COVID-19: Managing stress and sleep
By Lori Neeleman, PhD
Apr 8, 2020
Updated Jul 13, 2023
5 min read
The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant stress for individuals, families, and communities. In following recommendations to stay home as much as possible and other preventive protocols, many people are finding themselves without the structure of work and school that helps anchor a normal day and night routine. This lack of routine coupled with increased stress is a perfect storm for sleep problems.
Sleep is one of the most important health behaviors affecting immune function, mental and physical health, and quality of life. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend the follow sleep guidelines:
Biologically, stress and sleep don’t play well together. In times of stress and uncertainty it’s even more important to engage in strategies that can help to manage stress such as regular exercise, healthy meals, relaxation and mindfulness, self-care, and personal connections (within the COVID 19 guidelines for social distancing). Each of these health behaviors enhance how well you sleep.
In addition to a focus on healthy behaviors, here are some things you can do that can lead to better sleep.
Remember that in times of stress, sleep often becomes temporarily disrupted but will return to normal in time. If you’re experiencing a lot of distress about your sleep, talk with your medical or mental health provider.
To minimize the risk of transmission, the CDC has recommended that ill family members limit their contact with others by staying in a single, separate area of the home.
Talk with your medical provider about the cough and any other symptoms you have. In addition to contacting your medical provider, the CDC recommends using a humidifier at night, staying hydrated, and considering cough drops (but NOT for children younger than four). Ask your pharmacist — via appropriate distancing/isolation precautions — about over-the-counter remedies. Avoid going to bed with a cough drop in your mouth to avoid accidental choking if you fall asleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has some educational tips for CPAP users. If you suspect or it’s been confirmed you have COVID-19, it’s important to talk with your sleep medicine provider about continuing with CPAP. It’s possible that using CPAP could increase the risk of spreading the virus to those around you. Talk about this risk when you talk with your medical provider.