COVID-19 keeping you awake? Here’s how to get more sleep
Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many cancer patients and caregivers were already experiencing insomnia. And now, the added challenges of the coronavirus pandemic are taking worry to a whole new level – what some are calling coronasomnia.
“Cancer patients have been hit with a double whammy,” says Dave Balachandran, M.D., medical director of the MD Anderson Sleep Center. “They’re anxious and missing the lives they had before cancer, and COVID-19 turned everything upside down.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Balachandran says, “because sleeping well improves mood, reduces anxiety and better equips you to cope with challenges, including the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic. Ample sleep also supports the immune system, which helps defend your body against infections.”
Most adults need between seven and eight hours sleep, but that requirement can vary based on lifestyle and your overall health, Balachandran says.
How can you curb COVID-19-induced insomnia?
The good news is that there are several things you can do to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Balachandran offers these tips to ease insomnia for cancer patients, caregivers – and anyone struggling to sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Stick to a consistent sleep-wake schedule. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Resist sleeping in.
Follow a daily routine. Doing the same thing each day and having a steady daily routine increases your likelihood of sleeping well at night.
Engage in light physical activity. When you’re stuck at home, you may need to get creative. Walk up and down stairs, lift soup cans or find a yoga video online. Be sure to stop exercising at least two hours before bedtime. Otherwise, you may have trouble falling asleep.
Stay socially connected. In the time of COVID-19, cancer patients need social connection more than ever. While it’s important to stay physically apart from others or prevent the spread of COVID-19, keep in touch with friends through online support groups, social media, email or phone calls.
Open window shades and blinds. Letting light into your house during the day helps your body regulate sleep.
Keep naps short. Limit naps to no more than 30 minutes,and don’t nap after 2 p.m.
Keep work out of the bedroom. If your job has shifted from the office to home, set up a separate work area away from the bedroom. Bedrooms are for sleeping, and should not be associated with work, which can be stressful.
Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
Avoid alcohol before going to bed. Alcohol may at first lull you to sleep, but it interferes with sleep during the night, causing you to wake up frequently. The rule is, no alcohol within four hours of bedtime. And be sure to limit all alcohol intake, as alcohol can damage cells and lead to cancer. If you choose to drink, the National Cancer Institute recommends that women have no more than one drink per day and men have no more than two drinks per day. For cancer prevention, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether.
Avoid heavy or spicy foods four hours before bedtime. Upset stomach and heartburn interfere with sleep.
Turn off digital devices an hour before bedtime. Computers, TVs, tablets, cellphones and gaming systems emit blue light, a color in the visible light spectrum. Blue light is a short wavelength, which means it produces higher amounts of energy. It also interferes with production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Studies show that screens, digital technology and the need to be connected electronically 24/7 cause many people to sleep two to three hours less than the minimum required amount.
Wind down an hour before bedtime. Take a warm bath or shower, read a book or listen to soothing music.
Create an ideal sleeping environment. Darken the bedroom and set the temperature between 65 and 70 degrees for perfect sleeping conditions. Use a white noise machine to block extraneous noise.
Cut yourself some slack. Don’t worry about what you didn’t accomplish. Give yourself permission to do it later.
The more of these habits you adopt, Balachandran says, the more likely you are to get the sleep you need.
“COVID-19 won’t last forever,” he says. “But the need for a good night’s sleep will never change.”