Why Sleep is Particularly Important During a Pandemic
By Kelly Cave & Madison Hanscom
The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in increased responsibilities for many people. Citizens are learning how to adjust to a new way of life. This might include learning how to work from home, wearing multiple hats while balancing childcare and work, or the stress of supporting older loved ones. When things get busy, we tend to cut back on sleep. Oftentimes we do this so it feels like we have more hours in the day, and your employees are no exception.
The CDC defines insufficient sleep as less than 7 hours of sleep each night. In the short term, cutting back on a few hours of sleep may not seem like a big deal, but this can be detrimental when trying to stay healthy in the long term. Insufficient sleep can negatively impact the immune system; thus, it increases the risk of becoming sick after exposure to a virus. The link to COVID-19 is clear. However, lack of sleep has also been linked to several detrimental health outcomes such as raised blood pressure and an increased risk of inflammatory disease, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, among others (2). Additionally, lack of sleep leads to decreases in employees’ cognitive functioning and alertness, which increases the risk of being involved in an accident (3). Specifically, those who get less than 6 hours of sleep in one night are three times more at risk of being involved in a driving-related accident (3).
During a time like this, we need sleep the most, but anxiety surrounding COVID-19 can contribute to impaired sleep. Luckily, there are multiple techniques that can be suggested to help improve the amount and quality of sleep our employees get each night. Encourage your employees to:
• Reduce the amount of noise they experience in their bedroom as much as possible.
• Ensure their bedroom environment is cool, dark, and moderately dry.
• Reduce device use close to bedtime. Light exposure from technology can delay sleep.
• Avoid napping when possible. If they do nap, encourage them to keep naps to under 30 minutes to avoid disrupting their sleep at night.
• Reduce alcohol and nicotine intake. Alcohol and nicotine use are associated with having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
• Consider the amount and timing of caffeine use. Suggest they avoid consuming caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime.
• Get regular exercise, but not close to bedtime.
• Be mindful of nutrition and encourage they eat a well-balanced diet.
• Establish a calming bedtime routine. This may include reading or listening to relaxing music.
• Establish a consistent sleep and wake schedule. For example, if someone typically wakes up at 7am during the week and goes to bed at 11pm, they should stick to this schedule on the weekend.
Although it is tempting to simply sleep less when we have additional responsibilities on our plate, sleep research highlights just how essential getting adequate sleep is to our overall health and wellbeing. Encourage your employees to use the techniques listed above to help them jump-start making sleep a priority in their lives. As always, consult the CDC website when making any decisions related to COVID-19 (4).
1. CDC. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2014, Census 2010, ACS 2010-2014.
2. Irwin, M. R., & Opp, M. R. (2017). Sleep health: reciprocal regulation of sleep and innate immunity. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42(1), 129-155.
3. Basner, M., Spaeth, A. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2014). Sociodemographic characteristics and waking activities and their role in the timing and duration of sleep. Sleep, 37(12), 1889-1906.