Sleep is always vital, including during a pandemic.
Sleep, covid and anxiety. These three words seem to go hand in hand.
It’s been 11 months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a public health emergency. Everyone is susceptible to COVID-19 —rich or poor, male or female, old or young—and this is frightening. We have been told to help “flatten the curve” by staying indoors and refraining from gathering. We now have to think about simple tasks that we didn’t before:
Should I touch the mail?
Should I go to the grocery store or have it delivered?
Moreover, millions of people have lost their jobs—perhaps temporarily, but the bills still need to be paid.
All of this is overwhelming. Plus, trying to manage our sleep, covid and anxiety can really take a turn. Subsequently, it may increase our anxiety, in turn, wreaking havoc with our sleep.
COVID, Anxiety and Sleep
The relationship between anxiety and sleep is complex and bidirectional: Anxiety can cause sleep deprivation (whether from insomnia or lack of sleep), similarly, sleep deprivation increases anxiety.1,2
Together, anxiety and lack of sleep impair:
- decision-making abilities
Thus increasing the number of vehicle- and work-related accidents.3
1/3 of Our Lives Is Sleep
Sleep is an active process, taking up one-third of our lives. Sleep has many functions, but importantly it boosts our immunity. To clarify, during sleep, the body filters out toxins and produces proteins that help the immune system respond to harmful pathogens. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase our risk of infection.4
The good news is that by improving our sleep, consequently, we can help ourselves both by reducing our anxiety and by improving our immune system and those of our loved ones.
What Type of Sleeper Are You?
A third of all sleep problems are preventable and treatable. It’s the simple things that make the difference.
So how can you improve your sleep?
An important first step is to find out what type of sleeper you are. In short, you can determine this by keeping track of:
- What time you go to bed
- How long it takes you to fall asleep
- What time you wake up (including nighttime awakenings), and above all,
- If you feel refreshed the next day.
In addition, a sleep log can help you answer these questions.6
How Much Sleep Do You Need to Feel Refreshed?
The majority of adults need 7-8 hours of sleep. Furthermore, research shows that most of us have chronic partial sleep deprivation, and average less than 7 hours of sleep a night.7,8 Especially in the time of Covid.
Since there are individual differences, to sum up, you need to determine how many hours of sleep you need to feel fully rested the next day.7
On the other hand, if you are chronically somewhat sleep deprived, it can take more than three days of extended sleep for you to “catch up.”
When do You Sleep Best?
We all differ in when we should sleep because of our individual circadian rhythms (biological clocks).9
Some people are morning people, or larks (they get sleepy earlier in the evening and wake up in the early morning hours).
Others are night people, therefore, owls (they get sleepy late at night or in the very early morning hours and wake up late in the morning).
Being a lark is most typical in older adults and being an owl is most typical in adolescents, in other words, both can occur at any age.
One of the best ways to determine if you are a lark or an owl is, for instance, to ask yourself this question:
“What time of day do I feel most alert and ready to take on the world?”
In Sync With Your Sleep
Larks tend to function best in the morning, while owls do better later in the day.
Above all, we feel best when our circadian clock is in sync with our routines. If your log shows that you are not sleepy until around 1 a.m. and your body wants to sleep until 9 a.m., you cannot suddenly change yourself from an owl into a lark—that is, force yourself to go to sleep earlier or wake up earlier.
Decrease Anxiety And Boost The Immune System
Sleep can be a powerful tool for decreasing anxiety and boosting the immune system.
Knowing what type of sleeper you are and adjusting accordingly can make all the difference.
Lifestyle changes can be challenging, but small steps go a long way.10
6 Sleep Tips That Will Improve Your Sleep Hygiene and Anxiety.11
1. Firstly, sleep only as much as you need to feel rested, and do not try to go to sleep unless you feel sleepy.
2. Secondly, get rid of your clock; there should be no timepieces in the bedroom. If you need an alarm to wake up, place it under the bed so you are not tempted to look at it.
3. Thirdly, don’t stay in bed if you are not asleep. If you begin feeling tense and upset about not being able to fall asleep, get out of bed and go to another room. Do a calming activity until you feel sleepy, and only then go back to bed to try to sleep. Repeat if necessary.
4. Moreover, bright-light exposure in the morning, when you awaken, will maximize your alertness and help maintain your circadian rhythm. Get outside or sit next to a window to get more light exposure in the morning.12
5. Most importantly, it’s best to deal with your worries earlier in the day, not close to bedtime. This can be done with meditation or by writing them down so that you can “work on them” in the morning.
6. After that, once you find a schedule that works, go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Likewise, follow the same schedule on weekdays and weekends.
In conclusion, these are unprecedented times. By managing our sleep and anxiety in the time of Covid, will result in better nights. With better nights, we will have better days.