LEBANON, NH – It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused stress, anxiety and depression, leading many people to experience sleep disruption.
“Anxiety and depression are highly associated with disturbed sleep and insomnia, and both conditions make it difficult to fall asleep,” says Brooke Judd, MD, section chief of Sleep Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “Difficulty staying asleep is another common symptom of anxiety, while depression typically causes earlier-than-desired morning awakening.”
There are simple solutions to improve sleep quality and duration. These positive sleep habits, combined with creating an environment conducive to sleep, are called “sleep hygiene.” Along with keeping a relatively consistent sleep schedule (going to sleep and waking around the same time each day) Judd recommends these sound sleep tips to improve your sleep hygiene:
- Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Keep it quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.
- Avoid light emitted from screens before bed—especially LED screens which activate the part of the brain that keeps you awake.
- Refrain from sleep-impacting substances in the evening—caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
- Get exercise during the day.
- Try not to stress about sleep! It only makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.
- Sleep medications are not recommended for chronic insomnia. If necessary, only use them once in a while.
It’s important to understand that sleep doesn’t have an on/off switch in the brain—there are increases and decreases in various neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) that make sleep or wakefulness more likely.
Anyone experiencing sleep disruptions consistently affecting daily functioning should contact their primary health care provider. Providers can make sleep hygiene recommendations or determine if an underlying medical or psychiatric condition is causing, or contributing, to the sleep disturbance.
“My best advice is don’t get too frustrated about not sleeping–it only makes it worse,” continues Judd. “Nearly everyone experiences trouble sleeping at some point in their lives. There is generally an underlying problem causing the sleep disturbance. Try to understand and address the cause (stress, anxiety, pain, etc.), or contact a health care provider for assistance.”