By Dr. Carolyn Driscoll, DC
Sufficient sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle—especially during the COVID-19 crisis, during which we’ve all been under a lot of pressure. Lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases and conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than a third of US adults suffers from insufficient sleep, which is defined as less than seven hours daily. And when we consistently lack a good night’s sleep, our cognitive functions are affected, often compromising our performance and safety. Luckily, you can take control of your sleep habits, even during these uncertain times, and boost your chances of getting better rest with some minor modifications in your habits and daily routine.
Set a Sleep Schedule: Improve your quality of sleep by keeping a consistent sleep schedule, even during quarantine, when so many of our everyday activities that have kept us in a routine have gone out the window. Set a regular daily bedtime and wake-up time to help regulate your circadian rhythm. Also known as the sleep/wake cycle or body clock, your circadian rhythm is a natural system that regulates feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. Adhering to a consistent sleep schedule helps modulate this rhythm and allows your body to get tired before your designated sleep time. This will allow you to wake more rested in the morning.
Limit Screen Time: Using electronics before bed has been linked to irregular sleep patterns and poor sleep habits, as it stimulates your brain and makes it more difficult for you to fall and stay asleep. The blue lights in many electronic screens such as computers, tablets and cell phones are so bright that they can interrupt your circadian rhythm, and ultimately, your sleep. If you’re working from home, make sure to carve out some time between laptop and bed. Keeping in touch with friends and family on your phone in the evenings? The same rules apply.
Move Your Body: Regular exercise has been found to improve sleep patterns and promote deep sleep. A vigorous aerobic workout or even a moderate increase in exertion may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. The reason for these sleep benefits is due, in part, to the fact that exercise increases the amount of adenosine in the body, a chemical that causes drowsiness, regulates body temperature, reduces anxiety and helps normalize your circadian rhythm. If you’ve justified letting your workout habits fade away during COVID but find yourself not sleeping, this is the push you needed to figure out your home gym situation.
Check Your Position: Just as there is a healthy standing and sitting posture, there is also an ideal sleep posture. A healthy sleeping position is such that pressure is evenly distributed throughout the body with a neutral spine. In this case, “neutral” means a position that supports the curves of your spine: forward curves at the neck and lower back and a backward sway in the middle. Adopting a neutral spine position can help us avoid back pain at night and wake up in the morning well-rested. Try to sleep in the back or side position. Also choose a pillow that supports a neutral spine. A pillow that is too thick or thin can cause the neck to bend incorrectly. The position we sleep in calls for different ways to use pillows:
(a) Back sleepers can find relief by placing two pillows underneath the back of the knees. This helps reduce strain on the lower back. The lumbar spine is flattened, and less force is placed on the pain-sensitive facet joints of the spine. The head and neck should remain level with the upper back and spine, so make sure the head pillow is not angling your head away from your body.
(b) Side sleepers can put a pillow between the knees to help keep the hips neutral. The head and neck should remain level with the mid and lower spine.
(c) Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended, as it can create increased stress on the back. However, those who must sleep in this position can place a flat pillow under the stomach and pelvis area to maintain proper alignment of the spine. The head pillow should be flat or eliminated.