The dangers of bad sleep this pandemic

Published April 13, 2021, 12:24 PM

by Cheshire Que

Are you suffering from Coronasomnia?

Depressed man suffering from insomnia lying in bed

Having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep are characteristics of a common sleep disorder known as insomnia. According to the Sleep Foundation, it occurs in approximately 30 to 48 percent of the adult population. Stress, anxiety, mental problems, irregular sleep patterns, illnesses, medications, and lifestyle such as entertainment, exposure to electronic devices or screen time, caffeine intake, lack of exercise, lack of sun exposure, and even poor nutrition can cause insomnia.

When COVID-19 took the world by storm in 2019, sleep disturbance from psychological issues arose. People are worried about their health, finances, and what the future holds.  This unprecedented and major stressful life event is more than enough to disrupt daily lives, impair sleep, and mess up with the body’s biological clock or circadian rhythm. In addition, social confinement and isolation may also play a role in sleep disturbance.

Between Feb. 5 and 23, 2020, researcher Li-Yu Lin and colleagues gathered data through online questionnaires among 5461 individuals from China. The results of their study showed that the threat of COVID-19 had significant correlations with insomnia, depression, anxiety, and stress. Furthermore, a total of 1,129 participants or about 20 percent reportedly spent more than one hour awake in bed.

Coronasomnia is a coined term referring to COVID-19-related insomnia. According to Dr. Marishka Brown, program director for Sleep Disorders Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), “The pandemic has exacerbated sleeping difficulties.”

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Poor sleep largely disrupts our immune system, which is our first line of defense against illnesses and infections. It interferes with the disease fighting factors of our body due to the decrease in production of antibodies. The antibodies are proteins that attach or bind to viruses, bacteria, pathogens, and act as a signal for the immune system to respond accordingly.

During sleep, a protein called cytokine is likewise produced by the immune system. It is also produced whenever there is an infection. Sleep deprivation decreases its production thereby rendering your immunity less effective to ward off infections.

Moreover, altering the levels of Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) and Interleukin 6 (IL-6) which are both cytokines produced by the white blood cells, will cause an inflammatory reaction in the body that affects the heart, bones, and insulin sensitivity. Calcium clogs up the arteries, thereby impeding blood flow, increasing blood pressure and the risk of getting heart disease. This explains the correlation between insomnia and heart diseases, bone problems, and diabetes.

Sleep deprivation is also linked to cancer development. This is caused by the decrease in production of Natural Killer (NK) cells, which are also white blood cells that fight cancer cells in the body. Inadequate production of the sleep hormone melatonin is also associated with breast cancer.

Here are some ways on how to enhance your sleep.

  1. Avoid stimulants like caffeine containing beverages after 2 pm and alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
  2. Avoid anxiety provoking activities like reading the news, checking your finances, and paying bills, reading/watching stimulating and exciting content, arguments during bedtime.
  3. Avoid heavy meals for dinner.
  4. Have a downtime by taking a warm shower, setting a cooler room temperature, avoiding screen time and use of gadgets, dimming the lights at least one hour before bedtime.
  5. During bedtime, turn off all lights or use an eye mask. Total darkness is needed to produce ample amount of melatonin.
  6. Practice deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.
  7. Prayer and meditation during bedtime.
  8. Think of one to three things that you are grateful for despite your situation.
  9. Drink hawthorn, chamomile, chrysanthemum or lavender tea after dinner.
  10. Wear comfortable clothing.

“People who have sleep deficiency may have more trouble coping with the new way of living imposed by the pandemic and fighting off disease. Getting seven to nine hours of undisturbed sleep helps boost the immune system and it should be an important part of the daily routine, along with healthy eating, having regular physical activity, good sunlight exposure, good amount of water intake, and happiness/positive emotions,” said Dr. Blecenda M. Varona, a registered nutritionist dietitian who pioneered Lifestyle Medicine Program in the Philippines.

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