When we think about caring for ourselves, we often equate that to healthy eating and physical activity. However, proper sleep is just as critical for both mental and physical health – especially now. Families are continuing to navigate changes in their lives on account of the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of sleep can impact how we respond to stress and anxiety.
The reality is that almost 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia and another 22 million suffer from sleep apnea. Lack of sleep not only impacts quality of life, but it can alter your immune system and lead to other serious conditions. In fact, research suggests that sleep is necessary for removing a toxic protein in our brain tissue called beta-amyloid. This protein is associated with the onset of dementia.
So, what are some steps you can take to ensure you’re getting enough sleep this holiday season as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are a few tips to get your sleep routine back on track:
Avoid Potential Disruptors
Robert Dias, MD, a neurologist and sleep expert with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, says there are a number of external factors to consider when trying to fall asleep, including eating too much food shortly before bedtime as this can cause problems with reflux and heartburn. Consuming any type of caffeine in the afternoon can also interrupt your sleep as your body may not have enough time to process the caffeine before bedtime and therefore keep you up. Dr. Dias also suggests sleeping in a cool room as your body temperature drops naturally at night, which means it’s easier to fall, and stay, asleep in cooler temperatures. If possible, set your thermostat to 68 degrees or below.
Maintain A Schedule
While many peoples’ routines were interrupted with COVID-19, consistency is key when it comes to sleep. Our daily lives may look different if we’re working from home but bedtime rituals should remain the same. Maintaining a regular routine before you go to bed helps relax your mind and body as they signal to your brain that it’s time to fall asleep.
It’s also important to limit the amount of time spent looking at screens as blue light can influence circadian rhythms and trick your brain into thinking it should be awake. Dr. Dias suggests you choose a bedtime and stick to it during the week, on weekends and even during vacations, whenever possible.
Wait Until You’re Tired
It seems obvious but if you don’t go to bed when you’re sleepy, your body may begin to associate bedtime with being awake. If you’re unable to fall asleep within a half hour of laying down, Dr. Dias recommends getting out of bed altogether and trying again later. This is especially true in the fall and winter as our bodies are still adjusting to the sun setting earlier in the day.
Seek Professional Help
Richard Beyer, MD, neurologist with Woodland Clinic recommended people talk to to their healthcare provider if they are struggling to fall asleep. There are lots of options to help you get the sleep you need and you can work with your provider to find the right solution or potentially diagnose a sleep disorder. Sleep helps us keep our memory strong, our energy levels up, and our quality of life high, so talk to your doctor today if you’re struggling with sleep.