The coronavirus has brought the world into uncharted waters. Whole countries have been on lockdown, the economy is declining, and many people are afraid. With such unprecedented changes happening so quickly, it’s understandable to forget how important sleep is. But, taking care of your sleep and immune system are the two best ways to fight off the coronavirus.
Did you know that sleep, besides keeping everything running smoothly, is also a key promoter of strong emotional wellness and mental health? Quality deep sleep also helps to beat stress, depression, and anxiety. Whether you’ve had sleeping problems before COVID-19 or if they’ve only come on recently, there are concrete steps that you can take to improve your sleep and immune system during the global pandemic.
The challenges to sleep during a pandemic
Millions of people suffered from insomnia before the coronavirus, and unfortunately, the pandemic creates a host of new challenges even for people who previously had no sleeping problems and immune systems problems.
The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Of course, patients with the virus and front-line medical workers face the harshest realities and direct impact of the disease. But as we’ve seen across the world, the consequences have spread far and wide, and COVID definitely isn’t doing anyone any favors trying to get a good night’s rest.
Disruption of daily life
Social distancing, school closures, quarantines, working-from-home; all bring profound changes to normal routines for people of all ages and walks of life. Sleeping more than 7-8 hours per night can make waking up on time much more difficult, even if you use an alarm. Over-sleepers may also feel groggy, irritable, and unfocused throughout the day.
Anxiety and worry
Naturally, with a pandemic comes panic. Many people fear catching coronavirus because they don’t want to get sick or infect other people inadvertently. Most people have close friends or family who are older or in high-risk groups because of pre-existing conditions, spurring worries about their health and safety. Economic concerns are affecting nearly everyone as well.
As economic activity stalls and job losses mount, it’s normal to worry about income, savings, and making ends meet. As such uncertainty often brings anxiety that disrupts sleep, since a racing mind keeps the body tossing and turning.
Depression and Isolation
This crisis can bring about isolation and depression that can be potentially worse for people who have a loved one who is sick or has passed away from COVID-19. Grief and depression can be exacerbated by isolation at home, and both are known to have the potential to cause significant sleeping problems.
Greater family and work stress
Many families are under serious stress as a result of the coronavirus. Canceled trips, isolation from friends, and an abundance of time cooped up at home can place a strain on anyone. Keeping up with work-from-home obligations, managing a house full of children, or both can generate stress and discord that have been shown to be barriers to sleep.
Excess screen time
Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.
The chronic stress of living through a pandemic can lead to a host of physical symptoms, including persistent headaches, memory lapses, and digestive problems. Stress-related fatigue is another common side effect. Even if you receive an adequate amount of sleep at night, fatigue can still leave you feeling tired and unmotivated in the morning.
Why is sleep important during these times?
Sleep is a critical biological process, and the truth is that it’s always important. When confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, though, sleep becomes even more essential because of its wide-ranging benefits for physical and mental health.
Empowers an effective immune system
Solid nightly rest strengthens your body’s defenses, and studies have even found that lack of sleep can make some vaccines less effective.
Heightens brain function
Our mind works better when we get good sleep, contributing to complex thinking, learning, memory, and decision-making. For adults and children adapting to work and school at home, good sleep can help them stay sharp.
Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy levels, and cause or worsen feelings of depression.
Improves mental health
Besides depression, studies have found that a lack of sleep is linked with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improved virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention during the coronavirus pandemic.
Melatonin and Sleep
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, which is nestled at the base of the brain just below the hypothalamus. Many living things, from humans to plants to fungi and bacteria, make melatonin, a hormone and also a powerful antioxidant. For us, melatonin’s main role is to regulate sleep and wakefulness.
The science behind it says that given the role of melatonin in the body, it’s no surprise that melatonin supplements have become a popular and widely available sleep aid. But there’s not a lot of scientific evidence for their effectiveness.
A review of studies, published in 2017 in Sleep Medicine Reviews, found that melatonin helps reduce sleep latency for people with primary insomnia and those with a condition called delayed sleep phase syndrome. In the latter, a person’s sleep cycle is severely out of sync with the 24-hour day.
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