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How COVID-19 is affecting our sleep
COVID-19 affecting your shut eye? Here’s how to get a dreamy night’s sleep in iso.
It’s hardly surprising that the stresses associated with COVID-19 are affecting our quality of sleep, but while many of us are tossing and turning, some are taking the global pandemic … well … lying down.
Sleep Health Foundation chair and founding director Professor Dorothy Bruck says while anxiety about significant life issues such as financial security, health, home education and social isolation can disrupt our sleep patterns, some people are reporting sleeping more soundly during the pandemic.
Dorothy says this may be the result of adopting a more relaxed lifestyle while practising social distancing at home. “Some people are enjoying the time to slow down, do home-based things they didn’t have time for before and perhaps spend more time with family,” she says.
This new world order, she says, might also give us greater flexibility about when we choose to go to sleep and wake up, thus allowing us to fit bedtime in with our own natural preferences. Night owls, for example, might be able to sleep in a bit when not rushing to catch the early-morning train, while some might be able to squeeze in a mid-afternoon power nap.
However, Dorothy warns that varying sleep and wake times can also have a detrimental impact on sleep. “Routine is important,” she says. “The worst thing you can do is move your going-to-bed and getting-up time dramatically because that will muck up your body clock. Your sleep will not be quality and you will have more trouble getting to sleep and/or maintaining your sleep. You should aim for a fairly constant getting-up time and don’t spend more time in bed than you need for sleep.”
Another impact of the global pandemic, she says, is that many people are reporting weird and vivid dreams. “That’s a direct result of increased anxiety,” says Dorothy. “When people are more anxious and have this hyper-vigilance across a 24-hour period they are likely to get dreams that are more vivid and a bit more emotional. And people are more likely to wake up from them because your sleep is lighter.”
It seems a cruel irony that while anxieties about big life problems such as job security and falling ill might be keeping us awake, a good night’s sleep is just what we need to help us cope with life’s uncertainties. “Sleep is important because it helps our emotional wellbeing,” says Dorothy. “If we’re sleeping well we’re better able to handle anxiety and worry about crisis situations.”
There is also strong evidence that insufficient sleep detrimentally affects hormone levels, brain function and exercise performance as well as contributing to obesity and risk of disease. According to the US Sleep Foundation a sleep deficit may even weaken the body’s ability to fight off disease. The foundation says that when we don’t get enough sleep our bodies make fewer cytokines – a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating the immune response vital to fighting any virus.
But as vital as sleeping well is to our mental and physical wellbeing, Dorothy says worrying about not getting a good night’s sleep is one of the worst things you can do.
“We don’t want people to lie in bed worrying about not being able to sleep … If you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, the first thing to do is recognise your brain is often not in a position to co-operate. The more rational part of our brain is disengaged when we’re asleep so often problems seem much bigger at 4am than they are when you wake up and you can see things with a bit more perspective. She suggests trying to imagine a relaxing fantasy place, or thinking about your last holiday, or perhaps your next one. “Think about walking on the beach, or the garden or just something neutral and relaxing.”
The Sleep Health Foundation has more than 90 fact sheets to help, including several specifically for the coronavirus.