Author: VicHealth works with health promotion experts to create a Victoria where everyone can enjoy better health and wellbeing. Last updated: 16 Oct, 2020

We know that coronavirus is affecting large parts of everyone’s day-to-day waking lives, but is it also affecting us when we’re asleep?

Any coronavirus information mentioned is accurate at the time this blog was ‘Last updated’ (see above). For the most up-to-date information about coronavirus restrictions, please visit the source: www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au

 

There’s no doubt this is a stressful time for lots of people. Juggling work or study from home, managing kids at home more than usual or even unemployment, it’s possible that your amount or quality of sleep could be impacted.  You may even be dreaming differently based on your current experience or emotions during the pandemic.

 

How can we ensure we’re setting ourselves up to get a good night’s sleep?

VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio spoke with ABC Radio Melbourne on Wednesday about sleep during coronavirus. Click here to watch.

Screenshot of video

 

What are ‘covid dreams’ and why are they happening?

Speaking on ABC Radio Melbourne’s Drive Program, Sandro said it’s common for people to be experiencing interrupted sleep or even ‘covid dreams’ as Victoria moves through the coronavirus pandemic.

Sandro said current coronavirus restrictions and their effects on the Victorian community could be influencing the way we dream.

“Sleep is when you consolidate the day’s memories – long and short term – so it’s no surprise that people might be dreaming of a world where there aren’t lockdowns, maybe they’re working through some emotions and of course some people might find it harder to get to sleep or stay asleep,” he said.

“Almost certainly the huge impact coronavirus is having on our lives, while absolutely necessary, I’m sure it’s affecting our sleep.”

Sandro explained there may be a range of reasons why this could be the case.

“You may not be getting as much physical activity and time outside, or even exposure to natural light which is so important to your circadian rhythm and melatonin release - which is a hormone that makes you feel ready for bed and also keeps you asleep.”

 

Why getting enough sleep is so important

Chances are you may know someone is a self-proclaimed ‘night owl’, or who only functions on four or five hours of sleep a night.

But is this a good thing in the long run? Sandro said no, and it can put people at risk of long-term health problems.

“We know that if you don’t get enough sleep it increases your risk of weight gain, heart disease and even diabetes, because there are so many processes going on in your brain and across your body [when you sleep],” he said.

“Every aspect of your body is affected by sleep, from your immune system through to your hormones, particularly cortisol which affects your stress level and is reduced during sleep.”

So, what is a good level of sleep to aim for? Sandro advised for adults it’s fairly simple.

“You need really at least 7, but 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night to get the full benefits for your body in the long term.”

 

Tips to getting good night’s sleep during coronavirus from VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio:

  • Get as much time outside as possible: try and take a phone call or video meeting outside, go for a walk or do some other form of exercise. Try not to wear sunglasses outside all the time, so your eyes receive some natural light.

  • Stick to a routine: avoid mixing semi-regular naps during the day with early and late bedtimes. Find a consistent routine that works for you.

  • Prepare your bedroom for sleep: make sure your room is dark enough and the temperature is not too hot. A room temperature of between 15 and 19 degrees is optimum for uninterrupted sleep.

  • Unplug before bed: minimise your screen time on electronic devices before going to bed and try to keep the hour before sleep as screen-free as possible. Reading a book or listening to the radio or a podcast will allow your brain to slow down before you sleep. Many smartphones have a ‘night mode’ setting which changes the colour of the light from the screen to not be as harsh on your eyes, but older phones or devices may not have this feature.

  • Avoid the afternoon coffee: coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant to the central nervous system which keeps us awake and alert. If you drink coffee or consume other products with caffeine in them later in the day, it may be harder for you to get to sleep. Instead have a healthy snack like a piece of fruit and a herbal tea instead. Eating delicious healthy meals and snacks throughout the day can really help.

  • Keep your bed for sleep only: remember we’re working from home, not living at work! Don’t fall into the trap of working from your bed, because your body will start to think that when you are in bed at night, it’s time for work.

So if you’re struggling to sleep or your sleep pattern isn’t what it used to be pre-coronavirus, maybe it’s time to try something different. A new sleep routine or habits throughout your daily routine may leave you better prepared when your head hits the pillow.

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The US National Sleep Foundation supports this, suggesting that adults over the age of 18 need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night.

VicHealth’s report ‘Sleep and mental wellbeing: Exploring the links’ explores the length and quality of sleep, particularly in adolescents.