3 Reasons the Pandemic Is Ruining Your Sleep — and What to Do About It

Sleeping problems can lead to a number of health issues if left unchecked

DrLullaby’s founder, Lisa Medalie, PsyD, DBSM contributes to this AARP Conditions & Treatments article, explaining what is affecting your sleep and how to combat it.

1. Anxiety, stress and fear are fueling insomnia

How does stress interfere with sleep? The body and mind need to be in “slower states” to successfully shift from awake to relaxed, explains Lisa Medalie, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago and founder of the sleep app Dr. Lullaby. But elevated stress makes the sleep transition “more challenging” because it “ramps us up and gets our heart beating faster.” And if this persists, a person becomes vulnerable to insomnia.

Solution: Get back on a schedule

If your sleep issues are due to a newly inconsistent or intermittent sleep schedule, go back to what was working — even if that means you accumulate fewer total hours of sleep. (And yes, this may mean you need to cut out the naps.)

“If you can anchor your wake time and wake up at the same time every day, that’s a great start for a consistent sleep schedule,” Medalie adds.

When you do sleep, make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature, the CDC recommends. It also helps to avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.

3. More screen time, less exercise

How is this affecting sleep? Medalie explains that the blue spectrum light generated from screens “tells the brain to stop producing melatonin,” a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. And when this biological clock gets disrupted, insomnia can set in.

Hand in hand with more screen time is a more sedentary lifestyle. Shutdowns and stay-at-home orders have closed gyms, postponed sports seasons and canceled exercise classes. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) reported a significant drop in step counts among smartphone users worldwide once coronavirus-related restrictions went into place. And an AARP survey found one third (32 percent) of older adults who exercised regularly before the pandemic have since decreased their level of activity.

“People who exercise regularly tend to sleep better, so with less exercise, we’re also at risk for sleep problems,” Medalie says.

Solution: Ditch the screens at bedtime, make exercise a priority

Ban the blue light from your bedroom: Turn off your devices an hour before bedtime, and if you think you will be tempted to check them, consider leaving phones, tablets and computers in another room to charge overnight.

“The hour before bed really should be ‘me time.’ It should be a time where you’re taking care of yourself … a time where you can lower the somatic arousal system and get your mind and body in the right place for sleep,” Medalie says.