If you find yourself sleeping more than usual right now, you’re not alone. And if you’re having trouble sleeping — that’s normal, too. You probably know sleep plays a vital role in overall health, so it’s always a good idea to ensure you’re getting enough. But there are several specific reasons your body may need more shuteye during the coronavirus crisis than it ordinarily does, sleep experts say.
Sleep changes are common in times of high stress. “During this crisis, it’s understandable that you might feel all kinds of things,” says Dr. William Winter, author of “The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It.” “Stress all by itself can increase levels of fatigue and arousal, which impacts our ability to easily fall asleep and to stay asleep.” If you’re having trouble in either of these areas, you may end up needing more hours in bed to feel rested.
What’s worse, the impact of stress on sleep can become a vicious cycle. “A lack of sleep can lead to a variety of mood disorders, anxiety and depression among the most prevalent,” says Dr. Jeff Rodgers, DMD, a sleep expert and dental sleep medicine practitioner. “When you don’t get enough sleep you become more irritable. Things you used to enjoy don’t hold that same luster.” Dr. Rodgers’ advice? “A regular sleep schedule is more important now than ever before.” Try to stick to the same hours every night to make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Another reason to not feel bad about getting more shuteye right now: “Sleep and immunity are directly linked,” explains Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a sleep researcher, co-author of “Sleep for Success!” and a member of the Pajama Program Goodnight Advisory Council. “Making sleep a priority has never been more important than right now!”
“Those who get healthy sleep (7–8 hours) are much more likely to resist viral infection compared to short sleepers (less than 6 hours),” Robbins adds.
Sleep helps your body release more cytokines, proteins that target infection and inflammation, according to Dr. Rodgers. “Cytokines are released during sleep, so to optimize your immune system, more sleep is absolutely essential.”
At the moment, most people’s lives look significantly different from before. “Many of us working from home have much less structure,” Robbins says. “Some of us are working in spaces shared with children, family and loved ones, and it can be difficult to draw boundaries between these areas of our lives.” Others may not be working at all or are working more shifts than usual, depending on what they do. But being out of your usual routine can lead to stress and frustration, which can also lead to poor sleep, according to Robbins.
That’s why practicing good sleep hygiene is more important now than ever. If you’re home more than usual right now, be sure to reserve your bed for sleep alone, Robbins recommends. “Resist the urge to work in bed, take phone calls from bed or scroll social media from bed. When you wake up, make your bed and commit to not getting in until bedtime.”
Robbins also suggests taking up a meditation practice to help you deal with all the changes. “If you haven’t tried it, there couldn’t be a better time to start practicing meditation. Find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and breathe comfortably. As thoughts come into the mind, good or bad, simply let them go and come back to the breath.”
Humans need interaction with each other. “When we don’t get that for extended periods of time, it takes a mental and emotional toll.” Dr. Rodgers says. “While video calls are not the same as in-person interactions, they can be a substitute (albeit a weak one) for actual contact.”
Problem is, this type of interaction may actually be more tiring than face-to-face encounters. “Typically, we sense and communicate with our entire bodies, and now our interactions are limited to giving and receiving information through our faces,” says Sara Sedlik Haynes, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It takes energy to focus on one spot, to use technology in the first place, and to long for what we need, which is physical touch and the physical presence of others.” We also use a lot of energy worrying about and taking care of others. In this context, it makes a lot of sense to need more rest after a day packed with video calls.
“Essentially, we are all experiencing some kind of traumatic response,” Sedlik Haynes says. Trauma can be defined as the perception of a threat mixed with helplessness. “We are feeling helpless on a global level because we can’t control, nor really figure out this virus,” she adds.
“When our nervous system perceives a threat, our bodies react to either mobilize and or freeze. This takes considerable energy, and that is one main reason why we are more tired,” Sedlik Haynes explains. So if you’re feeling like you need a few extra hours of shuteye — go ahead and take them.