Sleep and COVID-19

Photo courtesy Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuffled and changed many aspects of life that we once considered simple. It has  totally flipped our normal day to day lives including when and how long we sleep.

Dr. Amara Emenike, medical director of the Tallahassee Memorial Sleep Center, spoke with The Famuan about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our sleep.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been two-fold, so there is the psychological effect where you feel uncertainty, you know living through a pandemic, the loss of livelihood and things like that can keep you up at night and then there’s also the increase of anxiety about personal exposure or exposure to loved ones,” Emenike said.

She added: Sleep is a psychological state so if you are typically anxious about something you’re not going to relax enough to let yourself fall asleep, then there’s also the effects of the social restriction, with the stay at home orders, physical distancing, the limits of gathering, etc., all of these have disrupted our educational and professional life, these changes to our routine can help disrupt your internal biologic clock, which is essentially what determines your sleep wake cycle, also the fact that people are at home with increased screen time, electronic devices and exposure to high frequency light that can inhibit melatonin which is typically a hormone that promotes sleepiness.”

Sleep is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and if your body doesn’t receive a sufficient amount, it can lead to negative effects and health problems such as disruption of brain function, weight gain, obesity and even death.

Overall studies have shown a U-shaped mortality curve caused by insufficient sleep duration, at one end of the U there is a sleep duration for less than 5 hours and the other end of the u is a total sleep time of 10 hours or greater. They are finding that if you are sleeping less than 5 hours a night you have an increased risk of dying just on that fact alone.” Emenike said.

Emenike also said that the definition of sufficient sleep is whatever amount you need to support alertness, performance and health, but there are some recommend hours of sleep we should be receiving.

Dr. Amara Emenike, MD, Medical Director of the Tallahassee Memorial Sleep Center. Photo courtesy Emenike

Sleep duration is variable among individuals and a lifespan, for some people it’s 6 hours, some its 7 hours others its 9 hours. Generally, there are guidelines to what is considered sufficient sleep with infants needing 12 to 15 hours, college students 9 to 11 hours, teenagers 8 to 10 hours and adults 7 to 9 hours. Sleep is pretty important because historically most of the major disasters such as the chevron oil spill are linked to insufficient sleep,” Emenike said. When you don’t get enough sleep there can be disruption to your brain function such as decision making or awareness, this can also affect your learning memory and your ability to regulate emotions, So it’s just very important that we are getting enough sleep to support our alertness and that you are not sleepy during the day, that’s how you know you’ve had enough sleep and not under the influence of caffeinated beverages,” she added.

Sticking to a sleep routine, limiting activities in bed and adding regular exercise to our schedules are just a few suggestions to help get a sufficient amount of sleep. Emenike has provided a few tips that you can adopt if you are struggling to sleep especially during stressful times such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some tips that I would recommend is that it is pretty important to establish a routine, limit napping, create a comfortable sleeping environment, right temperature, dark room, it is very important that you have a healthy diet as well, you don’t want to consume high calorie foods just before bedtime, limit caffeine and alcohol intake, caffeine does keep you awake so it doesn’t make any sense to have a cup of coffee or energy drink at about 5pm and you wonder why you are unable to fall asleep at 10, allow at least 6 hours between your last drink and bedtime,” said Emenike.  She also recommends mindfulness and meditation 30 minutes to an hour prior to bedtime to put yourself in the right frame of mind to go to sleep.

Remember, a night of good sleep is a key ingredient for both physical and mental well-being. For more information about your sleep health and sleep disorders, or to inquire about a sleep study, call the Tallahassee Memorial Sleep Center at 850-431-4400 or visit TMH.ORG/Sleep.