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Trouble sleeping in the midst of COVID-19?

Amanda Goodman

How are you sleeping these days? If the answer is “not great” — you’re not alone. Efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus have changed people’s lives drastically and suddenly, as a result, sleep can be more elusive for some.

Megan E. Petrov is an assistant professor with the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at ASU and specializes in sleep research. She says there are things you can do even in isolation in order to get back on schedule when it comes to a good night’s rest.  

But first, it’s important to know that sleep is unique to the person, so the amount you need may differ from your partner or child, and even that amount can change over time. 

That being said, the National Sleep Foundation, American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society have all offered general recommendations for adequate sleep duration by age.

Here’s a look at the National Sleep Foundation’s guidance:

• Newborns (0–3 months): 14–17 hours each day.

• Infants (4–11 months): 12–15 hours.

• Toddlers (1–2 years): 11–14 hours.

• Preschoolers (3–5): 10-13 hours.

• School-age children (6–13): 9-11 hours.

• Teenagers (14–17): 8-10 hours.

• Younger adults (18–25): 7–9 hours.

• Adults (26–64): 7–9 hours.

• Older adults (65+): 7–8 hours.

As for what is considered good sleep quality, an expert panel convened by the National Sleep Foundation came up with key indicators including the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and sleep efficiency.

Petrov says you’ll know you’ve achieved the right amount of sleep if you feel rested and alert the next day.  

So, how do you get to that point in the midst of a global pandemic? Petrov offers her insight and expertise below. 

Assistant Professor Megan E. Petrov

Assistant Professor Megan E. Petrov.

Question: How does a sudden shift in routine/schedule impact sleep?

Answer: Multiple factors can affect our sleep. Sleep is multidimensional. Change in our daily routines and stress levels can affect our sleep duration, quality, timing, regularity and daytime functioning. A sudden shift in our regular sleep-wake schedule and daily routines can alter the pace and timing of our brain’s biological clock also known as our circadian rhythm. This shift can misalign our biological clock with our social clock, a discrepancy known as “social jet lag.” Social jet lag typically occurs when you maintain a consistent schedule during the workweek, then go to bed, and sleep in late on the weekends. This pattern is then followed by a painful shift back to the workweek schedule on Sunday night paired with a rough Monday morning.  

With a sudden shift toward greater isolation in our homes, reduced commuting, different responsibilities and modes of doing our day-to-day jobs, and more time spent with our kids outside of our normal routines, it is unsurprising that our sleep-wake schedules will likely experience some shifts. 

Q: What are some things people can do to lessen the impact? 

A: Make sleep a priority in your home and encourage consistent sleep-wake schedules for all household members. In this time of swift behavior change, adaptation and new ways of self-managing, use this as an opportunity to set healthy sleep habits that can help you function better during the day and manage these new stressors. 

Q: What are some general best practices for a good night’s sleep?  

A: The keys to adequate, refreshing sleep for most people on most nights is consistency in sleep schedule, establishing sleep-promoting environments and habits, stress management, and, of course, to value your sleep!

Additionally, the Sleep Research Society, an organization of international members who educate and advance sleep and circadian science issued the following sleep tips for when you are isolated indoors. The tips include:

• Get up around the same time every day.

• Get bright light into your eyes within a few minutes of getting up and seek light during the day.

• Keep daytime and nighttime different and separate.

• Keep lights dim and block blue light on electronic devices one to two hours before bedtime.

• Bed is for sleep and sex, not waking activities.

Finally, the World Sleep Society also issued two lists of sleep tips they call the “10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Adults” and the “10 commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Children” to promote good sleep habits. 

Q: We’ve all heard a good night’s rest is invaluable — is that even more heightened in a pandemic situation?

A: Getting a good night’s rest is one of the pillars of good health whether in a pandemic situation or not. An important thing to be aware of is that sleep regulates our immune system functions. So disrupted sleep can increase our risk of developing infectious diseases and can even reduce our immune responses to vaccinations, making the vaccine less effective. We know that both short sleep duration and more fragmented sleep are related to increased risk of catching a common cold and having a more severe cold.

The bottom line is that making sleep a priority and making sure to get adequate amounts of quality rest will not only help you function better but, like washing your hands, it’s one more thing you can do to try to safeguard yourself in the midst of a pandemic.

If you or someone you know is severely struggling with sleep, the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine is a great resource and has a search function by U.S. state to find a behavioral sleep health professional near you. For other clinical sleep disorders, please discuss with your primary provider or a sleep medicine professional.