Trouble sleeping? You may be experiencing “COVID-somnia”
Over the last year, sleep neurologists have reported a surge in sleep disorder diagnoses and sleep medication misuse due to increased stress, anxiety and fear related to the COVID-19 pandemic--dubbed “COVID-somnia.”
Sleep quality has worsened for one in four people, according to a study conducted by the Journal of Sleep Medicine released in September 2020. Noted stressors of those surveyed include caregiving, job loss and COVID-19 symptoms.
As more vaccines become available and communities begin to safely reopen, it’s important to recognize the pandemic’s many impacts on our routines—including sleep habits.
Insomnia, or the chronic inability to fall or stay asleep, is the most common sleep disorder and affects nearly 60 million Americans each year. Sleep apnea (breathing that frequently starts and stops during sleep) and restless leg syndrome (RLS or a persistent urge to shake or move the legs, especially while sleeping) closely follow as the second and third-most common sleep disorders.
If left undiagnosed and untreated, sleep disorders can negatively affect your overall health—from memory loss and mood changes, to an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other serious health conditions.
If you’ve had trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, consider the following advice from Regence’s medical and wellness experts.
Prioritize regular exercise and time outside
Experts agree that exercise is key to better sleep and feeling more alert during the day.
“Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, ideally broken out over the course of two to four days,” says Dr. Jim Polo, an executive medical director with Regence. “Get your kids involved, too! With work and school at home, we’re all spending too much time in front of screens. Taking a break to enjoy the outdoors will give your mental health a boost as well.”
Limit your alcohol consumption, especially right before you go to bed
According to a recent survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 68% of American adults have lost sleep due to drinking alcohol past bedtime.
“Sleep disruption from alcohol can contribute to fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating—and for some folks, this can lead to a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Drew Oliveira, Regence’s Senior Executive Medical Director. “Allow three to four hours between drinking and bedtime or consider simply sticking with water or decaffeinated tea in the evenings.”
Establish a sleep routine and stick with it
“We are vigilant to establish a sleep routine for our kids, but we so often forget ourselves in this equation,” says Justin Jones, a wellness consultant with Regence. “Establishing a sleep routine takes time, but it’s essential to forming better sleep habits—or breaking bad habits that may have developed over the last year.”
Jones recommends the following elements in a sleep routine:
- Prepare for the next morning the night before. Packing your lunch, laying out your clothes for the next day or planning your workout are simple tasks that can set you up for a less hectic morning and ease pre-bedtime worries.
- Do something that helps you wind down. This could include taking a warm bath, reflecting on your day through journaling, engaging in meditation or reading a book.
- Be aware of how light can affect sleep. Avoid exposure to blue light 30 to 60 minutes prior to bed—no TV, tablets, computers or smart phones. Make your environment dimly lit as this helps your body naturally produce melatonin, a hormone that helps your body know when it’s time to sleep.
- Be mindful of time. Set a reminder at least 30 minutes before you’d like to be in bed to allow enough time for your nighttime routine. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day will help keep your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) in check.
Seek support from a professional when you need it
If you find yourself experiencing sleep disruptions three to five times each week for more than 30 days, it might be time to seek help from a professional. Regence members can sign into their account on regence.com to search for sleep specialists and other resources.