Contributed by: Rachana Arya
In the days after a coronavirus infection, a sizeable number of people notice that many sleep difficulties have emerged. While some people have trouble falling asleep, others wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. This type of pattern can result in waking up feeling tired, with grogginess that seems heavy to tackle.
The cost of sleeplessness
According to findings and clinical experiences, even a modestly reduced sleep after an illness can have dramatic health implications:
- Risk of diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease and hypertension
- Weakened immune function
- Memory issues
- Trouble thinking and concentrating
The aftermath of COVID-19
There are several factors that exacerbate the existing patterns of sleep disruptions. Covid survivors may not be preoccupied with pandemic-related concerns—at least not to the extent that might justify their failure to sleep in the first place. Rather, the surge in sleep disorders is often part of what’s been dubbed “long COVID” by the medical community, in which symptoms linger long after the virus has left a person. Termed COVID long-haulers, some symptoms that can disrupt the sleeping pattern in people post-virus are:
Self-care strategies for better sleep
It’s important to try to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep if you’re having trouble sleeping. This can include things like:
- Not eating heavy meals within two hours of going to bed
- Sticking to a consistent bedtime routine
- Not getting screens in the bedroom, such as a TV, tablet, or iPad
- Avoiding stimulants such as coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, or alcohol around four to five hours before sleep.
- Taking a warm shower (not hot) so as to help the body reach a temperature that’s ideal for rest.
- Refraining from stimulating activities such as exercise before bed.
- Making your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible, with a temperature that is neither too hot nor too cold.
- Playing gentle calming music and background sounds to induce sound slumber.
- Undertaking some deep breathing or mindfulness techniques before going to sleep.
- Avoiding psychologically stressful, stimulating activities—that can cause the body to secrete cortisol (the stress hormone), which is associated with increasing alertness.
- Keeping afternoon naps short (i.e. 30 minutes or less), or avoiding them altogether.
A sleep-inducing deep breathing exercise
Breathing from your abdomen rather than your chest will help you fall asleep by activating the calming reflex and lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.
- Lie down straight and close your eyes
- One hand should be on your chest, while the other should be on your stomach.
- Inhale deeply through your nose. Your hand should rise from your stomach. Your chest hand can move very little.
- Exhale as much air as you can through your mouth while squeezing your abdominal muscles. When you exhale, the hand on your stomach should move in, but the other hand should only slightly.
- Continue to inhale deeply through your nose and exhale deeply through your mouth. You should inhale deeply enough to cause your lower belly to rise and fall. Exhale slowly and steadily.
Lastly, seeking Professional help
If, after six weeks or so, you are still experiencing difficulty sleeping, you should contact your healthcare professional for more assistance.