Healthy sleep mat­ters more now than ever

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Emer­son M. Wick­wire

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, healthy sleep is vi­tal for op­ti­mal health and hu­man per­for­mance. Sleep im­pacts vir­tu­ally ev­ery func­tion in the body and brain. Poor sleep is a well-doc­u­mented risk fac­tor for po­ten­tially se­vere ad­verse health con­se­quences, in­clud­ing heart at­tack, stroke, di­a­betes, de­men­tia and pre­ma­ture death, as well as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, ad­dic­tion and post-trau­matic stress disorder (PTSD). By con­trast, healthy sleep pro­tects against dis­ease and en­hances qual­ity of life.

But today, liv­ing dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic is not a nor­mal cir­cum­stance. To be alive today is to in­hale a cer­tain kind of anx­ious un­cer­tainty. Work and fam­ily sched­ules have been up­ended, so­cial sup­port has been dra­mat­i­cally re­duced, and a great por­tion of wak­ing life is now spent in front of elec­tronic de­vices. Each of these ef­fects can worsen sleep.

De­spite these changes to our daily lives, healthy sleep mat­ters more now than ever. Mul­ti­ple stud­ies in the field of psy­choneu­roim­munol­ogy have demon­strated a link be­tween poor sleep and im­paired im­mune func­tion. Poor sleep has been shown to lessen the ef­fec­tive­ness of sev­eral vac­cines (in­clud­ing in­fluenza vac­cine), a crit­i­cal is­sue as we will one day likely rely on this im­por­tant pro­tec­tion from COVID-19.

In ad­di­tion to sup­port­ing im­mune func­tion, healthy sleep is a foun­da­tional pil­lar of our men­tal health and well­be­ing. Each night, healthy sleep clears our minds and lifts our moods. But when sleep goes wrong, con­se­quences can be dra­matic. As ev­i­dence, con­sider the im­pact of sleep among high­per­form­ing in­di­vid­u­als, our coura­geous men and women in uni­form.

Over the past two decades, the lon­gi­tu­di­nal Mil­len­nium Co­hort stud­ies have as­sessed symp­toms among over 200,000 ac­tive duty ser­vice mem­bers, vet­er­ans and re­servists. One of the most no­table find­ings has been that poor sleep prior to de­ploy­ment is a re­li­able pre­dic­tor of sub­se­quent men­tal health prob­lems in­clud­ing de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and PTSD. In fact, poor sleep prior to de­ploy­ment has been found to be the most com­mon symp­tom and strongly pre­dic­tive of sub­se­quent PTSD fol­low­ing de­ploy­ment.

Of course, life dur­ing COVID-19 is not mil­i­tary com­bat. No one is shoot­ing at us, and the world seems united in the fight against the virus. Even so, it is il­lus­tra­tive that mil­i­tary lead­ers rec­og­nize and sup­port healthy sleep as a core com­po­nent of phys­i­o­log­i­cal and psy

Each night, healthy sleep clears our minds and lifts our moods. But when sleep goes wrong, con­se­quences can be dra­matic.

cho­log­i­cal re­silience. In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing high qual­ity sleep medicine care and seek­ing to op­ti­mize sleep in the field, the Depart­ment of De­fense sup­ports a fo­cused pro­gram of sleep­related re­search, in­clud­ing our own re­search at the Univer­sity of Mary­land School of Medicine, to sup­port ser­vice mem­bers and vet­er­ans alike.

So, what lessons from sleep sci­ence can be ap­plied to en­hance self-care and re­silience dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic? First, sleep needs to be pri­or­i­tized, es­pe­cially dur­ing COVID-19. The restora­tive power of sleep is par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent dur­ing times of height­ened stress. Sec­ond, sleep should be pro­tected in time and space, with no day­time ac­tiv­i­ties such as elec­tron­ics, plan­ning, worry or work. Third, sleep can be en­joyed as a pleas­ant daily respite, a wel­come break from day­time con­cerns. Ad­di­tional sug­ges­tions for healthy sleep are listed be­low:

Al­low enough time for un­in­ter­rupted sleep. Adults need a min­i­mum of 7 to 8 hours of qual­ity sleep per day for op­ti­mal health and per­for­mance.

Main­tain a con­sis­tent sleep/wake sched­ule ev­ery day. Your in­ter­nal body clock thrives on con­sis­tency.

Es­tab­lish a sa­cred space for sleep. Your bed­room should be cool, dark, quiet and un­clut­tered.

De­velop a sooth­ing pre-sleep wind­down rit­ual. This rou­tine should in­clude sooth­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and be devoid of cues for day­time stress.

Re­duce elec­tronic de­vices and elim­i­nate elec­tronic de­vices one hour or more be­fore bed. Elec­tronic de­vices emit blue light, a pow­er­ful mela­tonin sup­pres­sant.

Choose news sources wisely. Me­dia pun­dits are paid very well to en­gage and en­rage. Seek in­for­ma­tion only from highly trusted sources, and block the rest.


The stress of the pan­demic is mak­ing it hard for many peo­ple to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep im­pacts vir­tu­ally ev­ery func­tion in the body and brain.

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