Why can’t you fall asleep in quarantine? A sleep expert weighs in.
On a recent FaceTime call, my friend Jon told me that he had been since March, before the stay at home orders and the wave of Coronavirus Cases hit the US. He took sleeping pills, exercised before bed, and listened ASMR videos but without success; he couldn’t turn his brain off before 2 or 3 a.m. most nights.
Jon is not alone with his insomnia. While many people have anecdotally reported that they did amazingly vivid dreams In quarantine, some struggle with seemingly incurable insomnia, be it in the form of difficulty falling asleep, sleep disorders at night or waking up too early.
A survey of nearly 1,000 people by SleepHelp.org found that 22 percent of respondents had poorer sleep quality due to the pandemic, and a third said their sleep problems were due to the coverage they consumed. Health care workers were reportedly employed in China prone to insomnia and experienced feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress-based trauma. The coronavirus apparently conjured up “A perfect storm of sleeping problems” according to a Stanford sleep researcher.
In times before the pandemic, for example 30 to 35 percent of adults suffer from insomnia, and most are short-term conditions that can be resolved without professional help. (Medical professionals and sleep experts generally recommend approx. seven to nine hours Sleep per night.) The inability to sleep can be frustrating, especially in the midst of a pandemic with no end in sight. If you have insomnia, you have probably spent at least a night googling something to say “fall asleep” instead of actually falling asleep.
I spoke to Bill Fish, a certified sleep specialist and senior editor at SleepFoundation.org, about those struggling with sleep and lifestyle changes. Here’s his best advice for getting more restful nights.
How has staying inside affected our sleep behavior?
It is interesting to see the pandemic progression from a mental health and sleep perspective. There wasn’t much talk about sleep for the first three weeks, from early to mid-March, but by the time we got into the stay at home orders for two to three weeks, people really started noticing they weren’t sleeping as well and had trouble sleeping. There are all sorts of factors that cause insomnia in people. For those of us lucky enough to work from home, we have lost the structure of our daily lives. We have no external reality, so to speak.
What a lot of people started instead of going to bed at 10:30 a.m. and getting up at 6:30 a.m., there is no longer a great motivator to get up at 6:30 a.m. While this can be good to some extent, at the end of the day all adults should sleep between seven and nine hours a night.
When you get more, you might wake up feeling lethargic and not really yourself. Our bodies are trained to know and prepare for the sleep process. With more and more people staying up at night and sleeping later in the morning, their bodies will have to dial again after about two to three weeks, and that doesn’t even take into account the health and financial burden the pandemic caused.
What tips do you have for people who suffer from insomnia?
My biggest thing is the schedule – to encourage someone to return to a sense of normalcy. I have two sons who want to stay up all night playing video games because they can’t see their friends. I have to explain to them that staying awake is not healthy. If your body is used to you getting up early, you should resume that habit. We are all and our bodies are trying to figure out what this “new normal” is and what I urge is to try to do whatever we can to get back to your old bedtime. If you’ve messed up your sleep pattern, I would recommend changing it in increments of 10 or 15 minutes each night until you are back where you were before.
Eventually the kids go back to school and people go back to work so we can exercise our bodies by going to sleep and waking up at the same time over and over again. It may not cure all insomnia, but it does give you a better chance of success.
So I suggest not watching TV or scrolling on your phone in bed. It’s about creating the separation between sleep, leisure and work in your waking and sleeping environment, which now takes place in the same building. It is difficult, however. Even my wife does; she sits with her headphones on and watches a show in bed.
Can you explain how lack of sleep affects a person’s immunity?
In addition to diet and exercise, sleep is the third pillar of wellbeing. These are the three most important factors in keeping us healthy. When we prepare for sleep, our bodies produce melatonin, which makes us tired. If we don’t sleep all night, our immune system doesn’t make as much of it an effective answer to fight other infections or viruses. We really want people to get those seven to nine hours of sleep in order to stay as healthy as possible.
What tips do you have for improving a person’s sleep quality, not just the length of sleep?
I believe that people should turn their bedroom into a place to sleep. Separate your bedroom from the rest of your life. Set up your bedroom so that it is intended for sleeping. Tidy up your sleeping area as your mind may race if the room is cluttered. Consider charging your phone in another room and not watching TV before bed.
Stay away from the screen for at least 45 minutes before bed, so maybe read a book or keep a journal – just something to calm your mind before bed. Make sure your room is cool and as dark as possible. I’m a fan of a white noise machine; You can buy it online for $ 20 and plug it in next to your bed to create a steady stream of white noise that can mask any external noise that might wake you up. The device can help you stay asleep and feel refreshed when you wake up in the morning.
How does this affect our sleep as more people stay at home and are more sedentary as a result?
The key is getting some form of cardio exercise for 30 minutes or just walking. The human body is not designed to sit at a desk all day. Remember how a dog must go for a walk every day. We need to get this energy out of our bodies so that we are physically tired every night when we go to bed.
I am often asked when to exercise, and there have been a number of studies, but none of them are really conclusive as to when to exercise. You should have your body temperature back to normal and not be out of breath for at least 45 minutes before bed. There is no point in walking a few miles just before going to bed.
Are there certain foods or substances like caffeine that could affect a person’s sleep?
You shouldn’t consume caffeine at least three to four hours before bed to keep it out of your system, and you shouldn’t eat anything within an hour of bed because your body has to digest and produce your food, which is harder for you , to fall asleep. There is not much point in eating spicy foods that could potentially cause indigestion. I would stay away from caffeine, and I’ve read a lot of stories that do People drink more during the pandemic. This is really not good for your sleep. While alcohol can help you fall asleep a little faster, many people tend to wake up in the middle of the night as the alcohol leaves your system.
How do you think the pandemic will affect our sleeping habits when the pandemic becomes the “new normal”?
It gives us the ability to get the recommended amount of sleep. The vast majority of people commute and spend a lot of time in the car, subway, or train. Now that’s gone. We’ll be back to work at some point, but we don’t know how fast it will be and whether it will be five days a week or less. It takes away the excuse for saying, “Well, I don’t have the opportunity to sleep eight hours a night.”