Get Better Sleep During and After COVID-19

For the past few months, COVID-19 has turned just about every aspect of our lives upside down. From the threat to our health to the loss of jobs and livelihoods, virtually everyone has felt its impact one way or another. So it’s no surprise that sleep is yet another part of our routine that has been disrupted.

Even before the havoc wreaked by COVID-19, getting a good night’s sleep has been a major challenge for many Americans. The American Sleep Association estimates that up to 70 million adults in the U.S. have some form of sleep disorder.

While we may all still be dealing with the ongoing and unpredictable effects of the pandemic on our daily lives, there are a number of healthy habits that are within your control to get better sleep. Here are some helpful tips you can apply now and at any time in the future when things return to normal.

  1. Exercise and/or stay active

    One of the best ways to get rid of restless nerves and stress that interfere with sleep is to get moving. Even simple activities such as a brisk walk around the neighborhood, moving along to an online exercise video, or playing with children or pets in the backyard can help relax and prepare your body for falling asleep later. Whatever you do, just be sure to do it several hours before your bedtime because adrenaline generated by your activity may keep your brain active and alert for awhile.
  2. Reduce or cut out alcohol consumption

    It’s a common misconception that alcohol is good for sleep. While it may make you drowsy, it actually disrupts healthy sleep because it reduces time spent in REM sleep, the deepest part of the sleep cycle. Even though you may still sleep through the night after drinking, the most restorative and essential period of your sleep is being shortchanged—leaving you tired and lethargic the next day. Cutting out alcohol not only increases the chances for better sleep but it also has wide-ranging benefits in many other areas of overall health.
  3. Turn off the screens

    There are two reasons why it’s important to shut down TV, tablet, and phone screens well before bedtime. One, a break from the continuous media coverage of the ravages of COVID-19 will help reduce anxiety that can keep you up at night. Secondly, the blue light emitted from electronic screens reduces your production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. Lower levels of melatonin can make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
  4. Do relaxing, soothing things just before bedtime

    In our hectic lives, we often forget that some of the most enjoyable things we do for leisure—taking a long bath or listening to music—help put our minds and bodies at ease. If you have trouble falling asleep, try putting off these kinds of activities until right before your bedtime. You’ll be surprised at how often—and how quickly—they will bring you to the edge of sleep.
  5. Get out of the bedroom

    While this sounds counterproductive, it serves a critical purpose. If you frequently toss and turn trying to get to sleep, your brain will begin to subtly associate this as a normal part of your sleep routine, which is the last thing you want. The next time you’re having trouble falling asleep, go to another part of your home, lie down, and do something boring—maybe read a cookbook or look at pictures and wall hangings in the room. When you begin feeling sleepy, go back to bed and try to fall asleep. If you’re still having trouble after 30 minutes, leave the room again.
  6. Avoid daytime naps

    While a few lucky individuals can take naps during the day and still sleep well that night, the vast majority of us will have difficulty falling asleep later. If you find that napping in the middle of the day robs you of sleep that night, try to exercise or do some kind of vigorous activity instead so that you can save that sleep closer to bedtime.
  7. Try breathing exercises

    You’d be surprised at how relaxing simple breathing exercises can be. When getting ready for bed, or even when you’re feeling stressed during the day, try the following: take a long, slow, deep breath in for at least three seconds, hold it for one or two seconds, then exhale slowly for another three seconds. Repeat several times.
  8. Optimize your sleep environment

    Factors such as temperature, light, and sound can play a significant role in how conducive your bedroom is for sleep. Keep the temperature slightly cool, make sure any light coming into the room is closed off, and if necessary, use a white noise machine or app to block any noises from outdoors or a nearby room.

Kyra Clark

Kyra Clark

Specializes in Internal Medicine, Sleep Medicine

Learn more about Dr. Clark.