Here’s How to Sleep Better as COVID-19 Messes Up Our Sleep

The COVID-19 pandemic is still disrupting an essential component of a healthy life: a good night’s sleep.

In a survey conducted in July of 2,000 adults, released Sept. 13 by the Harris Poll on behalf of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, about 18% of respondents said they get less sleep now than they did before the pandemic, while 19% said they struggle to sleep because they’re worried or stressed (about COVID-19, politics, or other factors). At the university, at least, this has led to a surge in demand for help; in 2021, Ohio State’s medical center received about 29% more referrals for insomnia treatment compared to 2018, says Dr. Aneesa Das, a sleep specialist and professor of internal medicine there.

Das says stress can interfere with sleep because it increases heart rate and blood pressure, can upset stomachs and cause muscle tension. Survey results also show that poor sleep habits like using the phone before bed, sleeping irregularly, or spending too much time in bed are contributing to the problem. Das says these bad habits can make it difficult to get healthy sleep.

Continue reading: What if Everyone Doesn’t Need 8 Hours Sleep?

Das believes that this is partly due to the fact that many people are doing things wrong in order to get sleepy. According to the survey, 37% said they watch TV before falling asleep, while 47% used their smartphone. “Both of these are things that folks often do to try to distract their mind,” says Das. “But bright light is actually stimulating and decreases the association of the bedroom with sleep.”

The pandemic’s disruption of people’s daily schedules may have also had a knock-on effect on sleep, says Das. Many people were forced to quit work, or work remotely by COVID-19. This gave them greater control over their sleep and waking hours. Das states that not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to fall asleep. The survey does not indicate if people spent too much time indoors or not enough sun exposure during the pandemic. Das states that people who spend more time in bedrooms are at greater risk. “Waking up, putting your laptop on the bed, and working from home are probably the worst things we can do for causing insomnia.”

If you’re struggling to sleep, Das suggests rethinking your sleep habits. The temperature of your bedroom should be in the lower 60s. It should also be dark and quiet. This should not be used to sleep or intimately. Das says that a daily routine can make a huge difference in your sleep. Das recommends getting some exercise and spending more time outdoors. Das likes to make a list of things she needs to do each day so that she is ready for her next day. She also walks two miles every morning to help with sleep.

Although it is difficult to give up caffeine or change your morning routine, improving your sleeping habits can make a big difference in your overall health. Bad sleep is linked to many conditions. These include a greater risk of developing heart disease or stroke as well increased vulnerability to obesity.

While the outbreak has disrupted people’s sleep habits, it could make them more resistant to its consequences. After getting a bad night’s sleep, studies have shown that people even have a poorer immune response to vaccines, says Das. While this hasn’t been studied with the Omicron booster, Das notes, “I can assure you that I tell my kids, ‘Before you get your vaccine booster, we want to make sure you’re getting good sleep.’”

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