When it comes to protecting our health during this pandemic, we all know the importance of physical distancing measures and regular handwashing. However in addition to these recommended behaviours, improving your quality of sleep can go a long way in boosting your overall health. Aside from playing a critical role in your physical health and the effectiveness of your immune system, sleep is a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health. With that said, you may be finding that getting quality sleep is hard to come by with all that’s going on right now. Despite these stressful and uncertain times, there are concrete steps you can take to help you wind down to get a good night’s rest.
Why Sleep is Important
While sleep is a natural biological process, its importance should never be overlooked. As getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, this only reiterates why it should become even more essential during this pandemic. Sleep has a wide range of physical and mental health benefits, including:
- Improving your immune system. Getting a solid nightly rest helps strengthen your body’s defenses, and can even help make some vaccines more effective.
- Heightening your brain function. Our mind works better when we get good sleep which contributes to complex thinking, learning, memory and decision-making.
- Enhancing your mood. Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy level, and cause or worsen feelings of depression.
- Improving your mental health. Studies have found that a lack of sleep is linked with a variety of mental health conditions.
How the Pandemic is Hindering Our Sleep
According to a 2018 survey from Statistics Canada, nearly one-quarter of Canadians reported experiencing issues with insomnia, and one-third of respondents slept for less than seven or eight hours a night. Unfortunately now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, new challenges have surfaced that have created sleeping problems for many, including individuals with no prior issues. While everyone will respond to these challenges differently, some of the direct impacts that pose significant barriers to sleep include:
- Significant and abrupt changes to normal routines
- General fears and anxiety stemming from the pandemic
- Depression and isolation
- Increased family and work stress
- Excessive screen time
- Stress-related fatigue
Tips for Better Sleep During COVID-19
Whether you had problems sleeping prior to the pandemic or poor sleep has been brought on more recently, there are a handful of steps you an take to get on your way to sleeping more soundly. Just be sure to not give up if your efforts don't pay off immediately. Like a lot of healthy habits, it can take some time for your sleep to stabilize and you may find the need to adapt some of these suggestions to best fit your specific needs:
- Create a set routine. We’re living in abnormal times but establishing a routine can help facilitate a sense of normalcy. By avoiding major variations in your daily sleep times, it will be easier for your mind and body to adjust to a consistent sleep schedule. Some aspects of your daily routine you’ll want to sick to include: getting up at the same time every day, having a wind-down period at night in preparation for bed, setting a time for lights out and actually trying to fall asleep.
- Keep your bed for sleep. If your living arrangements allow for it, you should avoid doing any work from bed and refrain from spending your TV leisure time there as well. The reasoning for this is that your mind needs to be able to create the association between your bed and sleep. Any activities outside of this can be detrimental to those cues your body needs to initiate healthy sleep patterns.
- Get outside. Even if the sun isn’t shining brightly, it’s important to expose your body to natural light. While being outdoors is the most beneficial way to help regulate sleep, opening windows and blinds to let light into your home can help as well.
- Nap wisely. It may be tempting to take more naps now that you’re home all day. While a power nap can do wonders to revitalize your energy, just be sure to keep it under 20 minutes and avoid taking it later in the day so you don’t hinder your nighttime sleep.
- Keep moving. It may be hard to find the motivation to exercise right now but regular daily activity can be extremely beneficial for sleep patterns. Aside from reducing stress and burning off stored energy, physical exercise can improve sleep quality and increase sleep duration.
- Be kind and stay connected. Maintaining social connections and practicing kindness toward yourself can help reduce stress and its harmful effects on mood and sleep. By actively trying to keep a positive mindset and using technology to stay in touch with friends and family, you may find it easier to fall asleep as you’re generally more at ease.
- Try relaxation techniques. Finding ways to relax can be a potent tool in improving your sleep. Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music, and quiet reading are just a few examples of relaxation techniques that you can build into your routine.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Eating an overall healthy and nutrient-dense diet not only affects our brain health and activity but our sleep as well. To help promote healthy sleep habits, try to incorporate more fibre into your diet while scaling back on saturated fats and sugar. You should also be limiting your alcohol and caffeine consumption if it’s later in the day as both can disrupt the quantity and quality of your sleep.