The COVID-19 coronavirus has elevated fear among people afraid of catching the disease and facing uncertain circumstances. Constant worrying may have a negative impact on how we sleep as thoughts of coronavirus continually linger inside our heads.
Jessica Anderson, a behavioral health consultant at the Meriter Monona clinic, said heightened anxiety from COVID-19 will make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep, but self-care before bedtime could make a difference in putting the mind at ease.
“Turning off all screens one or two hours before going to bed, incorporating relaxing activities such as reading or mindfulness or gentle stretching can help the mind and the body to enter a more relaxed state and make it easier to go to sleep,” Anderson said. “Sleeping in a dark, cool room that is quiet or has ambient noise can benefit our sleep.”
Anderson said watching the clock while trying to fall asleep or looking at it after awakening in the middle of the night can often lead to rising anxiety levels that can disrupt sleep. People who are not able to fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes should get out of bed and engage in something relaxing until the body becomes tired.
“Our brains are creatures of habit and like to have predictability, structure and routine, so a time like this is a real challenge for our sleep and overall well-being,” Anderson said. “Sleep hygiene is far more effective, assuming no underlying medical condition like sleep apnea, when it comes to improving our sleep.”
People working in essential jobs requiring public contact such as health care, restaurants and grocery stores have been putting themselves in danger of catching the virus. But, Anderson said sleep issues involving those people are not unique compared to those who don’t work in those positions. But she understands the stress they feel and how it may have a negative impact on sleeping.
“At this time, I think many people have heightened anxiety – we are certainly seeing this in the clinics — essential worker or not, related to financial concerns, fears about getting COVID-19 or a loved one getting COVID-19, disruption in routine, not having access to their go-to stress relieving activities such as outdoor events, in-person time with friends and family, massage, getting their hair or nails done, etc,” Anderson said. “It is important for essential workers to make sure that they are practicing self-care whenever possible to help reduce their stress.”
Anderson said limiting the amount of time they are watching the news, going on walks when they are able while practicing social distancing, doing enjoyable activities or seeking professional help are good ways to calm their fears if they feel overwhelmed.
She said avoiding caffeine and alcohol and reducing sugar intake before bedtime may also be helpful along with other steps that may lead to improved sleep.
“Try to eat dinner two to three hours prior to your desired bedtime to give your body a chance to finish digesting prior to sleep,” Anderson said. “People who notice they have to get up regularly in the night to use the bathroom may want to consider reducing their evening fluid intake to help avoid this disruption.”