If the stress around the Coronavirus [Covid-19] is keeping you up at night, there are many options available to help you get the sleep your body needs to stay healthy.
The recent outbreak of Coronavirus [Covid-19] has left many of us with our Stress Switches on high and because so, many are loosing valuable sleep over the fears and concerns around the outbreak. The catch 22 is that sleep is one of the most important factors in maximizing immune health. Lack of sleep can lead to many long-term adverse effects on the body let alone a serious attack by a rampant virus causing harm. This is why it is so important to remain calm in times of distress and allow yourself to sleep well. Let’s discuss sleep so we can help you get more of it.
Sleep is the most important human function.
Just one night of poor sleep can create a negative mood, increase anxiety, and even lower IQ. Chronic sleep problems can cause mental disorders and even dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We know it’s so important and yet over half of American’s experience regular sleep difficulties. There are many reasons for this including artificial light, access to stimulating content 24/7, and a lack of exercise during the day. But you may be surprised that what you’ve been told about how to get sleep is often wrong and the sleep aids you’ve been recommended might actually be counterproductive. I’m going to dispel some myths about sleep for you and give you some solid advice on how to get your Zzzzzzs.
Technically speaking, what is sleep?
Technically, sleep is a state where the nervous system is relatively inactive and consciousness is suspended. Researchers know that humans need sleep, but we are still uncovering the mysteries of exactly why we sleep. We do know that sleep affects all of your body’s systems and is the most important component of all mental and physical functioning.
Why is sleep so important?
Dr. Bob Stickgold, Director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard, and I recently discussed sleep and its impact on memory, hormonal balance, immune system functioning. He mentioned that lack of sleep is an epidemic as most of us don’t get enough each night. This can add up to big problems in our daily lives. Even one night of missed sleep can lead to increased stress and depression, more mistakes at work, and even junk food cravings. Kids who lack sleep may even be misdiagnosed as having ADHD when they are simply tired.
Sleep affects your learning, memory, and information processing. Lack of or disruption of sleep patterns can produce psychiatric, behavioral, or neurological problems. Sleep occurs in 4 stages and involves two cycling processes, called rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, and non-rapid eye movement, or non-REM sleep. During REM sleep, one’s eyes move quickly back and forth or in various directions. REM sleep is critical for processing emotional information. REM sleep helps with memory consolidation, meaning memories are able to be appropriately processed and integrated into the brain’s memory systems (Stickgold, 2002) and allows for a change in neural activity that is not possible when we are awake (Spencer, 2013). REM sleep disruptions are even associated with bipolar disorder and insomnia (Atena et al., 2016). The course of sleep involves 4 stages, which cycle, varying between lighter to deeper stages of sleep. Approximately 75-80% consists of non-REM.
Our bodies have a system that helps to regulate our sleep and wake cycles, known as the circadian rhythm. This system works like a 24-hour clock, helping to regulate when to be awake or asleep and is largely affected by light.
The Center for Disease Control specifies that those who receive less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night on average develop greater risk for physical and mental health problems including cancer, arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, and anxiety. Sleep has a much bigger impact on overall health than one might think; which is why it is so important to maintain a balanced sleep schedule and practice good sleep habits.
Our bodies have a system responsible for producing stress hormones, called cortisol, which is created by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When sleep quality declines, this system becomes more reactive to stress and may be related to stress-associated mental disorders such as anxiety (Van Dalfsen & Markus, 2018). Dysregulation of the HPA system may also lead to mental conditions such as depression (Hoyt et al., 2016). Therefore, sleep may not just lead to fatigue or sleepiness during the day which may impact performance; but plays a critical role in the development or maintenance of mental and emotional functioning. We need sleep to keep us alert and operational during the day, but we also need sleep to keep our biological and neurological systems functioning in a healthy way.
Staring at a phone, tablet, or TV screen in the evening; which all emit blue light, suppresses melatonin release interfering with sleep cycles.
What are the common pitfalls for each category?
Our bodies have a system that helps to regulate our sleep and wake cycles, known as the circadian rhythm. This system works like a 24-hour clock, helping to regulate when to be awake or asleep and is largely affected by light. During the evening, when most people are preparing to go to sleep, blue light can get in the way of this process. How does blue light affect our sleep? Well, we need a natural body hormone called melatonin for sleep, which is released in our body when the sun beings to set and it becomes dark outside (Colton and Altebogt, 2006).
When we stare at a phone, tablet, or TV screen in the evening; which all emit blue light, the release of melatonin is suppressed, meaning less is released for sleep. It’s kind of like our body is interpreting the light as the sun still being outside shining; so, therefore, our body continues to try to keep us awake when we should be falling into a night of healthy, deep sleep. We can help some of these common barriers to sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene. This may consist of going to bed at the same time every night; so that our body easily recognizes when it is time to fall asleep and can produce the melatonin we need. It also helps to remove oneself from electronic devices during the evening, avoid caffeine, exercise, large meals, or alcohol before bed (CDC, 2016).
How you can use TouchPoints to help with each one.
The BLAST technology embedded within the stress-reducing wearable technology created by Dr. Serin called TouchPoints has been proven to significantly create feelings of relaxation and comfort (Amano & Toichi, 2016) and reduce feelings of stress by 62% and body arousal by 50% (Serin, Hageman, Kade, 2018). We also have evidence to suggest that TouchPoints also may affect cortisol levels, the hormone that is released when we experience elevated levels of stress. Why is this all-important for sleep? Well, when our bodies are in a hyper-aroused state from feeling anxious or stressed, this can interfere with our ability to enter a calm state, known as the “rest or digest” state, which is created by our parasympathetic nervous system. The sooner we can enter into a calm, relaxed state, hypothetically the easier it should be for us to move into a restful sleep stage or Stage 1 of sleep. In a few of our case studies where TouchPoints were used to help improve sleep, individuals reported quicker sleep onset and longer sleep duration.
TouchPoints can help with sleep by ensuring that our bodies are prepared and have the tools necessary to remain de-stressed and relaxed. Slower frequency sleep settings on the TouchPoints, meaning slower rhythmic back and forth vibrations, may help not only shorten the duration between laying down and falling asleep; but also improve how many hours of sleep someone can get each night.
Healthy Sleep Tips
- Try TouchPoints on the sleep setting for 5-10 minutes in pajama pockets, socks, or wrists, or hands just before bedtime to calm racing thoughts and to dim the body’s stress switch.
- Set a reminder on your smartphone for the same time each night to remind you to start preparing for sleep. Treat this as an important appointment. Remember nothing you are doing is important as a full-night’s sleep. Adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you tend to toss and turn before you fall asleep, make sure you add that amount of time into your calculation. So if you toss and turn for 30 minutes and wake up at 6 am, you’ll need to lay down for sleep at 10:30 pm at night to get a full 7 hours, not 11 pm.
- Create a positive sleep environment. Your room should be dark and temperature controlled with minimal distractions. Wear a sleep mask if you can’t get your room dark. If you live in a noisy place, use a white noise machine or wear earplugs to minimize distractions from sound. Clear any clutter in your room or reminders of work or anything stressful. Make sure your bed is comfortable and don’t sleep in clothing that is constricting or distracting.
- Don’t watch stressful TV or app content prior to bed. The last thing you do before sleep likely makes its way into your dreams so watching a murder mystery just before bed may increase the likelihood of nightmares and stress during the night.
- Create a soothing ritual prior to bed. Before you sleep is a great time for jotting down a few things in a gratitude journal or for reading inspiring content.
- Keep a journal next to your bed to write down any stressful “to-do” thoughts that are hard to get out of your mind. Remind yourself you can’t do anything while in bed so it’s OK to relax. Make a commitment to get whatever is on your mind done at the moment when it can be done and allow for relaxation. Remember you can’t sleep when you are stressed.
- Avoid artificial light a few hours before bedtime. This includes tablets, computers, smartphones, etc. Don’t forget that the overhead lighting also emits blue light. For most of us, this is a hard rule to follow. If you don’t want to give up the screens or lights, consider using amber-colored glasses before bedtime to help hormonal regulation and a proper sleep cycle. You can also buy orange coated lights that filter out the blue spectrum light that tricks your brain into thinking it’s daylight and disrupts the sleep preparation cycle.
- If kids disrupt your sleep by coming into your room due to their fear of the dark, put TouchPoints on them before bedtime and discuss their fears. Incentivize them for sleeping in their own rooms and reinforce the importance of everyone in the family getting adequate sleep.
- If your partner snores or tosses and turns and this wakes you up multiple times a night, consider sleeping in separate places if possible.
- If you sleep for 7-9 hours per night and still feel incredibly tired, consider consulting with a sleep specialist to see if you might have a diagnosable condition.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon hours if you can’t sleep but don’t feel stressed.
- Avoid heavy meals right before sleep
- Avoid vigorous exercise a few hours before sleep. Note that exercise during the day can help with sleep regulation that night so unless it’s medically contraindicated, exercise away and your sleep might spontaneously improve.
Altena, E., Micoulaud-Franchi, J.-A., Geoffroy, P.-A., Sanz-Arigita, E., Bioulac, S., & Philip, P. (2016). The bidirectional relation between emotional reactivity and sleep: From disruption to recovery. Behavioral Neuroscience, 130, 336–350. 10.1037/bne0000128
Center for Disease Control. (2014). Age-Adjusted percentage reporting chronic health conditions by sleep duration-behavioral risk factor surveillance system, United States, 2014. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
Cronin-Golomb, A. (2016). Great nature’s second course: Introduction to the special issue on the behavioral neuroscience of sleep. Behavioral Neuroscience, 130(3), 267-270. doi:10.1037/bne0000147
Hoyt, M. A., Bower, J. E., Irwin, M. R., Weierich, M. R., & Stanton, A. L. (2016). Sleep quality and depressive symptoms after prostate cancer: The mechanistic role of cortisol. Behavioral Neuroscience, 130, 351–356. 10.1037/bne0000107
Spencer, R. M.C. (2013). Neurophysiological basis of sleep’s function on memory and cognition. ISRN Physiology, 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/619319.
Stickgold, R. (2002). EMDR: A putative neurobiological mechanism of action. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(1), 61-75.
Van Dalfsen, J. H., & Markus, C. R. (2018). The influence of sleep on human hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity: A systematic review. Sleep Medical Review, 39. 187-194. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2017.10.00
Center for Disease Control. (2016). Tips for better sleep. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html
Colton, H. R., & Altevogt, B. M. (2006). Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation: An unmet public health problem. Washington DC: National Academies Press.