The COVID-19 virus pandemic – which started when a person consumed a bat at a wet market in Wuhan, China – has been spreading around the globe and killing thousands upon thousands of people. The majority of people in the world are practicing social isolation in an attempt to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of the Chinese virus.
Stress and isolation can lead to an inability to fall asleep – which can actually lower your immune systems’ ability to fight off infections.
How sleep deprivation weakens your immune system
A 2016 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that depriving yourself of adequate sleep, having a sleep disorder, or even just tossing and turning too much during the night was correlated with an increased chance of catching a cold or respiratory infection (coronavirus is a type of respiratory infection).
Approximately 50-70 million people in the United States either suffer from a sleep disorder or get insufficient sleep (less than 8 hours per night). That sleep loss can adversely affect the components of your immune system that are critical to hosting resistance to infectious diseases.
Study authors Aric Prather and Cindy Leung noted that short sleep duration and sleep disturbances increased susceptibility to an upper respiratory infection after exposed to an experimental viral challenge. The study found that there was an association between self-reported measures of sleep duration and the probability of getting a cold, influenza, pneumonia, and ear infections. We can presumably add Wuhan virus to that list.
Steps you can take to sleep better
The coronavirus pandemic is creating the perfect storm for another epidemic: sleep deprivation. The stress of watching the news can keep you anxiously tossing and turning all night. Going stir crazy from staying inside all day and sharing the same house and bed with your family can also increase your stress levels and keep you from getting high quality sleep.
The first thing you can do to make sure you get high quality sleep is to create a schedule and stick to it. This can be hard to do when you’re working from home and don’t have to be anywhere at a particular time, but if you don’t maintain a schedule you’ll mess with your circadian rhythm, which can cause all sorts of sleep disturbances and can reduce the total amount of time you spend asleep.
Exposing yourself to sunlight during the day is another great way to make sure that your circadian rhythm stays consistent. Humans evolved to sync their sleep schedule with the natural day and night cycle. Even though you may be quarantined and unable to leave your house, it’s important to expose yourself to sunlight during the day. That means open your blinds instead of leaving them closed. If you have a yard or porch you should try to step outside occasionally. If you can walk around your neighborhood while maintaining social distancing that’s even better.
If you never expose yourself to sunlight your body won’t know the difference between day and night and it can be much harder to fall asleep at the correct time.
You should also workout as much as possible. Being physically active is one of the easiest ways to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. You can’t go the gym during social isolation, but there are so many different ways you can do HIIT and calisthenics at home. Every little bit helps.
These are challenging times. The good news is that we’re all in it together. If you’re having trouble sleeping, we recommend checking out our guide on how to sleep better. It breaks the process down into 12 simple steps you can follow that will dramatically improve the quality of your sleep.