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Sleep issues cropping up as a result of pandemic

Written By: Laura Frnka-Davis | Updated: April 23, 2020
COVID and sleep disturbances

A good night's sleep is more important than ever right now, but the stress caused by COVID-19 can make that difficult. A

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals may struggle to get a good night’s rest.

Reeba Mathew, MD

“Sleep is essential now more than ever since sleep deprivation is known to weaken the body’s immune response,” said Reeba Mathew, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at UT Physicians and associate professor of medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Despite the fact that we are working from home and don’t have the usual work and school-related demands, people are reporting sleep problems.”

Optimal sleep duration and quality of sleep are two of the issues being encountered. Families are sharing the same space for work and school, which can be stressful. The current state or prospect of unemployment, loneliness, and worrying that we or our loved ones will contract the virus add to our anxieties. Mathew also adds that we may be suffering from guilt over the hard work and sacrifices of those on the front lines and those who have lost their lives due to the pandemic. All of these psychological stressors contribute to not getting adequate rest.

Insomnia – trouble falling or staying asleep – also is an issue. Watching too much news and constantly scrolling through news feeds on social media, especially prior to bedtime, can contribute to this.

The opposite – sleeping too much – can also be at play during a pandemic. Depression can easily set in and this needs to be considered if individuals are sleeping more than the recommended sleep duration, which is seven to nine hours.

Some people may experience nightmares as a result of current events. While we are unable to control dreams, keeping a positive outlook, and going to bed with a positive frame of mind might prove to be helpful. Mathew suggests listening to light music, meditating, or reading before bed to help soothe and calm nerves. For the “worry wart,” setting a defined “worry time” earlier in the day may help with the goal of going to bed without emotionally upsetting thoughts.

While the quarantine has disrupted daily life, it’s important to keep a regular bedtime. “Regularity in our day and night schedule is essential to optimal functioning of our circadian rhythm,” said Mathew.

She also recommends these tips to ensure you’re getting enough ZZZs:

  • Avoid caffeine in the evenings because it can impair nighttime sleep.
  • Exercise during the day but avoid exercising immediately before bedtime because it can raise your body temperature, speed up your heart rate, and stimulate your nervous system.
  • Keep a comfortable bedroom environment – one that is dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Avoid the temptation to work in bed. Your bed should be associated with relaxation and sleep. Performing work-related activities in bed may lead to negative associations with the bedroom/bed and this can affect sleep.
  • Avoid as much screen time as possible before bed, especially with all the stress-inducing news during the pandemic.

For more helpful resources and facts on COVID-19, visit our information center.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.