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COVID-19 Pandemic Causing a Spike in Sleep Deprived People


Sleep Expert Offers Advice on How to Combat Pandemic-Related Concerns to Prevent Negative Health Effects Caused by Insufficient Sleep

 It’s a worrisome statistic! Although sleep experts recommend adults get at least seven to eight hours of sleep, many American adults prior to the Coronavirus pandemic were already averaging as little as six hours per night.

 Today, more people across Southern California are sleeping even less, not getting enough ZZZs as many have become heavily impacted by losing loved ones, facing unemployment, experiencing financial hardship and other COVID-19-related challenges.

 “More people are feeling depressed and anxious,” said Dr. Kendra Becker, a sleep medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “During this pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in people suffering from insomnia, problems falling asleep and staying asleep. Fear and stress are the main reasons why, and it makes it harder for you to sleep because of all that worrying. People are more concerned about their jobs, their families, and it keeps them up at night. Depression and insomnia are related – they go hand-in-hand.”

 Many people think sleep is just for resting at the end of their busy day. They justify less sleep by saying: “I feel fine.” However, getting enough shut eye is as important as any other activities a person does during the day. When we sleep, our immune system is activated to hunt and kill viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells. With sufficient sleep hours, a person wakes up refreshed, with the mental and physical energy needed for a new day. 

 Dr. Becker offers the following answers to frequently asked questions about the importance of sleep, especially during the pandemic that is affecting many people’s sleep cycle: 

  • Can I make up for lost weeknight sleep on weekends? No. While it may help some, sleeping long hours on weekends can actually contribute to insomnia. Your best bet is to keep the same schedule all week long when it comes to going to bed and waking up.
  • Do older people need less sleep? Not always. Studies show all adults, with few exceptions, need to ideally sleep between seven and eight hours per night. Older adults are less active in the day, and nap often, which can make night sleep more difficult. Staying active during the day is the key. Going outside in sunlight is energizing, and makes it easier to sleep at night.
  • Will consuming caffeine make it harder for me to fall asleep? It’s not advisable to consume caffeine late in the day, so avoid that late-night cup of joe, as it’s likely to stimulate your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night. In fact, according to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality.
  • What about alcohol? Avoid drinking alcohol before bedtime. It does make people relaxed and drowsy, but it suppresses production of melatonin, the natural sleep hormone, causing very disrupted sleep patterns and reduction of REM sleep. REM sleep is needed for mental stability.
  • What about using my smart phone or iPAD before I go to bed? It’s easy to say NO, but we are very attached to our devices and constant flow of information. Research has found that exposure to “blue” light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin. Without sufficient melatonin, it is difficult to fall and stay asleep.
  • Can I watch TV in bed to relax to sleep?  No. Bed should be reserved for sleep. Wait until you are sleepy to go to bed. The bedroom should be dark, cool and quiet to optimize the quality of sleep. Avoid checking the time during the night, as it causes anxiety. Use an alarm to wake. Morning sunlight is important to be wakeful and energetic in the day.

“The facts are clear: getting a good night’s sleep is critically important to everyone’s good health,” Dr. Becker said, noting if your sleep problems last for more than three months, it’s time to seek medical attention. “It’s in everyone’s best interest for good health to sleep well, sleep enough, be well and thrive!”