In her article, “6 Guaranteed Ways To Sleep Better At Night; And Why Sunday Is The Toughest,” HoneyColony founder, Maryam Henein, calls humanity a “full-fledged sleep-deprived society.” In the age of the Coronavirus, billions of people are losing sleep every night; therefore these labels are as relevant today as they were in 2017.
A recent survey asked a segment of Americans, “How much would you pay for a perfect night’s sleep during COVID-19 pandemic?” The survey found that the average American only slept for 6.6 hours during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic this number was 7.2 hours. An extra hour or two makes a difference to stress levels and overall well being.
How The Current Pandemic Causes Stress And Sleep Loss
A lack of sleep increases our body’s level of stress. The combination of sleeplessness and high levels of stress can impact life on every level. COVID-19 brings all sorts of stresses. This means that having a good sleep is essential.
According to a study published in the Harvard Gazette, “Sleep is emerging as the latest casualty of the COVID-19 crisis.” The study authors refer to the pandemic as a “perfect storm of sleep problems.” This analogy is applicable given the current situation. Storms create havoc to the environment. COVID-19 is causing extra emotional and physical stress, therefore playing havoc with our mind and body. The havoc is affecting the amount of sleep most people are getting.
Numbers and percentages may seem irrelevant. However, given the current state of affairs, they are both relevant and concerning. The survey mentioned previously is backed up by experts and researchers. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, approximately 30-35 percent of the population experienced long term or short term sleep problems,” founder and managing editor of Zivadream Lynell Ross, Certified Health and Wellness Coach, explains. It’s impossible to comprehend the exact percentage of the global population’s sleepless nights. Because, as Ross states, “Things are getting worse.”
Stress Leading to Sleep Disruption
It’s in our nature to worry about certain things. However, researchers are realizing that a lot of. people are struggling to deal with the current situation. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research acknowledges that there are many individuals experiencing an “unprecedented stressful situation.”
People are anxious about this disease and how it will affect them on a personal level. They are worried about their families, health, job security, and their sanity. Being isolated from loved ones is particularly hard. These worries keep them awake at night. As Dr.Chris Norris, Editor-in-Chief/Sleep Specialist for Sleep Standards explains, things such as “quarantine fatigue, lockdown, social distancing” influence “how and when we sleep.”
For most people COVID-19 has created different “sources of stress in their lives now that weren’t there a few months ago,”says Dr. Nicole M. Avena, an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Our body’s ability to cope with stress under normal circumstances is amazing. The fight and flight mechanism human bodies achieve is effective when it comes to overcoming stress. When stress is short-lived, the effects are more or less harmless. However, when there is constant stress, the body loses its ability to effectively overcome it.
The stresses the pandemic cause are unexpected, create uncertainty, and in some cases are unmanageable. Dr. Christophe Merville, Director of Education & Pharmacy Development at Boiron USA cautions that “changes in daily routine like working from home or managing child care, can affect the amount or quality of sleep.”
Studies Show Link Between Stress And Sleep
Scientific studies have shown that there is a link between stress and sleep, or rather the lack of sleep. A study conducted on medical students found that there was a statistically significant association between poor sleep quality and stress. When a person has trouble sleeping, they are more likely to catch a cold or flu. Besides the physical consequences of not getting enough sleep, many people develop psychological stress. In the case of the medical students, their lack of sleep increased stress levels. And their increased stress levels affected their academic ability.
The forced quarantine has “clearly impacted the social behaviors and living habits of people,” authors of an Indian study claim. With the way the things are at the moment, it’s not surprising that many people are developing symptoms they didn’t have before. People in isolation may develop mental stress-induced symptoms such as shifts in their moods and insomnia.
Relieve Sleeplessness During The Pandemic
The National Institute of General Medical Science describes circadian rhythms (body clock) as “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle.” When there is an irregular circadian rhythm, the production of the sleep hormone melatonin is stopped. Melatonin is important because it regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Without this hormone, sleep disorders and other chronic health problems can develop.
To prevent irregular circadian rhythms, having a regular schedule becomes necessary. Dr. Shadi Vahdat, an integrative physician experienced in addressing sleep problems, explains that having a “regular routine will have a profound impact on reducing stress hormones such as cortisol, blood sugar regulation, cardiovascular and cognitive health.” Having meals and going to bed at the same time, everyday is one example of developing a regular routine. Even though activities have changed due to COVID-19, maintaining an established schedule is one way of keeping personal control. Especially, in an uncontrollable situation.
Doing simple things like avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol in the evening may help you develop better coping strategies and encourage a better night’s sleep. Other things such as reducing noise and bright lights, especially blue light from screens, also helps create the right sleeping environment.
One way of reducing the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 is by practicing yoga and doing light exercises and stretches. Dr. Norris recommends doing some sort of exercise at least 20-30 minutes before going to bed. “Yoga’s relaxing poses and stretches, as well as the calming breathing exercises, help you fall asleep faster and increase the amount that you spend sleeping,” says Dr. Norris.
Natural Remedies To Help You Fall Asleep
During this troubled time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of traditional medication. But there are plenty of natural remedies that support health.
Supplements that contain a natural source of magnesium, zinc, and other important ingredients will support the body against stress. Interestingly, research has found that lavender’s sweet scent helps put a person in a relaxed state. Research has demonstrated that lavender effectively decreases blood pressure and heart rate.
Dr. Merville adds that “homeopathic medicines offer a simple, low-risk solution to relieve symptoms of stress. They do not suppress the cause of stress itself, but provide enough relief to help you face and react appropriately.” Homeopathic remedies, and most supplements are not habit forming and may assist in relieving the different types of stress created by the current global health crisis.
Research conducted in 2019 has shown that taking a warm shower or bath before bedtime is often recommended as a simple means of improving sleep during stressful times. Dr. Norris agrees that hot showers and baths are one way to calm your senses, and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep.
Dr. Vahdat supports this observation, and adds, “The sensation of warmth from a hot shower right before bedtime tells your body that it’s time to relax, and as a result, you start yawning more and feeling sleepy.”
Give Yourself “Me Time”
“Managing life during the pandemic is tough,” Dr. Norris admits. His experience as a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of California and neurologist with board certification in sleep medicine makes him an expert in this area of medicine. He says that it’s important to give yourself “me-time.” These activities can include the things you enjoy doing such as reading your favorite book, coloring in, working in the garden, or listening to music. The idea of doing these activities is to relax your mind and body in preparation for falling asleep.
Lynell Ross suggests, “Practicing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness will help slow your mind down. Meditation is a way of not paying attention to all those swirling thoughts in your head.” In her article, “Five Surprising Keys to Better Sleep,” she shares five other ways to ensure a better night sleep even when there is a pandemic. For instance writing in a sleep journal keeps track of your sleeping journey.
The best way to achieve a good night’s sleep is to recognize that worrying is pointless. Dr. Avena advises, “Take a step back and evaluate why you can’t fall asleep. If it is because of anxiety and worry, try to focus on the things you can control, instead of worrying about the things that you cannot.” This is where a journal comes in handy.
Another natural remedy, according to Ben Fletcher, who runs a Youtube channel featuring long-play recordings of the sound of rain in 3D, is “Thunder Slumber.” He was interviewed recently by Dexter Henry from AccuWeather about the recordings and how they helped people with sleeping problems.This type of relaxation sound is becoming a popular sleep remedy during the pandemic.
Fletcher describes this concept as “listening to nature recordings for sleep and relaxation.” Some people like listening to rain sounds because it “is rhythmic and gentle and can feel like a soothing lullaby helping you fall asleep quickly.” Other natural sounds that some people may find useful is water cascading down a waterfall or the brushing of the gentle wind against leaves of trees.
Music therapy seems to be an effective relaxation technique before bed that helps to improve sleep quality. Fletcher maintains that “when listening to rain sounds your body will unconsciously relax and your brain starts to produce alpha waves, which can simulate the state of the brain when you sleep.” The same applies to any type of natural sounds used to induce sleep.
It’s important to remember that, “although this pandemic seems like it is going to last forever, it won’t,” advises Dr. Avena. “We have to be mindful of that, and be patient with ourselves as we make adjustments to our lives moving forward.” The bottom line is that COVID-19 sleepless nights and associated stress doesn’t have to impact your peace.
Kat is a freelance writer.
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