COVID-19 has brought everyone in this world into an unfamiliar territory. The economy has come to a halt, countries are on lockdown, and many individuals are scared for their lives and their loved ones' lives.
With these uncommon changes coming on so rapidly, the importance of sleep going unnoticed is understandable. However, as we're adjusting to having to stay at home, and trying to stay healthy during this pandemic, focusing on quality sleep offers outstanding benefits.
Sleep is crucial for effective immune system functioning and physical health. It's also an essential promoter of:
- Mental health
- Emotional wellness
- Helping to tackle stress, depression, and anxiety
Whether you've been dealing with sleep issues before COVID-19, or you are just recently struggling with them, there are some steps adults, teens, and children can take to manage sleep during a pandemic.
Tips for Adults
Some tips for adults are:
- Maintain a Consistent Routine
Get up each day at the same time. A routine wake time can help to set the circadian rhythm (natural clock) of your body. Your circadian rhythm is one of the primary ways your body regulates sleep. Along with sticking with a consistent sleep schedule, maintain a regimen for things like exercise, meals, and other activities.
This might not be the same schedule you're used to, but that's fine. Your body will give you cues, and you'll find a rhythm that will suit you, and that you can effectively manage during this time.
Exercising in the daytime can help:
- Enhance your quality of sleep at night
- Improve your mood
- Reduce your stress
Try and fit exercise into your daily routine as best you can. If you go outdoors to exercise, be sure you stay a minimum of six feet from other people. Don't partake in group workout activities, particularly contact sports. Many yoga and gym studios are now offering "at home" virtual programs at no cost, or at least low cost.
- Don't Use Technology to Wind Down Before Bed
Several hours before it's time for bed, refrain from using any technology that has a back light, such as a computer, phone, or tablet. This “blue light” can trigger your brain into thinking it's daytime, and it may suppress the release of melatonin, a hormone your body produces that helps put you to sleep.
- Mind Your Mind
As you're getting ready for bed and your mind is in a state of worry, quietly sit down and mentally go over what's troubling you, and how you could potentially handle them tomorrow.
Writing things down could help, including making a list of ways you can deal with issues over the next several days. There are also smartphone apps you could try to use that provide useful short mindfulness activities for helping you to relax, such as "Smiling Mind."
- Sleep on a Comfortable Mattress
You spend a third of your life sleeping. So, you'll want to sleep on a mattress that provides the comfort and support you need to help get a good night's sleep. You can sleep on a natural latex mattress that's crafted with certified organic cotton and wool, and is free of chemicals and polyurethane.
- Watch Your Intake of News
While it can be difficult to completely escape the constant, stressful flow of news about COVID-19, as well as other news surrounding other issues going on in the world today, you can limit your exposure. When you're consuming round-the-clock pandemic news, it might increase your anxiety and stress levels to the point that it impacts your sleep.
So, try to structure and even schedule your news-watching or phone scrolling time to get caught up on the important news of the day, without being tethered to it for too long. Reduce the times you check your phone with regards to reading pandemic-related news.
Tips for Teens and Children
As a parent, what can you do to support your child or teen for healthy sleep during this pandemic when you're home together, and school/work routines are upended? Here are some suggestions for parents to ensure their teens and children are obtaining adequate sleep while struggling with less-structured schedules.
- Come Up With a Sleep Schedule
With the exception of very young kids, talk with your teen or child about how important it is to establish a sleep schedule. This isn't the time for confrontations about sleep. Many teens and kids are feeling relieved from having more flexibility in their wake times and bedtimes now. Not having to wake up very early to get up for school can be beneficial for individuals who by nature have later sleep cycles.
- Talk Through Issues and Give Reassurances During the Day
With worry and anxiety increased during the COVID-19 outbreak, your children might try asking you to stick around until they fall asleep or jump into bed with you. But, regularly supporting them at night can be habit forming — and it could decrease their sleep transition independence. This might lead to trouble falling and returning to sleep.
Instead, try and find some time in the daytime for supporting and talking through issues. Your teen or child will listen to your reassurances, and realize the security of your connection and attachment. By doing this, it will be effective but won't create future sleep issues.
- Structure the Day
With typical routines being thrown off, it's essential you establish new day-to-day schedules. When possible, break schoolwork up into several sessions during the day, much like actual periods when kids were at school.
Teens and older children can help with setting up their schedules; however, they should be following a general order, like:
- Routines for waking up, dressing, active play in the morning, breakfast, followed by playing quietly, having a snack, and then transitioning into schoolwork.
- Lunchtime, exercise, chores, homework, and some online friends' social time.
- Reading and family time before bed.
- Determine Sleep Needs
You'll have to figure out your teen's or child's sleep requirements before negotiating a sleep schedule with them. While there are general sleep guidelines for kids, how much sleep your kids need to function well will depend on your observations of them, and the needs they discuss with you.
Sleep duration guidelines for different ages of kids typically reflect what the "average" teen or child sleeps, but it is a large range. Some teens and children require more sleep than what's considered average. Others require less. Observe your child or teen, and talk with them to figure out what's best for them.
If your teen or child wishes to take a nap during the day, or if they fall asleep easily during their down time (i.e. watching a movie), their sleep at night might not be sufficient enough. While naps are typically not encouraged for kids past their preschool years, you can allow a little bit of flexibility for naps if they don't disrupt your child's nighttime sleep.
We’re certainly in unprecedented times that may be triggering worry, anxiety, and even fear regarding health and finances in a manner we’ve never seen to date. Naturally, this may translate to having trouble getting the quality sleep you want and need. Try one or more of the above tips for managing sleep during this pandemic. We hope they help. Stay safe and well!