Naz Beheshti Contributor ForbesWomen
In times of crisis, restless or even sleepless nights become a distinct possibility. We may lie
awake in bed worrying or have trouble turning off the constant stream of 24/7 news coverage. None
of this behavior is productive during any crisis, and less so amidst a health crisis.
The arrival of World Sleep Day at the end of a week that appeared to be a tipping point in the
current coronavirus pandemic is a timely reminder of the importance of restorative sleep. As people
scramble for supplies, try to figure out alternative work arrangements, and look after loved ones,
getting a good night’s sleep may not seem urgent. However, when trying to ward off a disease that
is far more likely to attack those with weakened immune systems, healthy sleep habits should be a
priority for all of us.
Sleep’s effect on the immune system
We have always known that good sleep was essential to general health. In recent years, however,
research has piled up showing that sleep is even more crucial than we thought.
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Summarizing that research in his book Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker asserts that sleep is the most
important in the “health trinity” of diet, exercise, and sleep—and that it is “the most glaring
omission in the contemporary health conversation.”In particular, Walker says, poor sleep
“demolishes” our immune system. which account for 31-55% of our sleep patterns. Chronic poor sleep,
the study concludes, virtually “shuts down”
elements of the immune response.
Even when given a vaccine, sleep-deprived people display a lower antibody response and
are more likely to contract a virus when exposed to it.
The CDC highlights the role of sleep in managing stress
On its web page for the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention devotes
considerable space to how to manage anxiety and stress during a public health crisis. In addition
to precautions such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing, we must also attend to our
emotional and psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately, sleep is often one of the first casualties of
such a crisis.
To counteract the debilitating effects of stress, the CDC recommends the following practices:
· Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19.
· Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Eat healthy, well- balanced
meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
· Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Try to do some other
activities you enjoy.
· Connect with others. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family
member. Maintain healthy relationships.
· Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.
Resources from the World Sleep Society
The World Sleep Day talking points provided by the World Sleep Society remind us that, even in the
best of times, modern society is not good at prioritizing healthy sleep. Poor sleep threatens the
health and quality of life for up to 45% of the world’s population.
Insomnia affects at least 30% of all adults. Moreover, although sleep disorders are preventable or
treatable, less than one-third of sufferers seek help.
Good quality sleep consists of three elements: duration, continuity, and depth. If your sleep is
lacking in one or more of these elements, your health will suffer. For example, you may be sleeping
for seven hours. But if your sleep is shallow and fragmented, you may still show symptoms of sleep
Healthy sleep requires a multi-pronged approach. Follow the 10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene forAdults.
When we fall into crisis mode, it is tempting to let good sleep and other healthy habits slide
until things return to normal. However, the fact is that we have no idea how long this “new normal”
will last. Now is the time to tend to our health and to the health of those around us. Practicing
good sleep habits will put us in a position to think more clearly about decisions that affect our
families, our businesses, and our communities.