These are unprecedented times. Given the real and tangible threat of the coronavirus pandemic on personal, community, and societal levels, it is normal to experience anxiety and sleep problems. Sleep is a reversible state marked by a loss of consciousness to our surroundings, and as members of the animal kingdom, our brains have evolved to respond to dangers by increasing vigilance and attention — in other words, our brains are protecting us, and by doing so it’s harder for us to ignore our surroundings.
Despite the threat of the coronavirus and its rapid and pervasive disruption to our daily lives, many of us are an in a position to control our behaviors and dampen the impact of the emerging pandemic on our sleep. Cultivating healthy sleep is important; better sleep enables us to navigate stressful times better in the short term, lowers our chance of developing persistent sleep problems in the longer term, and gives our immune system a boost.
Daytime tips to help with sleep
- Keep a consistent routine. Get up at the same time every day of the week. A regular wake time helps to set your body’s natural clock (circadian rhythm, one of the main ways our bodies regulate sleep). In addition to sleep, stick to a regular schedule for meals, exercise, and other activities. This may be a different schedule than you are used to, and that is okay. Pay attention to your body’s cues and find a rhythm that works for you and that you can maintain during this “new normal.” Make this a priority for all members of your household.
- Get morning light. Get up, get out of bed, and get some light. Light is the main controller of the natural body clock, and regular exposure to light in the morning helps to set the body’s clock each day. Natural sunlight is best, as even cloudy days provide over double the light intensity of indoor lighting. If you are living in an area with shelter-in-place, try to expose yourself to natural light by stepping outside, at a distance from others, for at least 20 minutes.
- Exercise during the day helps improve your sleep quality at night, reduces stress, and improves mood. Fit in exercise as best as you can. If you need to go outside for exercise, maintain proper social distancing at least six feet away from others. Avoid any group exercise activities, especially contact sports. Many gyms and yoga studios are now “at home” and offering virtual programs at low or no cost.
- Don’t use your bed as an escape. While the gravity of the pandemic certainly makes us all tired, try not to spend too much time in bed during the day, especially if you are having trouble sleeping at night. If you must take a nap, try to keep it short — less than 30 minutes.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Helping others may help with feelings of uncertainty or unease.