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COVID and Sleep Issues: 5 Tips to Improve Them

An image of a woman laying in bed wearing a mask and holding her templesSleep is something that you can take for granted until it’s no longer there. You may have found that during the COVID pandemic or during your recovery, COVID and sleep issues go hand in hand. COVID and sleep issues can turn night times from relaxing into completely anxiety-provoking, with you counting down the hours you have until the next workday starts.

Luckily there are numerous techniques you can try to help with COVID and sleep issues. Let’s explore five tips that can help get those zzzs back.

COVID and Sleep Issues

COVID-somnia or Coronasomnia, more commonly referred to as COVID and sleep issues, is an increase in sleep disturbances from the pandemic.

The link between COVID and sleep issues could be due to multiple factors that include:

  • Increase in stress
  • Isolation
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Lack of sunlight
  • Lack of routine or structure

The pandemic caused many changes to our daily lives that have lead to sleep disturbances for many people.

Physiology of Sleep

Whilst sleeping may seem like something that happens without much action apart from closing your eyes and lying down, sleep is a physiological and chemical process that happens in your body.

It starts with the neurotransmitters otherwise known as the brain hormones. These hormones are involved in keeping us awake and involved in helping us to fall asleep. Serotonin and dopamine are two common neurotransmitters that are involved in keeping us awake. When you fall asleep, brain cells at the base of your brain start signaling and cause the brain cells that emit these hormones to switch off.

Another chemical that is thought to be involved in sleep is adenosine. Adenosine has been shown to increase your level of drowsiness. As you go about your day, this level will naturally increase. When you do fall asleep, the adenosine breaks down in your blood, allowing for the build-up to begin again the next day.

The Different Phases of Sleep

Although you may only be aware of two stages, sleep and awake, there are in fact multiple phases to sleep.

When you sleep, you can pass through five different phases of sleep. These phases are:

  • First Phase - light sleep, can be woken up easily
  • Second Phase - moving from light to deep sleep
  • Third Phase - deep sleep
  • Forth Phase - deep sleep
  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) - dreams typically take place in this phase

These phases happen typically in a cycle, starting with dozing off and moving on to the next phase and the next phase. The most common phases that adults spend most of their sleep time in are REM, and the first and second phases.

How Much Sleep Should You Be Getting?

The amount of sleep you need all depends on your age, your health, and the stage of life that you are currently in (eg. pregnant, lactating, teens, older adults). Typically, for the average adult, the optimal amount of sleep needed is between seven to nine hours per night.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

If you do not get enough sleep, it can impact your health. Common side effects of a lack of sleep are:

  • Reduced immunity - not something you want with COVID
  • Reduced mood
  • Reduction in cognition
  • Increased risk of weight gain
  • Increased blood pressure

These side effects can result in a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.

Now that we’ve gone through some health effects of lack of sleep, what can you do to combat COVID and sleep issues

Tip #1 For COVID And Sleep Issues: Keep Your Sleep and Wake-Up Times Fixed

An image of a calander with go to bed early written on itHygiene is not confined to your personal hygiene but also your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene, in simple terms, helps to put you in the best position to sleep and starts with routine.

This routine focuses on going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, regardless of whether it's the holidays or the weekend.

If you are unsure of what time to go to bed and wake up, start by calculating how much sleep you would like and make sure that this amount is within the optimal range for sleep (seven to nine hours). Once you’ve worked out how long you would like to sleep, you can decide what time you would like to wake up the next day. Remember to leave enough time in the morning to get ready for work. After this, you can work backward and decide what time you should be sleeping.

By keeping to this schedule, it helps to reinforce your circadian rhythm, a natural process within your body that regulates your sleep-wake cycle and repeats itself every 24 hours.

Tip #2 For COVID And Sleep Issues: Get Some Sunlight

One of the keys to COVID and sleep issues is sunlight. Sunlight is important not just because it helps with vitamin D but it also helps regulate your circadian rhythm

If you are working from home or in bed with COVID, sunlight may be the last thing on your mind but going outside and soaking up some of those rays, can help to regulate your circadian rhythm.

How sunlight regulates the cycle is simple. Your internal clock will use light as a signal to wake up and dark as a signal to go to sleep. If your body doesn’t get the light, your internal clock will not be able to use it as a signal.

The recommended amount of sunlight to help set your circadian rhythm is roughly 30-45 minutes and can be achieved whilst sitting in the sun, walking, or even working outside.

Tip #3 For COVID And Sleep Issues: Take A Break From Naps

Naps can be incredibly tempting, especially when you are stuck at home during the pandemic or simply feeling a bit dozy after the meeting that ended just before your lunch break.

No matter how tempting it can be, though, reducing the number of naps you take during the day will help you get that blissful sleep at the end of the day.

Having a nap in the afternoon, especially late afternoon when your sleep drive is increased, increases the chances of your body switching into the deep phase. This can reduce your ability to fall asleep later at night.

If napping is a must for you, rather nap at midday or early afternoon and keep it to 10-20 minutes. This amount of time was found to be the optimal amount of sleep that didn’t cause grogginess after waking up.

Tip #4 For COVID And Sleep Issues: Avoid Watching The Clock

It’s incredibly easy when you can’t sleep to watch the clock and begrudgingly count down the hours until it's the start of the next workday. Doing this, however, will cause anxiety and frustration which will further reduce your ability to sleep.

Rather than watching the clock, try a practice that will help promote relaxation and calm. These practices include meditation, breathwork, or even yoga.

If you’re new to these practices, try practicing them during the day. That way it will help prepare you for the night.

Tip #5 For COVID And Sleep Issues: Rest

An image of a woman resting on the couchIt may seem obvious, but if you are wanting to sleep, you rest, right? Yes, but when you struggle to fall asleep, typically anxiety, frustration, and anger can set in. When these emotions kick in, instead of trying to relax, you may become aggravated, and it can prohibit you from falling asleep.

If you are in bed tossing and turning, instead, get up and do something that will distract your mind from the problem at hand. This can be reading, listening to music, breathwork, meditation, or anything that relaxes you.

Whilst friends and family members may try helping and give you suggestions as to what you can do to help make the time pass away during the night, choose an activity that you like. If you don’t like it, it will aggravate you further. If you choose an activity that generally helps relax you, it will help reduce any frustration and anxiety you may be feeling and help relax your body and prepare it for sleep.

Mindset is also important when you face sleep issues. Instead of telling yourself how little sleep you are getting, rather tell yourself how much rest you are getting, as even if you are awake, doing a relaxing activity is resting.

Sleep and Chronic Stress

Both COVID and sleep issues can be major stressors on your brain and body. Your brain is part of the Neuroaffect Circuit which primarily deals with mental and emotional stress. The brain is one of a few key organs that utilize neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that help support bodily functions. Chronic stress can manifest itself in an unbalanced Neuroaffect Circuit.

Stress puts your body into "fight or flight" mode, releasing hormones to get you ready to deal with the stressor. But with chronic stress, those hormones flood your body constantly, rather than receding so your body can rest and repair. Besides leading to a slew of problems like nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, and hormone imbalance, this can also keep you up all night.

This can cause symptoms such as anxiousness, depression, sleep maintenance insomnia, and sleep onset insomnia. In simple terms, these phrases refer to being unable to fall asleep and being unable to stay asleep through the night. These are common symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), a condition that happens when chronic stress depletes the body's resources and causes problems throughout the body.

Can I Take Sleeping Aids For COVID And Sleep Issues?

Whilst sleeping aids such as sleeping tablets or supplements aimed to help with sleep may seem alluring, they may do more harm than good. Most sleep aids could be used short-term, but shouldn't be used for long term sleep issues. It's more important to find the underlying root cause of the sleep issues and fix that.

Sleeping aids contain a variety of different ingredients that can cause side effects and may put your body under added stress. This is especially true if you are dealing with AFS.

During AFS, your body is very sensitive, and rather than responding positively to a sleeping aid, it may cause more side effects. In this case, it’s important to seek a professional opinion regarding a plan that will optimally support your body.

Take Home Message

COVID and sleep issues due to the stress of the pandemic or the change in routine can be tough. If you are struggling, these simple techniques can help you get your much-needed sleep.

If you are concerned that your Neuroaffect Circuit may be imbalanced or you need assistance with your sleep, you can chat with our team at +1 (626) 571-1234 or click here to use our Ask the Doctor system.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Yes, sleep disturbances can change from a temporary condition to a chronic one. If you are struggling with COVID and sleep issues, address them early on. This way it can prevent the sleep disturbance from becoming ongoing and eventually chronic.

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