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Health and Fitness During COVID-19: Sleep

Has your sleep been less than optimal since the pandemic began? You’re not alone. We are all processing and adapting to so many rapid-fire changes involving our finances, relationships, physical and/or mental health daily and that is leaving many of us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Now more than ever, we need to support our immune system, improve our ability to problem solve, help ourselves manage our stress and emotions and increase our ability to take care of ourselves and connect meaningfully with our loved ones. Getting enough sleep can help us do all of these things. 

If you are struggling to get adequate rest,* here are some recommendations you can start practicing today to help put you on the path to better sleep, health and wellness:

  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. To help you do this, set your alarm for the time you would like to start your day rather than trying to get to bed early the night before. Your wake-up time heavily influences your natural bedtime. It's best to avoid naps, but if you do nap, limit it to no more than 30 minutes and take it earlier in the day. Caveat: you may need more sleep than usual right now, so build that into your wake-up time.

  • Manage your stress. Unmitigated stress has a tendency to show up as intrusive worrying at bedtime when you are quiet, still and the least distracted by other activities. This has a huge impact on the quality of your sleep. Whether it's taking 10 deep breaths first thing in the morning or filling in a page of a coloring book as a mid-day break, choose a simple daily practice that is soothing and relaxing. See this post for suggestions on how to manage stress.

  • Take a walk outside during the day. Walking reduces stress and has a calming effect on your nervous system.  The natural light will help calibrate your sleep/wake cycle. Start with as little as 5-10 minutes a day and gradually increase the length of time to 30 minutes daily. While walking can be done at any time of day, avoid vigorous physical activity too close to bedtime as this can interfere with sleep.

  • Dim your household lights at dusk. Once again, light-- in this case, less light--will cue your body to get ready for sleep by producing more melatonin. Also, use amber lights instead of blue lights after dark to send your body a signal that it's time for sleep. You can use apps like Night Shift (native to Apple products) or F.Lux on your electronic devices to reduce blue light exposure.

  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only. Do all other activities, like work, studying, watching TV and lounging any place except your bed.

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. Consuming either can prevent you from falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Avoid both in the evening. Caffeine is best reserved for the morning hours. Try non-caffeinated herbal teas containing chamomile or lavender in the evenings to increase relaxation.

  • Create the right sleep environment. Get your bedroom dark, cool (between 60-67 degrees) and quiet at bedtime. Use sleep masks, ear plugs and/or white noise machines to help create conditions needed for sleep. Also, make your bed, fluff your pillows and keep your bedroom tidy to make it inviting and relaxing. 

  • Start a wind-down routine. At least 1 hour before bed, turn off all electronic devices. Journal or dump the to do list (or worry list) that is in your head onto a piece of paper where it is less distracting--you can deal with that list the following day when you’re fresh. Take a warm bath or shower, enjoy some light reading, gentle stretching or deep relaxed breathing. As soon as you get drowsy, turn out the lights and go to sleep.

Adjusting our lives on the fly while coping with global and personal crises is draining work and it looks like we may be at it for a while. Make sure you're getting the sleep you need so that you can continue with your health and well-being intact.

* If you suspect that you may have an underlying health issue or condition like sleep apnea, please contact your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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