One of the common problems of living in lockdown seems to be getting a good night’s sleep. Is coronavirus keeping you awake? The experts have spoken out on how to get a good night’s sleep.
To get some practical advice on how to get a good night’s sleep if coronavirus is keeping you awake at night, ITV West Country presenter Kylie Pentelow spoke to sleep expert Christabel Majendie.
Christable Majendie said: “I think there’s quite a few factors that might be involved in that. One is obviously that there’s a fair amount of stress going on with the coronavirus and people having to adjust to working from home, working with kids, the uncertainty of how long it’s going on, concern about their loved ones, concern about their own health. Little things like shopping for food has become quite stressful.
“When people are going through a stressful time or a period of uncertainty or a period of change, it’s very normal to have sleep problems. So it’s not it’s not that people have a problem with their sleep, it’s really that they are responding to that stress.
“There’s also a number of changes that people are probably making because they’re stuck at home and they’re working from home, and those factors will also influence people’s ability to sleep.
“People are hopefully getting out to exercise a bit, but the problem with spending time inside is that you have reduced light exposure, and your circadian rhythm depends on light to keep it healthy.
“If you’re in constant light all day, in artificial light inside, that’s a bit confusing for your circadian rhythm and it can potentially lead to some sleep problems.
So try and get outside for at least 30 minutes, but preferably 60 minutes in the morning. You want good, strong light in the first third to half of your day.
“The best light you can get, even on a cloudy day is outside. When you’re inside in the morning, keep the lights on – you want nice, bright, light environment in the first half of the day, then in the afternoon and evening you want that to tail off.
“Late afternoon and in the evening you should dim the lights and definitely put those phones and devices away I think people are spending a lot more time on their devices, checking social media, trying to stay in contact with friends and family, and if that’s going on into the night that potentially could have an impact on people’s sleep. If you have a lot of light in the evening, it suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm.
“Also those activities are quite stimulating for your brain, so you go to bed and feel quite wide awake. So it’s really important to have a relaxation period in the hour or two before bed when maybe switch off those devices, switch off the phone, and do something that winds you down, whatever that is for you.”
Other points Christabel Majendie raises include increased use of alcohol, which has an initial sedative effect but then disrupts sleep patterns and causes dehydration, and napping late in the day.
If adjusting your daytime behaviour according to this advice doesn’t improve your sleep, Christabel recommends CBT. “I’d suggest that the treatment with the best results is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There’s lots of stuff out there actually online, because obviously people can can’t see people face to face at the moment. So I would suggest if you are if you have been struggling to see for over a couple of months, then I would look into some form of CBT.”
But why is it important that we get plenty of healthy sleep at this time? US-based medical advice channel MedCram.com presented this advice from pulmonary specialist Roger Seheult. “Our findings support the concept that adequate amounts of sleep are needed to maintain resistance to an infectious challenge such as COVID-19.”
In a YouTube video, Dr Seheult quotes a study in which subjects infected with a common cold virus were three times more likely to develop an infection if they slept less than seven hours a night. “Here we have evidence that poor sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding an exposure were associated with a lower resistance to the viral illness” he comments.
Dr Seheult goes on to discuss the theory that cells infected with a virus flag themselves as being infected by putting a portion of the viral protein on their surface.
Immune system ‘T-cells’ hunt these infected cells, bind to them and destroy them, but their actions can be disrupted by neurotransmitters – chemicals found in nerve fibres such as epinephrine, dopamine, histamine and serotonin – all of which are present at elevated levels when we are awake.
In other words, does the immune response work better when we’re asleep? “The question is, whether or not sleep is actually beneficial in making sure that the immune system T-cells can bind to their targets and take them out” says Dr Seheult. ”(The studies showed) a statistically significant increase in T-cell binding in patients that were sleeping at 2 o’clock in the morning as opposed to being awake at 2 o’clock in the morning.
“I’ll tell you, it’s those T-cell responses that are very important in your immune system getting rid of coronavirus infected cells. Sleep is important, and you don’t have to go to the store to buy it and you don’t have to wait for a pharmacist to dispense it. It’s something that we can do. Put down your iPads, put down your phones and go to sleep and wake up with a better immune system.”
So it seems that if you have problems getting a good night’s sleep during the coronavirus lockdown, and stress is what’s keeping you awake, the solutions might be easily available – and a good night’s sleep will do your immune system and your health a world of good.