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Sleep Like a Champion

6 Tips to Sleep like a Champion: A New Covid-19 Quarantine Olympic Sport

By Natalia S. David, Psy.D.

Every four years millions of sports enthusiasts and spectators anticipate the start of the modern Olympic Games. This year, however, Tokyo 2020 will have to wait. While this year’s summer entertainment has been thwarted due to the novel Covid-19 pandemic, in a more practical sense, the games must go on! That is, the games of the “Quarantine Olympics”! While a game of toilet paper dodgeball or ring toss, or Game of Thrones marathon may be acceptable forms of fun and distraction, maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional health should be nonnegotiable, with sleep at the top of the list. So instead of letting the chaos and pandemonium of present day infect our sleep as it has our social lives, practice the following sleep healthy habits to sleep like a champion:

Tip 1: De-Stress & De-Activate

a woman sleeping

There is no doubt that these are high stress times. It is easy to get caught up and swept away in the overwhelming news, politics, and social media updates. Anxiety, worry, stress, fear, and loss are prevalent and layered on top of social isolation, increased household responsibilities, potential family separations, and disrupted long-anticipated summer vacations.

  • Practice relaxation and meditation. Do it alone or make it a family practice. There are several free or discounted relaxation apps and online resources. Sleep hypnosis may be another useful tool to quiet that busy mind and put you to sleep faster.
  • No doubt that there has been an influx in screen time usage over the past month. Putting limits on screen time during the day, and especially at night, has many health and sleep benefits. Try giving your WiFi and screen time a bedtime, preferably 1-2 hours before yours.
  • Take a break. When stress begins to build, it’s OK to steal a moment for yourself and retreat to your favorite corner of the house to re-center and breathe. But try not to spend too much time in your bedroom – that’s reserved for sleep!

Tip 2: Foster Self-Compassion of Mind, Body, and Spirit

a woman sleeping

It is particularly important (and obvious) that health be a top priority. Being homebound doesn’t mean couchbound.

And the more sedentary we are, the more likely we are to eat out of boredom, experience health issues, and feel bad about ourselves. Besides, more motion is the potion … for sleep. And without sleep, our immune defenses become compromised and our bodies less responsive to vaccines.

  • Make an effort to move throughout the day. Between conference calls, telehealth appointments, or other deadlines get up and stretch or use a standing (counter or table top) desk.
  • If you’re not the one presenting, take those audio-only calls for a walk or do a few yoga stretches. You are likely already in yoga pants so no apparel change necessary!
  • Find creative and/or virtual ways to stay engaged in activities that feed your mind and spirit: Virtual book clubs, meet-ups, spiritual/religious practices, or learning something new through online classes.

Tip 3: Maintain Routines & Create New Ones

a woman sleeping

Consistency is the key to normalcy. We have all had to adjust to a disruption to our normal schedules and routines, which can also mean a disruption to your sleep-wake cycle. Lack of structure can lead to oversleeping, which isn’t always a luxury. Too much sleep can make you feel sluggish and has negative health consequences. And since we are stuck indoors more than usual, make sure you get a healthy dose of sunshine or light during the day to keep your body’s natural light-based cuing system on track.

  • Get up and get dressed! Don’t sit around in your pajamas all day. This simple thing can make a big difference.
  • Don’t forget about your wind-down routine before bed. Doing something relaxing, keeping noise, light, and other stimulation to a minimum 1-2 hours before bed will get you sleep-ready.
  • This is a new normal. Try adding something enjoyable and relaxing into your daily routine, like a 10-minute meditation practice, a puzzle, or a leisurely evening stroll.

Tip 4: Eat (and breathe) Mindfully

a woman sleeping

Access to food may be easier being home all day. But you can avoid that “quarantine 15” by paying extra attention to how and when you feed your body. Eating at “normal” times (times you would typically eat) can aid in keeping our body’s circadian functions regulated. Sleep loss can also increase appetite and cravings. Take advantage of the extra time at home to cook nutritious foods, and perhaps learning a few new recipes!

  • Keep a “normal” eating schedule similar to your pre-quarantine one, but don’t eat too late – at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. Eating late can delay your sleep cycle, making it harder over time to fall asleep. But, having a small snack before bedtime can keep you satiated and your blood sugar regulated throughout the night.
  • Minimize snacking during the day or eating out of boredom. If you can’t resist, reach for a nutritious snack instead, like nuts or veggies.
  • Eat mindfully. Take your time, don’t rush. Here is another opportunity to take advantage of the deviation from your normal hustle of the day.

Tip 5: Reconsider that Quarantini 

a woman sleeping

It may be more tempting than usual to reach for that glass of wine or spirit at the end of the day. Alcohol sales were up 55% in March from last year, and online or home delivery sales up 300%! Increased alcohol intake can decrease immune function, increase depression and anxiety, alter judgment and decision-making ability, increases risk of intimate partner violence and child abuse, and disrupts our sleep. Not to mention, despite the rumors you may have heard, drinking large quantities of alcohol will not kill the coronavirus, and it isn’t considered a Quarantine Olympics sport!

  • While staying in touch with friends and family is important, instead of a Zoom Happy Hour try a Zoom Hike or Walk.
  • Utilize other de-stressing strategies instead of alcohol, like meditation, taking a warm shower or bath, or reading.
  • While alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker, it will also alter your sleep pattern and lead to more night time awakenings – not to mention that pesky hangover. If you are having trouble falling asleep, try a sleep hypnosis instead.

Tip 6: Have Some Fun!

a woman sleeping

This is equally as important as the other recommendations. Engaging in pleasurable activities enhances mood, which can improve health and immunity, and improve the quality of your sleep. Take advantage of any extra time to learn a new skill while having fun … like a language, paint by numbers, or hop scotch! Besides, this isn’t called the Quarantine Olympics for nothing!

 

References

Alcohol and COVID-19: What You Need to Know

Alcohol Consumption During COVID-19 Pandemic: What PCPs Need to Know

A Legacy of Research & Discovery - Sleep

International Research Team Finds Brain Changes Linked to Sleep Need

Is Insomnia a Risk Factor for Decreased Influenza Vaccine Response?

Simpson, N., Haack, M., & Mullington, JM. (2017). Sleep and Immune Regulation. Chokroverty, S. (eds). Sleep Disorders Medicine. Springer, New York, NY

Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Taylor, DJ, Kelly, K, Kohut, ML, & Song, K. (2017). Is insomnia a risk factor for decreased influenza vaccine response? Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 15(4), 270-287.