Experts Share Tips For Improving Sleep During COVID-19 Pandemic

Aug 19, 2020, 8:23 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Stress related to COVID-19 is impacting sleep for many Utahns, and that can hurt our overall health. So if you don’t feel like you’re getting quality “Z’s” during the pandemic, you’re not alone.

Fortunately, sleep experts at Intermountain Healthcare have several tips that can help you, starting tonight.

According to one study, the average Utahn has racked up 13 hours of sleep deficit a week since the pandemic started. Another study shows people are getting more sleep, but it is poor quality sleep because of stress. According to experts, we need to find ways to relax.

“I’ve been a troublesome sleeper for the past several years,” said Paige Dubrow.

She feels lucky right now that the pandemic is not costing her more sleep, because that has been a problem for her in the past.

“If I have a lot of things going on in my life that are stressing me out, I definitely will worry a lot,” said Dubrow. “So that will keep me up, and keep me from having a good night’s sleep.”

In one recent study, 25% of the participants said their sleep routines have changed since the start of the pandemic, and 37% said the coronavirus is the biggest cause for their insomnia.

Dr. Kevin Walker, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Sleep Disorders Center, said many people are struggling.

“A lot of people are just having a lot of stress and anxiety, not just with COVID, but all of the effects of COVID on their lives,” said Walker.

People are worried about their jobs, finances, health and families in the midst of the pandemic. Parents are now worried about students going back to school.

“As people are under more stress and anxiety, they struggle to sleep,” said Walker. ”They may struggle getting to sleep, or staying asleep, or getting back to sleep during the night.”

Many people have less structure in their schedules because of the pandemic. So, they stay up later or wake up later, and that can throw off a good sleep schedule.

Consistency in our sleep is good for our bodies and minds, Walker said.

“Going to bed around the same time, and getting up around the same time each day is really helpful,” he said.

Try not to let the schedule drift more than an hour in either direction.

Develop good sleep habits before getting into bed.

“Doing a similar thing the half-hour, or so before going to bed … kind of your wind-down routine that helps you calm down and relax,” said Walker.

Delores Watts said relaxation is the key for her if she is not sleeping well.

“If I’m real worried, I just have to go into a positive thought, like something not so heavy, like being with my grandkids or looking forward to something,” she said.

Try to stay away from technology and screens before bedtime.

“This blue wavelength light from the screens just signals our internal clock to stay awake,” said Walker.

Another tip for better sleep: Don’t try to force it. If you’re not sleepy at 10 p.m., don’t lie in bed getting frustrated. Get up and do something relaxing until you feel like you’re ready to fall asleep.

Ten strategies from Intermountain sleep experts that can lead to better sleep

1. Create and maintain regular daytime and nighttime routines.

  • Get up about the same time each morning.
  • Go to bed about the same time each night.
  • Set regular mealtimes and exercise/play times.
  • Prioritize getting outside each day for at least 30 minutes, preferably before noon.
  • Consider a walk around the block in the morning or breakfast outside.
  • Bright light exposure helps our body maintain a regular 24-hour rhythm which is crucial for quality sleep. Avoid worrying, working, answering emails, watching movies or hanging out in bed, and help your children do the same. A strong association between the bed and sleep can help with falling asleep faster and getting back to sleep during the night.

 2. Go to bed when you feel sleepy and don’t try to “make” yourself go to sleep.

  •  If you go to bed and can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you are sleepy and go back to bed.
  • Avoid falling asleep on the couch, in the recliner or other places that aren’t your bed.

 3. Calming and soothing bedtime routines are important for kids and adults.

  • Suggested activities:
  • Reserve the hour before bed for activities that are positive, relaxing and create a sense of safety and ease.
  • Read a positive, not too exciting book.
  • Take a shower/bath.
  • Review things for which you are grateful.
  • Talk with friends and loved ones.

 4. Dim the lights in the evening and avoid screens one to two hours before bed.

  • Bright lights and screens send a signal to the brain that it is daytime which can lead to more difficulty falling or staying asleep and more fatigue the next day.
  • If you must be on a personal electronic device before bed, enable the night mode or download a blue light blocking app to help filter some of the light that negatively impacts sleep. Blue light blocking glasses can also be used for evening screen use. 

5. If you find yourself worrying or having trouble quieting your mind, take some time a couple of hours before bed to write down the things that are concerning you.

  • Set aside a “worry time” the next day to focus on the things on your list.
  • Keep a pad of paper by your bed so you can write things down.

6. Relaxation exercises, such as slow easy breathing, performed on your own or with the guidance of an app or recording, can be helpful at bedtime

7. Pay attention to healthy sleep habits

  • Avoid caffeine after noon.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening. (Avoid the use of alcohol for sleep. While it can be associated with falling asleep faster, it leads to waking more often during the night and poor-quality sleep.)
  • Keep your room cool and dark.
  • Avoiding eating meals within two hours of bedtime.

8. For adults, short naps (15-20 minutes) in the mid-afternoon can feel refreshing and provide a daytime boost. Longer and/or later naps can interfere with nighttime sleep and it is usually best to avoid long naps if you are having trouble sleeping at night. However, if you are ill, napping and extra sleep may help in recovery, so allow for that extra sleep if needed. 

9. Take sleep medication only as prescribed. Avoid frequent or long-term use of over-the-counter sleep aids.

10. Remember that in times of stress, sleep often becomes temporarily disrupted, but will return to normal in time. If you are experiencing a lot of distress about your sleep, talk with your medical or mental health provider.

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Experts Share Tips For Improving Sleep During COVID-19 Pandemic