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Is COVID-19 Affecting Your Sleep?

June 03, 2020

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping recently, you are not alone. According to neurologist and sleep specialist Suzanne Stevens, MD, many people are experiencing less brain stimulation and more negative thoughts due to COVID-19. She shares 5 tips to help you improve your quality of sleep during this uncertain time.

  1. Avoid watching stressful news in the evening.
  2. Do something that brings you happiness during the day and focus on those thoughts.
  3. Do not use alcohol as a sleep aid. It will cause your sleep to be interrupted once the alcohol has left your system.
  4. If you’re feeling tense while trying to fall asleep, try deep breathing or meditation. There are many apps and YouTube videos you can use as a reference for these exercises.
  5. Keep a consistent sleep schedule and get plenty of bright light throughout the day.

How do you reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 nightmares?

Suzanne Stevens, MD: The restlessness of sleep we're experiencing due to the worry, the negativity, can manifest itself in nightmares and bad dreams. What dreams do is they filter out your experiences during the daytime. We are much less stimulated right now than we are when we go to work and we interact with people and we get changes of scenery. We're not getting that right now.

So the brain has to find something to dream about, and if you're surrounded by negativity and worry all day, that's what's going to manifest in your dreams. And it can also come to the point where it reaches deep down into your memories and brings up some bad memories of childhood, because it's looking for a stimulus to process in a dream. And some people never have had bad dreams before, but this has really brought them out and are very disturbing and they can be very realistic, meaning that they are dreaming about the virus and what's happening in the world, or it can become symbolic in dreams.

The problem with sleep right now is we have much more negativity than positivity, and the brain really thrives on both positive and negative. And it thrives on stimulation during the day. The brain is just processing whatever we're putting into it and whatever we're watching on TV and whatever interactions we have with people during the daytime. So if you have a very nice interaction with family, you're more likely to have peace of mind and positive dreams. If you surround yourself with negativity all day, you're more likely to have dream disturbance and very disturbing dreams.

The way to improve your sleep and maybe lessen these dreams is to increase the positivity and lessen the negativity. One way to do that is to stop letting yourself be bombarded by news blasts. If you get these news blasts throughout the day on your phone, that's going to be what your dreams are going to reflect.

If you can balance that out with more positivity, it's going to help a lot. If you can set aside two different times during the day to catch up on the news, instead of thinking about it and seeing it and being bombarded by it all day long, that will allow you to compartmentalize that negative time during the day and fill the rest of the day with more positive and stimulating things that will improve your sleep.

Get better sleep

Losing sleep over an extended period of time can be detrimental to your health. If you’ve tried the tips Dr. Stevens recommended above and you’re still tossing and turning, we would encourage you to work with a doctor to find options that might work best for you.

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