How To Get Your Sleep Back on Track During COVID-19

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COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of everyone’s life, and sleep is no exception. But be careful, says UH clinical psychologist Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD -- the irregular sleep schedules created by COVID-19 can have a negative effect on your health.

Virtual schooling and working from home have created two conditions that contribute to poor sleep: eased-up schedules and chair-bound lifestyles, she says.

For example, because many people are no longer commuting to work – or may be newly unemployed – they may not have to rise at the same early hour every day.

“People are having more delayed sleep,” she says. “Most people are able to sleep in a little bit later, which means they’re staying up later also.”

In addition, without the walking need to get around a school, office building, retail store, or factory floor, many people are moving quite a bit less. This has repercussions for sleep, she says.

“Some people are now noticing that their sleep is very fragmented. It’s harder to fall asleep, and their normal middle-of-the-night wake ups are extended because they really haven’t built up an adequate need for sleep,” Dr. Ievers-Landis says.

It’s important to be as well-rested as possible, she says, because good sleep is important for:

  • Immune defense -- so you are better protected against getting sick
  • Metabolism -- so you can burn more energy to be healthy and active
  • Managing emotions -- so you can focus on the positive and limit the negative
  • Thinking and memory -- so you can focus, learn, remember, be efficient and make fewer mistakes.

What You Can Do

Dr. Ievers-Landis co-authored a paper with a group of experts who are part of Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine’s COVID-19 Sleep Task Force. The paper, about ways to improve sleep habits during the pandemic, was published recently in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

When it comes to healthy sleep, the biggest factors involve paying attention to what you are doing during the day to set the stage for getting good sleep at night, the paper says.

Here are a few of the recommended ways to blunt the impact of COVID-19 disruption on your sleep:

  • Get up at the same time each day – This is important even on the weekends, so your brain and body get into a rhythm. Avoid sleeping in or napping in the afternoon.
  • Get outside early – Natural sunlight tells our brain it is daytime so your brain can start preparing to help you perform your best and help you to wind down at the same time at night
  • Keep a routine – A routine will aid productivity, improve mood and expend the same amount of energy each day to best earn quality sleep onset at the same time each night.
  • Stay physically active – Exercising early in the day also helps to earn sleep at the same time each night. Avoid intense exercise close to bedtime.
  • Find ways to socialize throughout the day – Regular social interaction is another way your body gets feedback from your environment on when to be most active. We tend to become sleepy at night when social interactions stop.
  • Take time for relaxation – Schedule breaks throughout the day for relaxation activities that are familiar and enjoyable such as reading, solving puzzles, or listening to music. This prevents feelings of being overwhelmed, which can impact your sleep.
  • Watch what you are eating, drinking and taking -- and when – Many substances can interrupt the quality of your sleep at night, such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol or marijuana. After noon, choose non-caffeinated food and drinks, avoid large, rich meals and limit fluid intake before bed.
  • Set limits later in the evening – Turn off the news a couple hours before bedtime and limit use of social media, smart phones and TV close to bedtime. Do not bring these devices into the bedroom.
  • Make the bedroom all about sleep – Do not eat, watch TV, play games, use social media, read or worry/plan in bed. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, comfortable and quiet at night.
  • Keep a somewhat regular bedtime and allow time to unwind before sleep – Set cut-off times for work and chores, and use the time to engage in quiet, enjoyable activities such as reading, knitting or playing card games.
  • Only go to bed when you are sleepy – Spending time in bed when your body is not ready for sleep can make sleep problems worse. If you are not sleepy enough when getting into bed, your body learns not to expect to sleep right away and instead learns to expect the other activities you do in bed (like toss and turn).

One piece of advice the paper also has is that if you get into bed and cannot fall asleep, don’t panic. Your body may not be ready for sleep yet. When this happens, go to another room and enjoy calm activities in a dimly lit room such as reading or listening to quiet music. When you are sleepy enough, go back to bed.

Related Links

Sleep disorder doctors at University Hospitals work hand-in-hand with our pulmonary specialists, heart doctors, ENTs, neurologists and psychologists to evaluate patients’ sleep struggles and restore them to good, solid rest. Learn more about sleep services at UH.

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