Tips to help alleviate chronic sleep problems
There’s no question that our sleep has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. As it now continues into 2022, perhaps you've experienced stress-related insomnia or just not feeling well rested no matter how many hours of sleep you get.
Dr. B Tucker Woodson is the director of the Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin Sleep Disorders Program and professor and chief of the division of sleep medicine and sleep surgery at MCW. He notes that some of us have a predisposition to sleep problems, but when you account for any precipitating factors, like the ongoing pandemic, and perpetuation of any other poor sleep habits — this can easily add up to chronic sleep problems.
"Chronic loss of sleep affects health in a lot of different ways. Fundamentally, when we don't get good sleep we're tired. We just don't function as well, our behavior changes, it affects our mood, it affects our reaction time," Woodson explains. Chronic sleep loss also impacts our ability to handle infections, a growing concern as we now enter cold and flu season on top of rising COVID-19 cases.
Plus, now you add wintertime in Wisconsin and less daylight and you may be struggling even more to feel well-rested. However, Woodson says that people tend to get more sleep during the winter compared to other times of the year. "We keep up the same bedtime, but tend to stay in bed longer so they extend their sleep time, which makes a lot of sense. A lot of what controls sleep is this circadian clock in our brain—it's very, very sensitive to light," he explains.
Working remotely can also impact your daily routine, but working from home may not be messing with your circadian clock as much as you would expect, according to Woodson. As we have shifted from incandescent to LED lighting, "in many ways, our indoor light environments are much closer to daylight than they were in the past. So we're actually getting exposure to some of these wavelengths, which control the circadian rhythm," he says.
Our bodies aren't just sensitive to brightness of the light, but the wavelength of the light according to Woodson. The blue light in these wavelengths does impact our circadian clock — like those emitted from computer and phone screens.
If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, Woodson suggests trying to maintain these basic sleep hygiene habits:
- Avoid too much caffeine during the day and too much alcohol during the evening.
- Reduce screen time right before bed, especially if you're having chronic problems sleeping.
- Set up a regular bedtime and try not to vary those times too drastically between the weekdays and weekends.
- Make your bedroom a quiet, relaxing place and don't use it for work.
Woodson admits this has become more difficult with our home environments becoming our work environments over the past two years.
"That actually adds a lot of stress. Your brain recognizes that, and so it then makes your home environment from being more relaxing and makes it more stressful. So really, I think it'd be important to actually really dedicate the bedroom environment as being a place that's really key towards rest and relaxation and not being a place that's associated with work."