How to Sleep With Coronavirus Anxiety

Many people spend their nights now tossing and turning, struggling to unglue from the constant scroll of coronavirus news updates.

But, while there is no body or life hack to make you impervious to the touch of disease, we do know that sleep is key to helping our bodies stay healthy. “Sleep is an essential part of protection from and response to any infection,” said Douglas B. Kirsch, a neurologist and former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. But still, he hears you: “Sleep is hard when anxiety levels are high, such as in the case of a pandemic.”

There are some answers as to what you can do now. You may not like them.

The more consistent your wake-up time, the more consistent your body functions.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends sticking to a sleep schedule, and here’s a simple way to do it: Set a regular bedtime. Pair it with a set time to wake. (As many people aren’t currently commuting, this might be easier than normal.)

“It may be tempting to stay up late binge-watching your favorite shows because you don’t have to go to work in the morning, but it is more important than ever to prioritize your sleep,” said Kristen L. Knutson, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Medicine.

If you can’t do 90 minutes, start with 15. Also, probably don’t watch “Contagion.”

Limit your types of media consumption too, particularly avoiding things in the evening that increase anxiety. This might be the hardest but most sane advice: “Only look at coronavirus news once per day, preferably not near bedtime,” said Dr. Kirsch.

Turning off notifications on your phone might also be helpful. You can set your phone to automatically turn off notifications in the evenings, by scheduling do not disturb hours.

“Isolation can increase the desire to stay electronically connected even more,” said Lisa Medalie, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago, who adds that it’s vital to keep disciplined, which helps minimize distractions and regain control.

You can use the time before bed to put away fears, too, as part of giving order to the day. “Setting up plans of action for the day, both for kids and adults, can help alleviate some of that uncertainty,” said Dr. Kirsch. “We tend to keep our anxieties bottled up and they burst out in the dark. Try to clear out the mental cabinet ahead of time.”

Bottom line: protect your sleep by protecting your bedtime rituals. Block off this chunk of time. The more minutes you can buffer before bed, the better. Do you really think you’re going to sleep better after mainlining Twitter?

This is a must, not only because it makes you tired and ready for bed. Exercising also helps with something else we’re all dealing with, whether we’re sick or well: anxious, nervous energy. Dr. Kirsch said, “This can be as simple as a neighborhood walk or doing an exercise video at home.” (If you do go on a walk, stay six feet away from other people.)

Working out at home might be the best — and safest — way to get your heat rate up. Here are some things you can do in isolation.

Many people think stressful thoughts as they fall asleep. That feeds a cycle of anxiety. Make an on-paper or mental list of things to be grateful for instead.

Try 4-7-8 breathing. In a comfortable position, with your eyes open or closed: inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, exhale slowly for eight seconds. Then repeat as necessary.

Consider meditation or progressive relaxation before bed or while falling asleep. There are many free podcasts; try this one from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, which promotes regulated breathing.

Dr. Kirsch suggested taking a few moments throughout the day to separate for a few moments and take some deep breaths: “Even people who are not typically anxious may be struggling. Sleep is difficult when anxiety is high, thus trying to manage anxiety levels during the day can also benefit nighttime sleep.”

And while you’re taking care of your body, take care of your space. If possible, use HEPA filter air cleaners for your bedroom, wash your sheets twice a week, and give your home, particularly your bedroom, a nightly clean. Here is a guide on how to clean your home for coronavirus. You’re probably spending more time than ever there; this can promote peace of mind and might lower anxiety.

If you’re battling infection, your body needs a lot of rest to heal quickly. To start, increase your total sleep time by two hours, said Dr. Breus.

Optimize rest conditions: Use a bed wedge or extra pillows to keep your chest raised to avoid additional congestion and postnasal drip. And that nightly shower or bath can keep your body cool and create a better sleeping environment. Change clothes and sheets frequently to control bacterial or virus spread.

“Focus on adequate sleep, stay hydrated, and manage symptoms to recover,” said Dr. Medalie. “During this time of uncertainty, work on what you can control: your sleep habits.”

Want additional sleep tips? Read our guide on how to get a better night’s sleep.

Here’s what we know about why sleep is important.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

A 2015 study found a direct link between shorter sleep times and an increased risk of getting a cold for healthy adults ages 18 to 55; specifically those sleeping less than five hours or between five and six hours had a greater likelihood of catching a virus than those sleeping for seven hours a night.

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