Sleepless nights have emerged as the latest cause of the pandemic. In ordinary times, sleep is essential to every aspect of a person’s wellbeing. In extraordinary times of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress, getting the sleep we need is more important than ever. Sleep is the foundation of both a strong immune system and mental resilience – the very things we need to manage this pandemic.
And yet it has never been so difficult to sleep well during the COVID-19 crisis. Experts say that with the spread of COVID-19, insomnia has increased and is contributing to mental and physical health problems. According to Donn Posner, president of Sleepwell Associates and associate clinical professor at Stanford University, the pandemic is “a perfect storm for sleep problems.” Posner says that between 30 and 35% of the population experience acute, short-term insomnia during normal times – falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. But he adds, “The steps we take to protect ourselves can not only trigger sleep problems, they can also lead to chronic sleep problems.”
Sleep is restful. And if you don’t get enough, it can mean trouble. Sleep deprivation lowers your resistance to stress and damages your brain. Research shows that lack of sleep affects memory and learning. Your brain moves more slowly. You are more forgetful. Your attention is shorted and you are grumpier. Plus, you’re more likely to nod off at your desk. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these situations ruin happiness and success. Studies also show that if you don’t get enough sleep, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is increased and your risk of dying from heart disease more than doubles. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, impaired immune function, weight gain, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
When the odds are against us in tough times, says brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My stroke of insight says that sleep is the most important resource available to us:
âArianna Huffington and I are the two loudest advocates on the planet. When it comes to the brain, sleep is everything. Every ability you have, you have brain cells that communicate, the muscles to move. The cells in yours Brains work all the time. They eat and produce waste, so sleep is the optimal time to clear the waste between cells so they can actually function. Collectors strike, we know how congested the streets get. Exactly the same thing happens with the Brain cells. If you wake up to an alarm before your system is ready to wake up, you have disrupted part of the sleep cycle, which your brain wanted. “
Creative solutions for more eye contact
Speaking of Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Prosper globally, she and Don Katz, founders and CEO of Audible have joined forces to develop a powerful sleep solution at a time when sleep is most important and to address the sleepless epidemic and the increase in nightmares related to the pandemic. The duo says: âIn extraordinary times of uncertainty, fear and stress, it is more important than ever to get the sleep we need. One scientific study after another shows that sleep is the foundation of both a strong immune system and mental resilience – the very things we need to overcome this crisis. And yet it has never been so difficult to sleep well during the COVID-19 crisis. “
Audible and Thrive Global, along with the powerful voices of Diddy, Nick Jonas and others, have come together to introduce you free audio experiences– From guided meditations and bedtime stories to sound baths and microsteps for better sleep – designed to help you find some rest during this difficult time. According to Huffington and Katz, âIn addition to helping people through a historically anxious time, we will maintain and create restaurants in Newark and deliver tens of thousands of meals to Newark’s most vulnerable citizens who cannot or should not be eating – as well as to the health workers at the forefront of the city. “
The road to the land of Nod
Taylor recommends sleeping until your brain tries to get up: âIf you don’t sleep until your brain wakes you up, you are not getting enough sleep. One of the worst things we can do is set an alarm clock. A typical sleep cycle lasts between 90 and 110 minutes. So if you force yourself to get up in the middle of a cycle then you’ve just blown a whole cycle of rejuvenation for your brain.
Why fight against sleep? If your mind is wide awake long after your body has stopped, there are steps you can take to get into the land of napping. Before you head out, try some of these changes to your routines so you can catch more Z’s:
1. Go to bed and get up at the same time to keep your body regulated and to make it easier to fall asleep.
2. Make sure your bedroom is cozy, inviting, and well ventilated. Before you start counting sheep, block any light to create a dark room.
3. Use your bed only for sleeping and sex, not arguing or watching the disturbing TV news or movies, and only go to sleep when you are sleepy. When you think about your bed and your sleeping, you want to have positive associations.
4. Avoid bedtime when your mind is racing with worry. Try not to overwhelm your brain by thinking about a project or trying to solve a problem at work. Wait until you’ve calmed your mind with meditation or a cup of chamomile tea before sucking in.
5. Avoid working on electronic devices an hour before bed or in bed. A study by the National Sleep Foundation showed that the glow from electronic devices suppresses melatonin and interferes with falling asleep and staying asleep.
6. Avoid nightly meals. Eating late meals, especially heavy, hard-to-digest foods, can keep you from nodding off.
7. Reduce alcohol consumption. When you drink alcohol you may have noticed that it is initially calming, but if you consume too much you may wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to fall asleep. Prolonged addiction and dependence on alcohol disrupts sleep and contributes to insomnia.
8. Limit nicotine and caffeine. Lighting up and swallowing too much java, tea, or energy drinks can keep you up at night. Stimulants calm your body down when your goal is to calm it down.
9. Set a time limit for naps. Napping too long during the day can disrupt your night sleep. If you do take a nap, limit it to thirty minutes and take it earlier than later in the day.
10. Exercise early in the day or three to four hours before bed to help you fall asleep faster and sleep through the night. Exercising too close to bedtime can recharge your batteries and give you a second wind so you feel ready for the day.
One last word
Take a sleeping pill (like meditation, listening to soft music, or reading an inspirational book) every night before bed to help relax your mind. Consider using the Huffington katrz free audio experiences, designed for better sleep. When you calm down, your sleep will – in the words of William Shakespeare – mend your torn sleeve. You’ll see more logs than a lumberjack, take your job worries off life support, and give your career the oxygen it needs to thrive. Arianna Huffington joins Resiliency 2020 on Zoom on September 10, 2020. You can register for the free live streaming webinar at Resilience2020.com.