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Trouble Sleeping During COVID-19? Your Questions, Answered.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020 12:28 PM

Having trouble sleeping during COVID-19? You're not alone. Neurologist Lori Lovitz, MD, answers all of your questions about sleep, its effect on the body, and why you may be experiencing some sleepless nights currently. 

 sleep

Can sleep help my immune system fight the coronavirus?
Since COVID-19 is still new and we don’t have concrete evidence we can’t answer this for certain. However, generally speaking, we can boost our immune systems by getting sufficient sleep. We have seen a trend in which individuals with compromised immune systems have a greater challenge fighting off COVID-19 infections, and therefore one can include that ensuring a robust immune system will be advantageous in the event of exposure. Sleep deprivation would conversely compromise your immune system. 

Can sleep help improve my mood and productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sufficient sleep will improve mood and productivity in general and therefore maintaining consistent bedtimes and wake times is recommended to ensure enough sleep at night to allow optimal productivity and mood. For most people this falls around 7-8 hours, however there those who may need a bit more or a bit less than that. My advice is to use this time to determine what that magic number is for you.

Due to the sheltering in place, many of my patients do not have to wake up as early as they used to since they do not have to drive that long commute to work, taking kids to daycare, or attending early morning gym workouts. Their new routines during the quarantine allow for longer sleep hours. Those who have been increasing their sleep hours have observed that they are feeling better and able to perform better as they work from home.

Why are so many people having trouble sleeping while sheltering in place?
While some are increasing their sleep hours and establishing a more consistent sleep routine, there are others who have suffered from worsened insomnia. This could be related to heightened anxiety related to the COVID emergency, either for fear of personal medical or financial risk or because their home environment and sleep conditions could have changed drastically.

It’s very important during this time to minimize exposure to news outlets or social media that unnecessarily drive this anxiety, or else seek help from mental health professionals to help work through their feelings and construct a pathway for healing.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?
A variety of changes can occur that lead to suboptimal performance both physically and cognitively. If this continues to occur, your sleep stage distribution will change to make up for deficiencies in quality sleep and you may start to have brief sleep periods during habitual periods of wakefulness.

How long does it take your body to get back on track after a lack of sleep?
This could take about 1-2 weeks.

Sleeping Tips:

Create a sleep schedule. While most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night, some may need less or more than that on a consistent basis to function optimally. 

Limit screen time at night. Turn off your devices one hour before bedtime. Leave your cell phone charging in the kitchen so you are not tempted to look at COVID-19 updates during the night. If you must use your phone or computer, ensure that you have programmed the device to a nighttime mode that reduces blue light emissions, starting at least 1 hour prior to your habitual bedtime.

Find time for you. Take the hour before bedtime as “me time” with no electronic engagement. Minimize conversations and calls during that hour. That's not easy, especially if you have young children at home, but it’s important. We all need at least one hour alone per day. Take a hot bath/shower, play soothing music, try a meditation app and read a book or magazine.

Minimize naps. Daytime sleep should be less than 30 minutes and before 2 p.m. If you have any trouble falling asleep, avoid napping.

Try breathing exercises. Take 10 slow, deep breaths to help ease you into sleep. Slowly inhale through your nose for 3 to 4 seconds and then slowly exhale through your mouth for 3 to 4 seconds.

Get your sleep environment under control. Make sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. Keep the room temperature cool, try an eye mask or blackout shades, and use a white noise machine to block extraneous noise from the street or the hallway.

Gain control over stress. Many people have less access to their usual coping strategies such as time with friends and going to the gym. Try new activities and hobbies — painting, writing, photography, indoor exercise videos, etc. Find ways to stay connected with friends and family through technology. Consider therapy if the stress feels unmanageable.

Create a daytime schedule. Commit to daily activities (e.g., exercise, meals, socializing) at certain times to build a structure to your days. This will support a regular bedtime and wake time. Set cell phone reminders to anchor your schedule, and as a reminder to turn off screens an hour before bedtime.

What else do we need to know about sleep?
This is a great time to reset our routines and try starting new habits that benefit our health. Certain substances such as alcohol, nicotine, high sugar content, and caffeine near bedtime can be very disruptive to sleep as well. While exercising regularly is beneficial to sleep quality, rigorous exercise within 2 hours of bedtime can worsen sleep.