Take care of your body, and it will take care of you. That’s especially good advice right now, as the global response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues to rapidly evolve. As you take steps to safeguard your health, chances are you’ve overlooked one simple, but very important habit. What is it? Sleep!
Yes, it’s a topic you’ve heard me preach before. But if you missed the memo, please don’t skip it now.
Here’s why: Research has shown that sleep keeps your immune system humming along as it should, and if you’re sleep deprived, you’re more susceptible to viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections. “When it comes to keeping your immune system in tip-top fighting shape, sleep should be a top priority,” says Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., of MohrResults.com. “While research has shown more sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, skimping on the quality and quantity of hours needed may seriously affect your immune system leaving you more susceptible to illness.”
Sleep isn’t only essential for your immunity. If the 24/7 news cycle is fueling your anxiety and feeding your fears, a good night’s rest could be crucial. Research in people who don’t sleep well found that they are more anxious and have twice the risk of developing depression. “When it comes to sleep and anxiety, it can be a case of the chicken and the egg,” says Kara Mohr, Ph.D., of MohrResults.com. “Anxiety, worry, and mental stress can all make it harder to fall and stay asleep at night, but consistent sleep deprivation can also create anxiety disorders.”
To stay well-rested, it’s important to not only get the recommended hours of sleep each night, but also set yourself up for high-quality Zzzs. For some, a regular nap is required. And, while that may sound “weak,” (according to a new CBS News poll, 1 in 5 Americans thinks napping is a sign of laziness), napping at work is actually a growing trend among some corporations. Whether that’s your company or not, let’s all help de-stigmatize naps because the goal is the same—rest, rest, and more rest. In fact, naps provide a powerful potential: the year that the Boston Red Sox built a nap room in their clubhouse happens to be the same year they won the World Series. Coincidence? You decide!
Athletic prowess isn’t the only benefit to being well-rested. Whether it’s via a nap or turning in for the night a little earlier, more sleep can help people feel more engaged and more creative in their nine-to-five-type work.
Whatever it is that’s fueling your worry or stealing your sleep, here are a few tips to employ to help you de-stress, sleep well, and stay well:
Skip the news before bed. Ideally, you’d shut it all off — T.V., cellphone, tablet, computer — about two hours before bedtime. That way the artificial light doesn’t hinder your natural sleep-wake cycle. And, you’re less likely to stoke your anxiety and worry right before you try to go to sleep.
Limit alcohol and stimulant consumption. Substances such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine have been shown to interfere with the quality of sleep, particularly the deep REM sleep your body needs to recharge. Instead of a late evening glass of wine, I drink a hot caffeine-free tea as part of my bedtime ritual.
Try aromatherapy. Certain scents, like lavender, have been found to help induce sleep. Other research suggests that lavender aromatherapy could also temper anxiety.
Focus on what’s within your control. For me, the news has always given me anxiety, so instead of allowing it to constantly buzz in the background, I intentionally seek out what I want to know and read. The rest of my focus right now is devoted to sleep, nutrition, exercise, etc. — all things I feel I can better control.
We can’t always control our environment, but by incorporating good sleep habits into your daily routine now, you can not only cope with stressors of today, but also set yourself up for long-term health benefits.
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