By Dr. Cosmas Mugambi. Follow this Author on Twitter

COVID-19 has brought the world into uncharted waters characterized by halted economies, lockdowns and uncertainties that have detrimental effects on health and livelihoods.

As a result of changes to routines, and a lack of structure in our everyday lives – many are finding it more difficult to fall to sleep and sleep well. One-third of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) is living under some kind of lockdown which is arguably the largest psychological litmus test.

Worrying affects sleep cycles negatively and the only thing worse than waking up to more bad news, is not falling asleep. Sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune and metabolic systems.

Sleep also helps in heightening brain functions, enhancing mood, improving general mental health wellness, beating back stress and optimal productivity.

Research suggests that those who sleep for 5 – 6 hours per night will be 19% less productive at work the next day, compared with when they sleep between 7 – 8 hours per night. Sleep disturbance is a common trauma response, along with anxiety and depression.

Current sleep patterns characterized by either sleeping more or sleeping less, especially due to the seemingly changed routines, impact our natural circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the essential internal “clock” that plays a key role in regulating our sleep and controlling body temperature and hormones.

While some of us are reconnecting with our natural circadian rhythm, others might have trouble falling asleep, or may be waking up multiple times during the night as uncertainty increases stress levels and stress hormones  such as cortisol, which may negatively affect sleep.

Anxiety can be exacerbated by isolation at home hence sleeping problems.  Canceled trips, isolation from friends, and an abundance of time cooped up at home can place a strain on anyone.

As well, keeping up with work-from-home obligations such as managing a house full of children who are accustomed to being at school can pose real problems, stress and discord.

In addition, excess screen time, especially later in the evening, have a detrimental impact on winding down and suppressing the natural production of melatonin, which is necessary for sleep

The good news is that there are steps we can take to mitigate insomnia. These include: coming up with daily schedules that include a wake-up time, work and exercise times, meal-times, wind-down time and strict bedtimes. It is important to ensure that each activity is well timed and overlaps avoided.

Creating the right sleep environment can also be of help. Thus, keeping your bedroom clean, dark and cool at night is advised. Also, avoiding use of the bedroom as an office or eating area can also help you sleep well.

Make sure to ditch digital devices (TVs, phones, laptops, tablets) for at least an hour before bed. Digital devices emit a blue light which delays the production of melatonin, not to mention that the content one comes across could also be destructive.

Getting outside-exposure to natural light also helps to keep our circadian rhythms in balance, thereby helping one feel tired at the end of the day and thus ready for sleep.

Keeping a healthy diet also helps. It will greatly help to have your evening meals at least 3 hours before bed time. Also, avoid too much caffeine and especially never after 2PM because caffeine keeps the mind active, thereby depriving the body of sleep.

Be very careful with alcohol consumption. Above a moderate level, alcohol can certainly help to get us to sleep, but it also makes sleep lighter. Light sleep can lead to unwanted early morning awakenings.

Avoid naps especially in the afternoon as this can affect expected sleep at night. Take a warm shower at least 90 minutes before bed to help nod off faster and increase total sleep time.

Prevent unnecessary interruptions during sleep e.g. by shutting pets away. Daily exercise has also been shown to aid in getting more and better-quality sleep.

In conclusion, utilize various relaxation techniques and finally, do not forget to get advice from your doctor.

Dr. Mugambi is a Public Health Specialist based in Nairobi


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