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The Link Between COVID-19, Your Immune System and Your Sleep Schedule

October 06, 2020

There’s more to the change of seasons than the falling leaves and urge to pick pumpkins – there’s also a shift in your sleep patterns that you may be too drowsy to notice.

The challenge is trying to adjust your sleep cycle so you don’t suffer cognitively and emotionally as a result.

“An irregular sleep schedule makes it harder for your brain and body to rest properly,” said Dr. Brett Volpe, a sleep specialist at MidState Medical Center’s Sleep Care Center in Meriden.

The shifting light is a major reason our sleep changes at this time of year. When it gets dark earlier, the brain thinks it’s time to go to sleep. To stay alert even when it’s getting dark, or focus early in the day before it brightens, keep your work area well lit.

Temperature changes at this time of year also disrupt our sleep. The ideal sleep temperature is 65 degrees, but as outside temperatures drop, the heat kicks on and if it’s set too high – or you’re in an apartment with no control over the heat – your sleep rhythm might be affected. The easiest solution is to open a window a crack or use a fan.

Practicing good sleep hygiene is especially important this fall with the presence of COVID-19 to keep your immune system in optimal shape. A study of college students found that those getting fewer than six hours sleep each night were four times more likely to get sick.

Being well-rested also boosts your mental health and, according to recent research in the American Psychological Association’s Health Psychology journal, getting more sleep than normal can help you appreciate positive events more the next day and in the long run.

The study shows that:

  • People who have more sleep than usually are more likely to create opportunities to experience something positive, and derive more joy from such experiences.
  • Having more positive experiences improves overall health, including lowering levels of inflammation. When stress overtakes the positive emotions, people are at greater risk for health problems.
  • Sleep deficits impact brain function and the processing of emotions, leading to irritability, aggression, anxiety, depression and mood swings.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests adults get at least seven hours of sleep on most nights for optimal health. But, Dr. Volpe said, sleep quality matters as much as quantity, and suggested you assess how refreshed or alert you feel after sleeping to gauge quality.

If you skimp on slumber, napping can help you sneak in restorative sleep. The U.S. Army recently added napping recommendations to its health and fitness manual.

“When regular nighttime sleep is not possible due to mission requirements, soldiers can use short, infrequent naps to restore wakefulness and promote performance,” the manual states. “Soldiers might take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available. Use naps to achieve seven to eight hours of sleep every 24 hours. Naps will improve alertness and performance.”