on it!, a bilingual Canadian campaign to promote the importance of sleep to maintain good health.
American Sleep Association | sleepassociation.org
Founded by physicians and scientists in 2002, the American Sleep Association believes that every member of the community, from scientists to corporations to family members, can increase awareness of the importance of sleep and the harmful effects of sleep disorders. Our mission is to help increase this awareness, support organizations in their efforts to do the same, and improve the sleep of millions.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine | sleepeducation.org
Developed and operated by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the leader in setting standards and promoting excellence in sleep medicine, health care, education and research.
This blog post is for general information only. It does not replace a diagnosis or medical advice from a health care professional who has examined you and understands your unique needs. Please speak with your doctor to see if this content is suitable for your situation.
About the Author
Diana Ballon is a guest blog contributor. She is a health writer, specializing in mental health issues, fitness, health and wellness. You can follow her on Instagram at @dianamaryballon.