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The Importance of Sleep During Uncertain Times

Published in Sleep Medicine, For the Health of It Author: Cathy Klick,NP

At no time in recent history, have we dealt with something like COVID-19. It is understandably causing stress and anxiety, as well as frustration, for many of us. This will undoubtedly affect our sleep – a superpower aspect of our daily practice that can have a huge impact on how we deal with this challenge. We asked Cathy Klick,NP with CentraCare Sleep Center what adults and teens can do to get better sleep during this pandemic.

Will good sleep help me stay healthy as our community fights COVID-19?

Yes! One of the most important functions of sleep is it bolsters your immune system helping your body fight and/or avoid illness. Sleep scientist have found that sleep deprivation can make you more at risk for picking up illnesses. If ever there was a time when we want our systems “in fighting form” – it’s now.

I have new anxiety and stress surrounding this pandemic and I’m now finding it difficult to sleep. What can I do?

  • Keep a consistent bedtime and waking routine. Our body and brain prefer consistency. Try to allow yourself 7-9 hours of sleep if possible.
  • Journaling before bed can be relaxing and may help relieve stress. If possible, when writing about your concerns include possible solutions.
  • Some people deal with catastrophic thinking and consume their minds with worst case scenarios during difficult times. Remember, those scenarios often don’t materialize – try to keep that in mind.
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, after 20 to 30 minutes, get out of your bedroom and try to do something distracting or relaxing with the lights off or low. Once you get sleepy, try going to your bedroom again. When you lie awake in bed for too long, your brain starts to associate the bed with wakefulness instead of sleep.
  • Start “winding down” about two hours before bed. Turn off electronics, overhead lights and create a calm and relaxing atmosphere. A bath or drinking warm liquids can also help you relax.

I can’t get a full night of sleep because I have to work at night and take care of my kids during the day. What should I do?

  • If you can only sleep during daylight hours, try wearing sunglasses when leaving work to reduce sun exposure as you are traveling home. The sun can suppress your melatonin and make it difficult for you to go to sleep or stay asleep.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. Even small amounts of light can disrupt sleep. Use blackout curtains, shades or a sleep mask to make the room as dark as possible.
  • Be mindful of how much and when you consume caffeine. If you need to sleep after working at night, don’t indulge in caffeine toward the end of your work.
  • If possible, take a nap before starting work in the evening.

How can I help get my child’s sleep routine get back to normal?

All parents have had to deal with disruptions in their child’s sleep routine at one point or another. A change in habits during this stressful time is to be expected. Like adults, kids and teens do well with a “wind down” period before bed. Try doing something relaxing or calming like reading a book or playing soft music. Gently stand firm if your child tries to push off bed time – sticking to a routine ensures consistency that leads to better sleep.

My teen is staying up late talking to friends since there is no longer social connections during the day. What can I do to improve this new routine?

Many teens experience a shift in their circadian rhythm – meaning they start to feel tired later at night. We consider this a “delayed sleep-wake pattern” possibly due to a change in melatonin production to a later time. This shift can have negative effects on academics, emotional health, possibility of motor vehicle accidents and athletic performance.

While this shift is normal, we can help it from worsening by reducing the use of electronics, allowing for a “wind down” period and activities outside during the day. Exercise outside can have a positive effect on circadian rhythm and will support sleep later on.

Social connections are important, but encourage your teenager to talk with friends early in the evening.