Poor sleep has slipped by as an under-addressed yet ubiquitous and dangerous consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing, work from home, and worry over the tumultuous environment have brewed the perfect concoction for disrupting your sleep. Unfortunately, impaired sleep serves only to further aggravate the physical and mental toll on your body (see our post on mental health coping strategies and exercise during lockdown for more information on how to address these issues). As sleep is crucial for maintaining good health, and even more so during these strange times, we’ve organized some useful information on sleep quality and how you can improve it.
What does good sleep really mean?
The National Sleep Foundation lists the following as indicators of good sleep quality (1):
- 85% of your time spent in bed should be done sleeping.
- You should fall asleep within 30 mins.
- You should wake up no more than once a night.
- If you do get up, you should only be awake for a maximum of 20 minutes.
Additional characteristics of good sleep quality include (2):
- Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each day, sleeping for a continuous period of time (as opposed to scattered naps),
- Sustained alertness throughout the day that rebounds even after normal dips in alertness, and
- No abnormal sleep behavior such as snoring, irregular breathing, night terrors, abnormal movement, etc.
How to improve your sleep
Now that we’ve figured out what good sleep really is, here’s how to ensure your shuteye meets the bar.
Exercise earlier in the day and exercise regularly
Exercising is an excellent way to ensure that your body is tired and ready for sleep. Consistent exercise will ensure that you sleep soundly and fall asleep more quickly. However, exercise initiates release of cortisol, a stress hormone that serves to activate your body and mind. Thus, make sure you work out earlier in the day to ensure that you’re reaping all of the benefits of exercise without impeding the quality of your sleep (3).
Avoid large meals at the end of the day
Eating a large, heavy meal at the end of the day is more taxing on your digestive system and can cause discomfort and indigestion. This is further exacerbated if your evening meal consists of spicy or greasy foods. Naturally, this inhibits sound and effortless sleep. To improve your sleep quality, dine on light, healthy meals in the evening and avoid eating anything heavy at least two to three hours before heading to bed (4). (If you are experimenting with intermittent fasting, this is a good place to start!)
Cultivate your sleep environment
The quality of your sleep if affected greatly by your surroundings. Optimal sleep occurs in a place that is:
- Really dark. That means darkening shades or a face mask. Use red night lights so if you do get up in the middle of the night you don’t kick in your light response.
- Your environment should be on the cooler side (between 60°-67°F).
- Your pillows and mattresses should be able to support your preferred sleeping position.
- It may also be beneficial to invest in a white noise or sleep sounds machine and humidifier to optimize your comfort and minimize chances of waking up during the night (5).
Manage your light
Your daily exposure to light affects your circadian rhythm, or internal body clock. In order to make sure your circadian rhythm is optimized for sleep, expose yourself to natural light earlier in the day and limit your exposure to direct, artificial light later in the evening. Switch over to warmer, more diffuse light sources like candles and lamps a couple hours before bedtime. For screen work, try using an app or extension that controls color balance (5).
Tools you can use to improve your sleep
In addition to these practices, here are some tools that can benefit your sleep.
- Sleep Cycle – Sleep Cycle is an app that tracks the phases and quality of your sleep throughout the night to help you better understand your sleep. It uses intelligent alarm clock technology to wake you up gently while you are in the lightest phase of sleep so that you can start your day feeling energized instead of sluggish.
- Calm – Calm is a mindfulness-based app that seeks to improve sleep and relaxation and lower stress and anxiety. It offers guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, stretching exercises, and relaxing music tracks.
- Pzizz – This app uses psychoacoustics, the psychological effects of sound, to treat poor sleep and insomnia. The app features over 100 billion sleep sound sequences to help optimize your sleep and power naps.
- Blue light glasses – Though you may be able to easily switch over to diffuse light sources in the evening, it is no small task to eliminate the exposure to the harsh artificial light coming from your digital screens. Blue light glasses are thus beneficial for sleep as they filter out the high energy blue light emitted by your devices to help maintain your circadian rhythm and reduce eye strain (6).
- Blackout curtains – Blocking out light leaks from your window can be a helpful step in managing your light exposure and cultivating your ideal sleep environment. Blackout curtains can thus greatly improve your sleep quality.
- Weighted blanket – Weighted blankets are thin comforters filled with weighted beads to provide up to 25 pounds of added support. Many people claim that the sense of security they feel when sleeping with a weighted blanket has helped improve their anxiety, depression, and sleep quality (7).
Sleep can be an elusive, difficult issue for many of us. It may be even harder to find fulfilling sleep with weightier thoughts on your mind in this turbulent pandemic environment. However, these added worries make the need for good sleep especially crucial, as proper rest leads to a clear mind in the morning. We hope you are able to find something helpful in these tips to implement into your own sleep routines so that we can move forward and put our best, healthy, rested foot forward.
Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Ishita Dubey, Ellen M. Martin
- “What Is Good Quality Sleep?” Sleep Foundation, http://www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/what-good-quality-sleep.
- “What Is Healthy Sleep?” Sleep Foundation, http://www.sleepfoundation.org/shift-work-disorder/shift-work-you/what-healthy-sleep.
- “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.” Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep | Healthy Sleep, 18 Dec. 2007, healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips.
- “Sleeping Tips & Tricks.” Sleep Foundation, 31 May 2020, http://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/healthy-sleep-tips.
- “Here’s How to Sleep Better.” Headspace, http://www.headspace.com/sleep/how-to-sleep-better.
- Ellis, Ralph. “Blue Light Glasses – Helpful or Just Hype?” WebMD, WebMD, 16 Dec. 2019, http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/news/20191216/do-blue-light-glasses-work.
- Doheny, Kathleen. “Seeking Better Sleep Under a Weighted Blanket.” WebMD, WebMD, 2 Apr. 2018, http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20180402/seeking-better-sleep-under-a-weighted-blanket.