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Good sleep more essential than ever during COVID-19

This Sleep Awareness Week, Austin Health’s sleep experts remind us all that sleep is integral to good health, particularly at times when we’re under stress.

Sleep researcher Dr. Maree Barnes says that sleep is important for our immune system to function well, as well as for making good decisions and managing stress.

“During sleep, the body manufactures and releases cytokines, which are proteins that help the body to fight infection. So if you don't have enough sleep or your sleep is of poor quality, you are less able to fight off the virus if you are exposed and you will take longer to recover,” says Maree.

Unfortunately though, she says that stress can also make it harder to sleep – and for those who are in isolation or working from home, there are more challenges.

“Our daily rhythms are set by many of the routine things that we do - what time we get up, when we eat, exercise and work commitments. If you are kept indoors and in isolation for a prolonged period, many of these routines could change, thus affecting your sleep,” she says.

So how can we get a good night’s sleep with all this stress and disruption?

Maree’s tips include:

  • Try to get up, eat meals, exercise, interact with other people (even if it’s online) and go to bed at the usual time you would each day
  • Make sure to get bright light soon after waking each morning
  • Keep day time and night time separate: do active things during the day and relaxing things at night, switch off screens an hour or two before bed, and keep your bedroom for sleeping.
  • Keep a good sleep routine – in the half hour before going to bed, follow the same routine every night. For example, put on your pyjamas, turn on the dishwasher, put out the dog, brush your teeth and then go to bed. “This helps the mind to start working towards going to bed. When the routine starts, your mind will know that it will be bedtime soon,” says Maree.

Head Scientist Tom Churchward agrees.

“It is important to recognise the substantial changes to our lifestyle and routines that working from home and isolation bring,” Tom says.

“Separate 'I am at work' time from 'I not at work time' by consciously deciding when you start and stop work. There will be intrusions from one to the other - and that's ok - but at least have that 'template' of which mode you are in so you can focus on being productive when at work and have a proper break from work at other times,” he says.

“Finally, balance brief checks of current news and advice (we all need to stay informed) with ample time out from looking at the news or social media and instead doing some things you enjoy at home.”