If you are one of the many people who toss and turn nightly, then you are no stranger to how a sleepless night can affect the motivation, attitude and productivity of your day. However, the ramifications of poor sleep extend far beyond a cranky mood.

Sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune system. It is also a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health, helping to beat stress, depression and anxiety.

The Sleep Debt Created

The public health consequences from sleep disorders and sleepiness are staggering. The statistics from American Sleep Association reveal:

– 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder.

– 48% report snoring.

– 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day – at least once in the preceding month.

– Drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries an- nually in the United States.

– It is estimated that sleep deprivation costs the US over $400 billion a year with Japan losing $138 billion, Germany $60 billion, the UK $50 billion and Canada $21 billion.

World Sleep Day

Since 2008, the World Association of Sleep Medicine has been the driver of awareness advocating quality sleep health. The goal is to highlight the burden of sleep problems and their medical, educational and social aspects, and to promote the prevention and management of Sleep Disorders. Thus, World Sleep Day is observed annually on the Friday before the March Equinox and the theme this year is ‘Regular Sleep, Healthy Future’.

Studies have demonstrated that regular bedtimes and rise times are associated with developing a pattern of “Regular Sleep” in young, middle-aged adults and seniors. Regular sleepers have better mood, psychomotor performance and academic achievement.

Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention during the coronavirus pandemic.

Challenges to Sleep During a Pandemic

Millions of people suffered from insomnia before the coronavirus, and unfortunately, the pandemic created a host of new challenges even for people who previously had no sleeping problems.

Disruption of Daily Life

Social distancing, school closures, quarantines, working-from-home: all bring profound changes to normal routines for people of all ages and walks of life.

– It can be difficult to adjust to a new daily schedule or lack of a schedule.

– Keeping track of the time, and even the day, can be hard without typical time “anchors” like dropping children off at school, arriving at the office, attending recurring social events, or going to the gym.

– Being stuck at home, especially if there are low levels of natural light, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep, known as zeitgebers, which are crucial to our Circadian Rhythm.

– If you are not working now or your weekly hours have been decreased due to COVID-19, you may be tempted to oversleep each morning. Sleeping more than seven to eight hours per night can make waking up on time much more difficult, even if you use an alarm. Oversleepers may also feel groggy, irritable and unfocused throughout the day.

Work-from-home and Economic Stress

Keeping up with work-from-home obligations or managing a house full of children who are accustomed to being at school can pose real problems, generating stress and discord that have been shown to be barriers to sleep.

Economic concerns are affecting nearly everyone as well. As economic activity minimises and job losses mount, it’s normal to worry about income, savings and making ends meet.

Excess Screen Time

Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.

Obesity Contributes to Sleep Apnea

One in five adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea, and it afflicts more men than women, shares the American Sleep Association. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea in which weight on the upper chest and neck contributes to blocking the flow of air.

The relationship between sleep and heart failure is a two-way street.

A habitual snorer is at risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and increases his/her risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and also the risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke and abnormal heartbeats, atrial fibrillation and cardiac arrhythmias. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep increase blood pressure and put strain on the cardiovascular system.

Tips for a good night’s, heart healthy sleep regime

Creating consistent, regular habits and establishing a heart healthy sleep regime is crucial.

– Encourage sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.

– Try not to take naps after 3 pm and do not nap longer than 20 minutes.

– Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day.

– Avoid nicotine completely.

– Get regular exercise, but not within two to three hours of bedtime.

– Do not eat a heavy meal late in the day. A light snack before bedtime is okay.

– Make your bedroom comfortable, dark, quiet and not too warm or cold.

– Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep (for example, reading or listening to music). Turn off the television and other screens at least an hour before bedtime.

– Do not lie in bed awake. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, do something calming until you feel sleepy, like reading or listening to soft music.

– Talk with a doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping.