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Brain, neuron

Tips for Sleep and COVID-19

Five tips to keep sleep cycles during COVID-19

Spening more time than usual indoors can disrupt sleep cycles. Our sleep experts explain why and offer advice on maintaining healthy sleep for a healthy brain

Sleep is critical not only for our immune and cardiovascular system, our brain health and laying down new memories, but it’s also important for mental health and wellbeing. While we are sleeping, the brain supports neuroplasticity and clears out harmful toxins, including those involved in dementia. This occurs particularly during deep sleep stages.  Besides the immediate consequences poor sleep has on our levels of alertness, irritability and daytime functioning, studies have shown that sleep disturbance can precede the onset and recurrence of mental health problems including major depression, so we need to look out for and counteract sleep problems early.

With coronavirus shutdowns many people have spent more time indoors than usual. As we emerge from physical isolation and head into the winter months, Professor Professor Sharon Naismith offers advice on maintaining sleep patterns for health and wellbing.

Tips and tricks

  1. Try to get good sleep quality: It’s not just the quantity of sleep but the quality of sleep that’s important. Keeping mentally and physically active in the daytime and early evening will help facilitate deep sleep. Avoid the urge to nap unless it’s a very brief 10-minute nap in the early afternoon. Remember, naps count in your total sleep time and if you nap for too long this will interfere with your deep sleep at night.
  2. Aim to sleep within 20-30 minutes of going to bed: During these stressful times it’s important to allow time and opportunity to relax and wind down during the evening. Avoid too much social media, or too much TV or radio regarding Covid-19 before bedtime. Try to limit this to morning or early evening news only. Having worry or anxiety before we go to bed can interfere with the onset of sleep, which in turn can contribute to sleep deprivation and can trigger destructive sleep cycles. It’s also important to only go to bed when you’re feeling tired and to wake up at the same time every day.
  3. While we are spending so much time indoors, we are likely to be exposed to less light. Try to get out in the early morning for a walk and ensure you have lots of access to sunlight during the day. Similarly, keep the lights dim in the evening so that the brain can secrete melatonin which helps us to feel sleepy and nod off easily.
  4. If you do have trouble sleeping, avoid the use of sleeping pills for prolonged periods. Sleeping pills are only effective in the short-term, and are not advised for older people.
  5. Alcohol interferes with our sleep significantly and should be minimised. There are lots of well researched psychological strategies for sleep, which could be accessed with a psychologist via telehealth and some online options are also available.