It’s been a hard year. We’ve been isolated, anxious, and sad. Many of us are worried about how we’re going to pay the rent and feed our families. All of us are concerned about keeping our loved ones healthy.
No wonder we’re losing sleep. But getting a good night’s sleep may be the most important thing we can do to get through this difficult time.
What does sleep do for your body?
Maybe it’s been a while, but you can still remember the feeling of a good night’s sleep. Your body and mind are refreshed. You feel calm and clear headed and ready to take on the challenges of a new day. But, sleep isn’t just about feeling good. While you’re asleep, your internal organs and processes are doing important work to keep you healthy.
Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at NIH, explains that “When we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less nightly sleep. Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood.”
Unfortunately, many of us are not getting healthy sleep right now. Some of us may even be suffering from sleep disorders. Sleep disorders are characterized by abnormal sleep patterns that interfere with physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Insomnia, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, and narcolepsy (falling asleep spontaneously) are all common types of sleep disorders.
The risks of not sleeping enough are far more than being tired during the day. Sleeplessness can affect your work, your education, and your risk of injury. People with sleep disorders are more vulnerable to a myriad of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, and obesity.
Lack of sleep can also affect your ability to fight off illnesses and your mental health, both of which are crucial during the pandemic.
How does sleep affect mental health?
Does anxiety cause sleep disorders or do sleep disorders cause anxiety? The answer to both questions is yes.
The same holds true for depression. In fact, doctors are less likely to diagnose depression in patients who don’t have complaints about sleep.
Mental health and sleep issues have a bidirectional relationship, meaning that poor sleep can contribute to the development of mental health issues and that having mental health issues makes a person more likely to develop sleep issues. This complicated relationship can make it difficult to know which came first, sleep issues or mental health problems.
One of the main reasons that sleep issues are so closely linked with mental health is because sleep disruptions can interfere with the function of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is the primary hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Regulating serotonin levels is a key element to treating anxiety and depression and may even help boost your immune system.
How does sleep affect your immune system?
One of the most important things you can do to avoid complications from COVID is to maintain a healthy immune system. But, if you’re not getting enough sleep, chances are your immune system won’t be as strong as it can be.
Studies show that people who don’t get quality or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
While you’re sleeping your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Cytokines signal to your immune system that it needs to do its job to fight off infection or inflammation. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body may not be producing enough of these protective cytokines, which leaves you much more susceptible to illness.
In addition to cytokines,the production of infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced when you don’t get enough sleep… all of which can hamper your ability to fight COVID or other illnesses.
What does air quality have to do with sleep?
Air quality affects everything about your health, including the quality and length of your sleep. While any pollutants can hamper your sleep, there are some that are more disruptive than others.
Allergens: A healthy sleep cycle consists of periods of deep breathing which can be disrupted by allergens such as ragweed, dust, and mold. Having a pet, especially one that sleeps in your bedroom, can cause even more pollutants in your air, increasing sleep disturbances.
Humidity: Both too much and too little moisture in the air can affect your sleep. High humidity makes it more difficult for moisture to evaporate off your body, which can make you hot and uncomfortable. High humidity also encourages mold growth, which can cause sleep disruptions. Dry air, on the other hand, can dry out your nasal passages, causing irritated throats and making you more susceptible to catching a cold… both of which can make it harder to sleep.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Cleaning products, scented items, and almost all of the products we use to build and maintain our homes release VOCs into the air. VOCs are a large group of chemicals that may or may not have an odor. Breathing in these pollutants while you sleep affects the central nervous system and can lead to respiratory problems including sleep apnea.
How can we improve the air quality in our bedrooms?
The truth is that the air quality of your entire home matters. But, since sleep is so essential and we spend about a third of our lives doing it, your bedroom air may be the most important to maintain. Here are some ways to improve both your air quality and your sleep.
Manage humidity: keeping your humidity level at about 50% year-round will help you get the best sleep possible. Depending on your location, this may mean using both a dehumidifier for the summer and a humidifier for the winter.
Create a pollution-free environment: Keeping your bedroom as free of toxins as possible will help improve your sleep. Remove scented products and, if possible, keep your computer, printer, and other electronics out of your bedroom. If you have pets, encourage them to sleep in a separate room to prevent dander and hair from accumulating.
Wash bedding frequently: Dead skin flakes, dander, and dust mites are constantly building up on your mattress, pillows, and linens. Reduce bedroom dust by vacuuming your mattress seasonally, and laundering your bedding regularly.
Use an air purifier that combines an activated carbon filter with a True HEPA filter: High-quality air purifiers with True HEPA filters eliminate up to 99.95% of particles down to .1 microns from your indoor air. Purifiers that contain activated carbon filters along with HEPA filters will remove gas and odors as well. Keeping your bedroom free of pollutants will improve your sleep, boost your mood, and strengthen your immune system to give your body the best possible protection against COVID.