The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a negative impact on our sleep, according to new findings from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. In a recent survey, more than half of Americans reported an increase in problems sleeping since the start of the pandemic.
The AASM surveyed 2,006 adults in the U.S., and 56% indicated that they have experienced an increase in sleep disturbances, sometimes referred to as "COVID-somnia." Common sleep disturbances included problems falling or staying asleep, sleeping less, experiencing worse quality sleep, and having more disturbing dreams. Those aged 35-44 had the highest rate of COVID-somnia sleep disturbances at 70%.
"Stress, anxiety and disruptions to our routines can all have a negative impact on our sleep," said Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, a sleep medicine physician in Fort Meyers, Florida, and member of the AASM board of directors. "Unfortunately, sometimes the harder we try to sleep, the more difficult it is to achieve sufficient, healthy sleep."
The struggle for a good night's sleep is also leading to an increase in the use of sleep aids. According to the AASM survey, 51% reported using medication, over-the-counter supplements, or other substances to help them fall asleep, while 68% of those using sleep aids acknowledged that they've been using them more frequently during the pandemic. Of those using sleep aids, only five percent said they use them rarely.
"Medicinal sleep aids should be used cautiously for people with sleep problems and should always be used in consultation with a medical provider," said Abbasi-Feinberg. "Many patients find that appropriate sleep hygiene will help them get better sleep, while those with chronic insomnia will benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which includes strategies such as stimulus control, sleep restriction and relaxation therapy."
Abbasi-Feinberg suggests adopting healthy sleep habits and following these tips to address short-term insomnia:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
- Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Don't go to bed unless you are sleepy.
- If you don't fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
- Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
- Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Don't eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
- Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
- Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
For chronic insomnia, which involves trouble sleeping at least three times a week for at least three months, help is available from more than 2,700 AASM-accredited sleep centers.
"Sleep is important to our overall health, and it boosts the immune system and strengthens the effectiveness of vaccination, so don't ignore persistent sleep problems," said Abbasi-Feinberg. "Talk to your medical provider if you're struggling to sleep well on a regular basis."