Australians are being urged to avoid late-night drinking and lie-ins to get the quality sleep they need to cope in uncertain times.
With COVID-19 stress prevalent worldwide, the Sleep Health Foundation is warning people to keep consistent bed-time routines to help stay mentally and physically healthy while stressed. The leading sleep health advocate is using this week’s Sleep Awareness Week, launched Monday August 3, to raise concerns that inadequate sleep is making life harder for people with underlying mental health vulnerabilities.
“A lot of Australians are currently not getting the sleep they need largely due to coronavirus-related stress,” says Prof Dorothy Bruck, Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation. “This lack of sleep is exacerbating mental health issues, particularly for people who already experience anxiety and depression and sleep problems like insomnia.”
Those with generalised anxiety, for instance, may find themselves now worrying about the impact of the pandemic on their family, their finances, their health and their livelihoods after even a few nights of disrupted sleep, Prof Bruck says. “We’re concerned many people don’t have the tools they need to get their sleeping back on track.”
Inadequate sleep caused by the pandemic may be having a negative knock-on effect to mood, concentration and daytime functioning. “The cruel irony is that anxiety-induced poor sleep leaves us feeling even more anxious and stressed, creating a vicious cycle where it becomes difficult to get the shuteye you need to maintain clarity and equilibrium,” Prof Bruck says.
There are also concerns that poor sleep can compromise physical health, changing eating patterns, exercise levels, blood pressure and immune response. “Sleep helps us fight off infection,” the psychologist explains. “People who are sleep deprived have increased risk of contracting a virus when exposed to it.”
The foundation has released recommendations for those having difficulty falling asleep or waking in the night. Sleep Health Foundation Chair Professor Dorothy Bruck says the advice is tried and true. “It might seem obvious, but we urge you ‘switch off’ from COVID-19 media and shift your focus to reading, watching or listening to things that are totally unrelated,” Professor Bruck says.
She stresses the importance of a regular sleep-wake routine, without late nights or lie ins, and taking care not to spend too much time worrying in bed. “It’s important to build a strong connection between your bed and sleep so if you’re tossing and turning a lot, get up, rest elsewhere in the house and go back to bed when you feel ready to fall asleep.” Professor Bruck also advises to steer clear of sleep medications, and avoid caffeine and alcohol in the few hours before sleep.
One last piece of advice is simple but powerful. “Think of sleep like a butterfly,” she says. “You cannot reach out and grab it and catch it. But if you stay quiet, still and relaxed, the butterfly will come to you.”
Sleep Awareness Week runs August 3-9, 2020, and focuses on the relationship between sleep and anxiety, depression and COVID-19 stress. It carries important advice on how to
maintain adequate sleep and stay mentally and physically healthy in periods of hardship. View the Sleep Health Foundation’s COVID-19 sleep advice here.