Sleeping And Working Tips During Covid-19
I recently was interviewed by Thriving at Work author Gina DeLapa, and she asked me to offer advice for those having trouble sleeping during Covid-19.
Following are some of my easily implementable suggestions from that interview.
What Are Tips For Sleeping During Covid-19 Times?
Many people are finding it difficult to obtain quality sleep and restoration during the current Covid-19 situation. It’s not that they’re necessarily suffering from a viral infection, but instead having difficulty dealing with the stress of their daily schedule disruption, changing work schedule, loss of employment or business, or financial difficulty.
While the internet is rife with various sleep tips, I wanted to go over three areas to improve sleep and restoration that are scientifically backed and simple to implement.
A “tip of the keyboard” to Dr. Amy M. Bender who recently covered these in detail (@Sleep4Sport on Twitter).
De-Stress Before Bedtime.
Getting ready for bed isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. You need a consistent bedtime routine that lets your body know that it’s time to power down and get ready for slumber.
- Keep the cell phone out of the bedroom. Research has shown mobile phone use at bedtime predicted increased fatigue, insomnia and shorter sleep duration.
- Start winding down 30-60 minutes before bedtime, signaling your body that it’s time to sleep.
- Write a To-Do List just before turning in. Research showed those listing thoughts and things to accomplish fell asleep nine minutes faster than those who listed simple completed activities lists.
- Practice positivity. Research shows those practicing positivity prior to sleep fall asleep quicker, have better pre-sleep thoughts, better sleep quality and quantity, and improved daytime functioning.
- Minimize late night caffeine. Research has shown a reduction of 20 minutes in the deepest stages of sleep in teens when 80 mg of caffeine (similar to an energy drink) was ingested around dinner time. Caffeine impacts your sleep quality, even if you think it isn’t.
- Try these two excellent sleep relaxation techniques from physicist Safi Bahcall. They really work!
Maintain your Regular Sleep Schedule.
Stick to your regular sleep schedule. Avoid the temptation to sleep in if you’ve been furloughed or are now working from home. Irregular sleep and wake patterns were found to be associated with poorer academic performance and delayed circadian and sleep/wake timing.
Try to stay within 30 minutes of your normal wake up time. It’s more important to stick to your normal wake up time versus your normal bedtime, but you should strive for consistency in both. Grab a nap if you’re fatigued during the day, and avoid the temptation to sleep in late if you’re too tired.
This can also be a good time to assess your sleep schedule and adjust your bedtime to make sure you’re allowing yourself to get adequate amounts of sleep.
Get Morning Outdoor Light.
Outdoor light is the best cue for circadian rhythms, and getting this natural light in the morning helps set body rhythms for the day. Combining outdoor light with exercise is even more powerful for shifting these circadian rhythms. Outdoor lighting is hundreds of times brighter than inside light (even on an overcast day), and you should strive for at least 30 minutes.
Research showed office workers getting more light in the morning (even sitting by an outside window) had more optimal circadian rhythms, fell asleep quicker and had better sleep quality.
We hear a lot these days about sleep and work performance. How much does work performance depend on sleep? Can you give some examples?
Basically, you’re probably not going to be as fast, accurate, or productive with poor sleep, especially after longer periods of sleep deprivation. There are studies analyzing different aspects of lower sleep amounts and obtaining poorer sleep, with negative correlations being shown for reaction time, speed of tasks, and achievement of work-paced tasks.
What happens when sleep deprivation and work collide? What impact does sleep deprivation have on work and productivity?
It depends upon the amount of deprivation, but overall it amounts to a workforce that is less productive and less accurate than it could be. Acuity on tasks that demand prolonged vigilance (which are often some very important tasks) tend to deteriorate with acute sleep loss.
There’s quite a bit of study of medical school residents’ on this topic, as they are constantly sleep deprived. Some research has shown sleep deprivation had a significant deleterious effect on performance both in efficiency and safety. I’d say the same can be applied to those of us not in the medical field. There’s also good study from Michigan State University about sleep deprivation here.
What about deep sleep? Why is it so important? How much should we be getting? And how can we get more of it?
A joint consensus statement was released by leading researchers looking at recommendations for the optimal amounts of sleep, and their summary showed that 7-9 hours of sleep was appropriate to support optimal health in adults.
While a bit of a simplistic explanation, we sleep in 90 minutes cycles (give or take a bit), and at the end of each cycle there is time spent in REM sleep. About 75% of our sleep time is non-REM (NREM) and 25% is REM, and the stages/types of sleep within these cycles changes as the night goes on.
Earlier in the night our cycles will spend more time in deeper N3 sleep, which helps with muscular recovery and regeneration.
Later at night the N3 stage is mostly eliminated and more NREM time is spent in the N2 stage, which promotes memory consolidation and retention of what was learned that day.
The REM stage is characterized by intense brain activity, and this is where we dream. REM is also important for memory consolidation, cognition and mood regulation.
It’s very important that we are able to cycle through these stages of sleep at night and get the right balance of sleep in each of these stages for overall health and restoration.
For the millions of people working from home, is there a case to be made for taking naps? What would you recommend?
Stick to your normal wake schedule. If you are tired during the day, take a quick nap, getting up from the nap when you first awake (often just 10-15 minutes). Do not force yourself to go back to sleep for 3-4 hours, as this will disrupt your sleep schedule.
If you find that you’re in need of a daily nap, or even multiple naps, take a look at when you’re going to bed and adjust your bed time a bit earlier. And add to that my aforementioned techniques for winding down 60 minutes before bedtime (also included on page 11 of Gina DeLapa’s book, Thriving At Work).
What else can we be doing to enhance sleep and work performance?
This extended time at home is a great opportunity to adjust how you view sleep, as well as doing a deep dive on your sleep habits. Quality sleep is a necessity for your health and performance, just like diet and exercise.
Create a new bed time routine. Make your bedroom a sleep-friendly environment. And go to be early enough to obtain optimal restoration.
Remember, what you short-change yourself at night will absolutely be reflected in your daytime attitude and performance.