Is Coronavirus Affecting How You Sleep?
People all over the world are reporting disturbed sleep patterns and vivid dreams because of coronavirus stress, according to the Australian Sleep Health Foundation. Extended periods of forced isolation combined with our worries about our children, family and future have left many Australians with troubling sleep patterns.
Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to a person’s mental, emotional and physical stability. In traumatic times, sleep is a natural relaxant that calms the body and mind and gives you the energy to cope in the new day. But oftentimes, the anxiety associated with trauma tends to keep your mind in a ‘hyper-aroused’ state thereby making sleep impossible.
Those who normally sleep well are finding their minds chattering with worries, or worse catastrophising future events. If our brains are in the ‘flee or fight’ mode, when we go to bed, sleep will become almost impossible according to experts at the Sleep Foundation. Lack of sleep, in turn, makes us react more emotionally to events thereby exacerbating the situation. Prolonged sleep deprivation can result in depression, anxiety and stress.
Why Do We Sleep And When Do We Sleep?
Being able to sleep well is quite a complicated process. Understanding this process can help us to action to prevent sleep deprivation.
According to scientists, there are two types of processes that regulate our sleep-and-wake process. The first process is the pressure to sleep or ‘Process S’. This process is similar to hunger. The longer we go without food the hungrier we become. Once we’ve eaten a full meal, we will have to wait a while before we feel the urge to eat again.
Likewise, the more we stay awake, the higher the pressure to sleep. For most people staying awake for 16 hours will be enough to help us fall asleep and stay asleep for approximately 8 hours. The pressure to sleep is homeostatic. This means we can only go without sleep for so long before our bodies start to react to the lack of rest.
How our bodies know that night is the time to sleep is controlled by our internal circadian clock or Process ‘C’. It is a 24-hour cycle that is regulated by other processes like hormonal change, digestion and temperature. For example, our brain produces melatonin when it is dark but suppresses melatonin when it is light.
Both Process ‘S’ and Process ‘C’ work independently of one another. We get the best sleep when both processes work synchronously. Unfortunately, there are times both processes are out of sync and this results in disruptive sleep.
For example, if you stay up late at night, you may fall asleep quickly, but your internal clock will wake you up when it is light before your body has had enough sleep. In other words, ‘Process S’ wants us to go to sleep but ‘Process C’ wants us to wake up. This is the same phenomenon that explains jetlag. When we travel to different time zones, our internal clock becomes out of sync with the time zone despite us being awake for a long time.
How To Get The Best Sleep During Coronavirus Isolation?
Sleep is controlled by biological, social and environmental factors. These factors include the meals and time we eat, the social interaction we have and the amount of light we are exposed to during the day. When we are isolating at home, we lose track of many of these cues. Combined this with the stress and anxiety we are feeling about the uncertain nature of the events surrounding us, it is easy to see how we can find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Sleep problems are not exclusively for adults only. Children also suffer from sleep deprivation. According to an article by kidspot, up to 70% of children experience some forms of sleep problems at least once a week and up to 30% experience significant and recurring sleep issues. Sleep deprivation is serious because it can impact a child’s daytime behaviour and learning.
Here are some good sleeping habits that can help you and your child sleep better during the coronavirus isolation:
1. Keep to a sleeping routine
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Your get-up time is your anchor for the rest of your day. Getting up the same time every day helps your body adjust to a routine and builds up sufficient sleep pressure for you to fall asleep easier and stay sleeping longer at night.
2. Keep a schedule before sleep
A calming structure can help relax the body and mind. For moms and dads, a warm bath, a cup of relaxing chamomile or decaffeinated green tea can help relax you. For toddlers, a bath and bedtime stories will help calm them.
3. Don’t lie in the dark after you wake up
If you have difficulty waking up in the morning, try introducing light into the room. Our circadian clock reacts to light. Morning light received by our brain triggers signals to the rest of the body that it is time to wake up. This technique is effective when trying to get children to get up for school. Try opening curtains and let in direct sunlight. If you don’t have access to natural light, turning on the lights in the room will help.
4. Watch what you eat or drink
In isolation, it is important to eat a healthy and nutritious diet. If you want to get a good night’s sleep, try not to have caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime because these stimulants can make it harder for you to fall asleep. For young children, early mealtimes can support better sleep. So, can minimising sweets and chocolates before bedtime.
5. Wind down and relax before bedtime
Unwind at least an hour before you sleep. That will help your body to relax. Do not attempt to sleep if you are alert, fully awake or distressed. Take some time to unwind and clear your mind before retiring to bed.
If you have problem unwinding, try reading a book, listening to chill music and having a cup of warm chamomile or decaffeinated lemon balm tea. Lavender oil is very good for calming and relaxing nerves. Add a few drops into your bath, on the kids’ pillows or a diffuser to create a calming atmosphere.
6. Lower the lights and maintain a comfortable sleeping environment
Dimming the lights in the room before you sleep can activate your internal circadian clock to tell your body is time to sleep. Keep your bedroom quiet with comfortable bedding suitable for sleeping.
7. Daytime exercise can help with sleep
Exercise during the day can help adults and children sleep better at night but try to avoid exercise or physical activity close to bedtime because such activities can have a reverse effect on sleep.
8. Bedtime is for sleeping
Coronavirus isolation means we are spending extended periods at home. It is tempting to move devices, television and meals into the bedroom. But doing this could trick our brain into thinking that the bed is also a place for waking activities, not just sleeping. Encourage older kids to turn off their mobiles when it’s bedtime.
9. Don’t lie awake looking at the clock
Worrying about sleep makes it harder to fall asleep. Looking at the clock as you toss and turn in bed will only increase the stress hormone and sleep will become impossible. If you are having difficulty falling asleep, take a break from sleeping. During this break, do something relaxing like listening to mood music or reading a book. Then get back to sleep when your body’s alertness level has dropped.
Sleep is an important pillar of good health together with exercise and nutrition. Failing to get enough sleep can disrupt our bodies daily functioning which in turn can exacerbate health conditions like heart disease, lower immunity, stroke and depression.
If you are experiencing a sleeping crisis because of mood swings, depression, anxiety or stress please consult your doctor for advice.