During times of uncertainty, when dealing with mental or emotional strain, our stress levels spike. Our nervous systems trigger the release of stress hormones—cortisol and adrenaline—and our bodies prepare for a fight or flight response. Once the stressful situation passes, these hormones subside, and the body begins to relax again. However, continuous high-stress levels irritate the nervous system—causing harmful damage to our sleep and overall health.
As we monitor the spread of coronavirus and try to protect ourselves, elevated stress levels are likely to remain constant. With worries over dwindling supplies, caring for sick loved ones, and trying to live normal lives amidst closures and social distancing—the nervous system has become overrun with stress. And, without any reprieve or time for relaxation, our sleep will ultimately suffer. Unfortunately, as your sleep suffers, so does your health. Right now, as we try to protect against infection, our health needs to be a top priority.
Stress Levels and Coronavirus
Before we discuss how this influx of stress is impacting your sleep, it is helpful first to understand why stress levels are so high right now. The uncertainty surrounding the virus, its transmission, and its impact on society is causing panic and anxiety. With so much media coverage, it is often difficult to separate truth from rumors. When information on how to protect ourselves is ambiguous, it causes hysteria, anger, and depression.
Since symptoms of the virus also vary drastically in each person, someone could have the virus and not know. This fact creates an invisible threat—causing irrational fear and distrust of others. With that, there is also a tendency to blame one another. We may hear a co-worker sneeze at work and immediately cast blame. However, panic, worry, and blame do nothing to protect us or slow the spread—they only increase feelings of dread and reduce our compassion.
Because excessive and sustained periods of stress cause sleep disruptions and other health issues, we must be diligent in alleviating anxiety and doing our best to find time for relaxation and self-care. Below, we will discuss how to calm feelings of stress so you can find the rest you need.
First, it is helpful to identify your particular stress triggers—certain aspects of this crisis may impact each of us differently. Before this source of anxiety has time to damage your well-being, you can try to identify it early on and address it. The following section highlights sources of stress many of us are experiencing right now and how you can find some relief.
Reduce News Coverage
The media coverage is constant, and it is sometimes hard to avoid. However, for your mental clarity, it is essential to reduce exposure. You want to stay informed, but be sure you are getting just the facts. Therefore, it’s best to rely on one trusted new source, such as theor the Facts coming from these sources are balanced, backed by science, and help to inform rather than fuel panic.
Connect with Others
Although we are currently practicing social distancing, it is still important to connect with others. We can easily get online and touch base with friends, family, neighbors, or even co-workers who are working from home. During times of stress, it’s always helpful to talk to others who are experiencing the same issues as you. A conversation with a friend can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Taking care of yourself is essential during this crisis. Do your best to eat right, exercise, and take part in activities you enjoy. Also, try to find moments for relaxation—try reading, journaling, or practicing progressive muscle relaxation to calm the nervous system. Keeping up your regular routines can also bring a sense of normalcy. For example, if you typically go to the gym each morning, try to work out at home. If you enjoy cooking dinner for your family at night, be sure to keep it up. These small tasks can help keep you calm and centered.
When stress is high, there’s often a tendency to blame others. However, it is vital we remain compassionate and understanding right now. We have to remind ourselves that we are all human and are more alike than different. If we can find commonality and unite in our efforts to get through this pandemic, we will ultimately feel stronger and more connected to one another.
If you haven’t yet done what you can to gather some supplies, try to do so soon. The fear of not having what you need will only increase feelings of dread and panic. On the other hand, having two to three weeks of supplies will give you a sense of preparedness and reduce anxiety.
Importance of Sleep During the Spread of Coronavirus
Taking the above steps to gain mental clarity will help you destress and reduce sleep loss. When protecting against the coronavirus, adequate sleep will help you stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Although there are still several unknowns when it comes to fighting off the coronavirus, we do know healthy immune function can reduce symptoms and increase recovery. Sleep is the most basic and vital building block of health, and it can help us boost our immune system and reduce stress.
Boosts the Immune system
Our immune system works to ward off harmful invaders. But when it is overwhelmed with threats or doesn’t have time to rest, it’s defenses are down and viruses can enter the body. Sleep gives our immune system the boost it needs to keep protecting us. When we sleep a full 7 to 8 hours, our bodies spend an adequate amount of time in each sleep stage—Stage 1 through REM. Each of these stages performs a function essential to our health. Two sleep functions that boost immunity include the production of the protein cytokine and the activation of T Cells.—so it’s responsible for directing antibodies towards specific invaders. Without enough sleep, cytokine production will reduce, making immune response slower and less accurate.
T Cells help the immune system neutralize invaders. A new study shows those who sleep at least 7 hours a night have an increase in T Cell activation, which allows the immune system to respond to potential threats faster. Those who lost sleep showed a reduction in T Cell activation and a slower immune response.
Certified Sleep Science Coach, McKenzie Hyde, notes, “a lack of sleep reduces our natural ability to fight off infection. When we lose just one hour of sleep, we are vulnerable to disease, and the immune system will not respond as quickly to viruses, such as the coronavirus.
Overall, a healthy immune system is our best defense against the virus, and sleep gives this system everything it needs to function correctly.”
Acts As a Natural Stress Reducer
The immune system connects to the nervous system, so stress and other changes in the body can affect how well your immune system performs. Because of this, it is essential to lower stress levels. Thankfully, adequate sleep can help us do so naturally. A full 7 hours of sleep gives us better control of our blood pressure and breathing rate, allowing us to respond to stress triggers calmly. Without proper rest or if there is a disruption in the sleep-wake cycle, cortisol levels can spike, and the nervous system becomes overwhelmed. As we deal with this crisis, we must get a good night’s sleep to keep stress levels low and keep the immune system healthy.
Tips to Ensure a Good Night’s Sleep
Adjust Your Bedroom and Your Bedding
To fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly, start with a calm, inviting bedroom. This space should promote relaxation and help you unwind. Your sleep space should be:
- Cool: Experts recommended around 67º to 70º for a cool and comfortable sleep temperature.
- Dark: Use an eye mark or blackout blinds to remove unwanted light from your sleep environment.
- Comfortable: Be sure you are resting on a comfortable and supportive mattress. If you are sleeping on a broken-down or sagging bed, it will only increase sleeplessness and stress. Look for a plush mattress that can contour to joints and muscles and also support the head, back, and neck. A new bed may be just what you need for a relaxing, weightless sleep.
- Organized: If you surround yourself with clutter such as paperwork, exercise equipment, laundry, or work, it can be difficult to relax. These items often cause stress triggers that disrupt sleep. Keep your bedroom clear of these items and only bring in items that encourage relaxation.
Reduce Blue Light Exposure
Light influences our natural sleep—we tend to feel sleepy when the sun sets and more awake while the sun is up. Sunlight causes alertness, while darkness promotes sleep. When we are exposed to the blue light from our electronics before bed, it tricks the body into thinking it is day time, causing alertness and a reduction in melatonin (the sleep hormone). To prevent this, experts suggest avoiding exposure to electronic light at least 2 hours before bed.
Create a Schedule
To help maintain your body’s internal clock, do your best to stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each day. Although this may be difficult when working from home, establishing a schedule will help reduce insomnia and increase deep sleep.
Ultimately, we are all going to make sacrifices as we attempt to control the spread of this virus, but don’t let good physical and mental health, and proper sleep become part of what you give up. The best way to stay positive and healthy is to alleviate stress and get adequate rest. Right now, we are not sure how long this pandemic will last. So, we need to take steps to ensure our health and safety.