Pandemic causes widespread sleep disruptions: Experts explain how to get your sleep schedule back on track

Pandemic causes widespread sleep disruptions: Experts explain how to get your sleep schedule back on track

Natalie Morgan, sleep specialist, offers advice on how to get healthy, consistent, quality sleep. Disrupted lifestyles have led to disrupted sleep cycles during the pandemic, and that shift in sleep patterns can have negative effects on both health and mood, according to sleep experts.

Natalie Morgan, nurse practitioner with Christus Trinity Clinic sleep medicine, offered insight into the effects of disrupted sleep cycles, and offered tips to help improve sleep patterns for both children and adults.

“Most people would agree their sleep patterns have been disrupted due to a sudden change in lifestyle. Everybody’s story is different but if sleep patterns have been disrupted, it will affect focus, mood, memory, immunity and even appetite,” said Morgan.

Morgan said people may be sleeping in more or taking naps during the day where they used to not have the ability to do so. She recommended that people mentally note not only what time they are waking up, but also pay attention to how they wake up in the morning.

“When you have a regular morning routine, it affects overall sleep health. I’ve noticed with my clients that making sure they have a morning schedule helps them fall and stay asleep at night,” she said.

Morgan explained the importance of waking up and being exposed to natural light in the morning, as well as incorporating some form of physical movement to help the body shift from sleep mode to “awake” mode.

“Waking up right away in the morning, having the natural sunlight on the skin, and physical exercise help your body realize it’s time to wake up. It gets your blood flow and heart pumping faster,” said Morgan.

Additionally, the more active a person is during the day, the higher their “sleep drive” will be when they lay down to go to sleep at night, she explained.

Overall, the most important aspect of having a healthy sleep cycle is sticking to a consistent schedule.

“In the evening, both children and adults should have a regular bedtime routine. An hour before bed, shut off screens and partake in a calming activity like bedtime prayers, a bath, meditation or reading,” she said.

Although many people believe that watching TV before bed helps them fall asleep, falling asleep to an electronic sound inevitably affects the quality of sleep, said Morgan.

“There are blue lights in screens that affect our brains’ ability to produce melatonin, which naturally helps us get sleepy at night. Screens shut off that melatonin production and negatively affects the sleep you get,” she said.

Another common sleep inhibitor, Morgan explained, is consuming sugary foods before heading to bed.

“After consumption, the blood sugar spike gives added energy but a few hours later the dip in blood sugar could cause a sleeping person to wake up,” she said.

She additionally cautions people who are having difficulty sleeping at night against taking naps during the day. Although sleep recommendations vary by age, an adult should get seven and a half to eight hours of sleep each night, she said.

“That healthy number of hours asleep does include naps, but I would caution against recommending naps because they could increase sleep disruption at night. Limit naps, if you are struggling to sleep at night,” said Morgan.

According to Morgan, the pandemic may have improved sleep structure for some individuals.

“The pandemic may be a positive effect for some people. If people are more productive if their day starts at 9-10 o’ clock. If they can start day later and end the day later, that’s great. The important part is consistency. They may be more productive at home than they are normally,” she said.

For those working from home, Morgan recommended that they do not work in the bedroom, and stressed the importance of training the brain to view the bed as a place to relax and sleep, taking care to separate it from the work space.

If individuals have a set sleep and wake-up routine, are limiting naps during the day, limiting screen time before bed and refraining from eating sugary foods before sleeping yet still experiencing disruptions in sleep, Morgan recommends scheduling an appointment with a sleep specialist who can offer further recommendations or treatment plans based on the client’s specific needs.

In many cases, sleep experts will discuss lifestyle changes with their clients that fit their specific sleep struggles, and any further measures can be discussed depending on the severity of the clients case, she said.

A video visit is now legally considered the same as an office visit, which means they are available through insurance and medicine can be prescribed if necessary, she said.

“The best way to get in touch with a sleep specialist is through a direct call to the Christus sleep office, which can be reached by calling (903) 606-1664. You van also call (903) 606-DOCS which is available 24/7,” she said.

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