Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Sleeping through the pandemic

by Barbra Danin

Most of us are all too familiar with the anguish of waking up in the middle of the night, struggling to fall back asleep and worrying about how we’ll manage the next day without our rest.  During the pandemic, we slept more and less:  working from home allowed many of us to turn off their alarm clocks and sleep in, but the stress many experienced made it restless, poor quality sleep. 


A great deal of research supports the CDC findings that sleep deprivation has many deleterious effects on our health, physiology and overall wellbeing and quality of life.  This includes fatigue, irritability, mood shifts, and difficulty with learning, concentration and memory.  Our immune system becomes compromised, our metabolism changes, and blood pressure can rise. 


Although the amount of necessary sleep varies from individual to individual, on average adults require a minimum of 7 hours of per night. Estimates show that 1 out of every 3 adults do not meet that minimum.  


There are many reasons why we struggle with getting enough sleep, including our work schedules, stress, a sleeping environment that is not conducive to deep rest (noisy, uncomfortable temperature), use of electronic devices prior to bedtime, alcohol use, and other things.  The effects of sleep deprivation underscore the importance of practicing behaviors that promote healthy sleep and help maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle


Many often resort to medication usage to address sleep issues; however, there are many non-medical strategies have been shown to be equally if not more effective in helping us fall asleep and stay asleep.


Some recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation include:

-  daily exercise

-  maximizing light exposure during the day

-  consistent mealtimes

-  avoiding food and alcohol intake 2–3 hours before bedtime

-  limiting caffeine intake

-  limiting tobacco use

-  engaging in relaxing routines before bed

-  avoiding screens before sleep

-  keeping electronic devices away from sleeping area

-  creating a sleeping environment that enhances sleep:

   (reduced light and noise, cool temperatures)

-  maintaining regular bedtimes and rise times, even on weekends

-  getting out of bed after trying unsuccessfully for 20 minutes to fall asleep

-  using a mouth guard to manage grinding, gnashing or teeth clenching


Various relaxation practices, including meditation, mindfulness training, breathing exercises, and guided imagery can help reduce tension. Audio recordings and sleep apps can also be effective. Other products that could improve sleep include: white noise machines, anti-snore devices, sleep trackers, wedge pillows, and other products. Alternative therapies that people have found helpful include acupuncture, acupressure, massage, melatonin, valerian root, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and Ayurvedic Medicine. Always check with a doctor before trying any new remedy. There may be adverse effects or interactions with medications.


Cognitive behavioral therapy: Known as CBT, this approach focuses on recognizing thought patterns that are interfering with relaxed sleep.  This therapy has shown positive outcomes in treating sleep disorders. 


If these measures do not help, consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended, especially if sleep deprivation is affecting the quality of life.


Barbra Danin, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Art Therapist, and Certified EMDR Therapist.  She provides individual, couples, and family therapy.  Her specialties include treating children with anxiety, trauma, and behavioral issues – and empowering parents with concrete tools for lasting change.  Learn more at https://theresiliencycenter.com/practitioner/barbradanin/ and www.barbradanin.com. Contact her at (314) 477-8585 or barbradanin@barbradanin.com.