Sleep problems continue to haunt many Americans in the age of coronavirus

Start enjoying natural, sound sleep night-after-night

The coronavirus pandemic changed many of our lives…physically, emotionally, and mentally. Even now, as we’re getting back to “normal”, there are still remnants and repercussions from a year of lockdowns, economic uncertainty, and extreme stress—and there will be for a long time to come.

Take our sleep habits, for example. Americans didn’t sleep particularly well before the pandemic. And now, new research shows we’re sleeping even less.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), before the pandemic, more than one-third of U.S. adults routinely got less than the seven hours of sleep each night that’s considered the minimum amount for optimum health.1

Then, in March and April 2020—just as the pandemic panic was getting into full uproar—two new surveys of nearly 3,500 adults in the U.S. and around the world found that all respondents had substantial changes to their sleep patterns.2

At first, the survey respondents reported they were sleeping more (about 30 minutes extra per night). But there was a 10 percent decrease in continuous sleep without interruptions (the healthiest type of sleep).

But sleep patterns got worse as the pandemic continued. The respondents reported an average 7 percent increase in nights with fewer than seven hours of sleep.

Even worse, a growing number of people turned to sleeping pills for their nighttime woes—even though numerous studies have shown these drugs to be dangerous and ineffective (including a new report that I’ll discuss in a moment).

In fact, the researchers concluded that the coronavirus pandemic has increased sleep problems and the use of (useless) sleeping pills most significantly among women, people who have been financially impacted, and healthcare professionals.

This is especially concerning because, as I’ve written before, chronic lack of sleep leads to a whole host of health problems…

Poor sleep leads to poor health

Along with attention and memory loss, accidents, and poor work performance, poor sleep is a key factor in chronic diseases like obesity, dementia, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and more.

Plus, as you would expect, poor sleep is especially damaging for your brain.

A new study, which followed nearly 8,000 men and women for 25 years, found that people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who routinely slept less than six hours each night had a whopping 30 percent increase in dementia risk compared with those who slept seven hours each night.2

Interestingly, this was even the case for people with other dementia risk factors like lack of exercise, low fruit and vegetable consumption, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, or depression.

Meaning that sleep is one of the single biggest determinants of whether you’ll get dementia later in life.

The good news is, there are simple, natural, effective steps you can take to improve the duration and quality of your sleep…starting TODAY.

My six natural sleep solutions

Here are my top six sleep solutions. You can try them individually, or for optimal success, try combining them…

1.) Skip the dangerous sleep drugs. As I mentioned earlier, more people turned to sleeping pills during the pandemic. But research shows these pills don’t help you sleep better over the long-term.

A new study of women with an average age of 50 years measured sleep disturbances over two years.4 The study included 238 women who used benzodiazepine medications for insomnia and 447 women who didn’t take these drugs. (Common benzodiazepines include Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin.)

After one year, there was no difference in the rate of sleep disturbances—which the researchers defined as difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakening, and waking up early—between those who took prescription meds and those who didn’t. Even after two years, there were no statistically significant reductions in sleep disturbances among the two groups.

The researchers noted that 9 million U.S. adults use prescription drugs to help them sleep. But, based on their study, they concluded that the “effectiveness of long-term sleep medication use should be re-examined.”

And I agree. Not only are sleep medications ineffective, but they can lead to a dangerous cycle of drug dependency.

Plus, many sleeping pills can interfere with the conversion of short-term memories to long-term memories. So while you may enjoy more sleep…you may not remember it.

Of course, this study applied to women, but I suspect men would see similar results. So, rather than relying on drugs, I suggest adopting five other daily routines to help improve your sleep…

2.) Set the mood for sleep. Think of the evening as your time to relax and destress—both mentally and physically.

As the sun starts to set, I advise dimming the lights. Turn them on only when you’re moving about, for safety, or for specific tasks like reading. The lowered light will help prompt your body to start converting serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter produced when exposed to natural sunlight during the day) into melatonin, which helps you sleep.

You should also turn off all electronic screens—including the television, computer, phone, and e-book reading contraptions. The blue light emitted from these devices actually impairs the release of melatonin. It also keeps your mind running.

Instead, train your mind and body to prepare for sleep with some healthy, restful, low-tech practices. For example, take a bath; listen to music; read a physical book, magazine, or newspaper; practice mindfulness meditation; drink a cup of herbal tea; or just sit out on the porch, listening to the sounds of Nature and allowing your mind to wander for a while.

3.) Be mindful about your exercise regimen. Strenuous exercise (or “excess-ercise,” as I call it) puts your body on “high alert” by increasing blood flow, body temperature, and mental stimulation. In effect, it keeps your “engine running” for up to six hours and can interfere with sleep.

Science shows you only need to engage in 140 to 150 minutes of light-to-moderate activity per week to support your overall health and longevity. And walking, hiking, swimming, housework, and yardwork all count toward your weekly total!

These light, enjoyable activities won’t interfere with getting restful sleep at night, so you can engage in them whenever you’re feeling up for it.

4.) Limit daily napping or “sleeping in.” Establishing a regular pattern of sleeping and waking helps your body adhere to its natural circadian rhythm, which signals when it’s time to sleep, eat, and carry out other key body functions.

But research shows that as you get older, your circadian rhythm becomes less reliable. So it’s even more important stick to a regular sleep schedule as you age.

That means reconsidering naps or “sleeping in” on weekends. I know this can be difficult if you have insomnia, but resisting an afternoon nap helps encourage restful sleep—and sleepiness—at nighttime…helping you to restore your natural circadian rhythm.

5.) Practice mind-body approaches. Relaxation and stress-reduction approaches like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help you fall asleep at night.

To find the right mind-body techniques that will work best for you, check out my books, Your Emotional Type and Overcoming Acute and Chronic Pain: Keys to Treatment Based on Your Emotional Type. (Both can be found under the “books” tab of my website, www.DrMicozzi.com.)

6.) Get scent-sational sleep. Science shows many people experience significant improvements in sleep and relaxation by inhaling essential plant oils (the same kinds of oils used to make perfumes). This practice, known as aromatherapy, has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years to treat various ailments…and it’s finally getting the attention it deserves from mainstream medicine.

Studies show the plant compounds in essential oils directly link to the sleep centers in the brain. Consequently, they have significant benefits for relaxation, stress reduction, and sleep—especially among older people and people with chronic medical conditions.

To attain these benefits, simply apply the oils to your skin (around your nose, chin, jaw, earlobes, and inner wrists), where they’ll be absorbed, enter your bloodstream, and travel to your brain. You can also inhale them from application on the skin, or through a mist diffuser—where the scents travel into your upper nasal passages, which connect directly into the olfactory centers of your brain.

While many essential oils can be used in aromatherapy, research shows the most effective sleep-inducing essential oils are:

  • Chamomile
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Limonene
  • Orange
  • Peppermint

I like to apply a carefully crafted combination of all of these oils, blended with vitamin E in organic coconut and eucalyptus oil, in one “easy-to-use” roll-on applicator, directly onto my skin shortly before, or right at bedtime. I also apply them later during the day to promote calmness and relaxation.

At the end of the day, we’re all struggling to reach a sense of normalcy again after a long, trying year. If you’re among the millions of people still experiencing sleep difficulties, you’re not alone. But you also don’t need to rely on pharmaceutical pills—or even special pillows. Just follow my six steps for safe and healthy sleep… and start to rest easy tonight and, hopefully, every night.

Sources:

1https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html

2“Escalation of sleep disturbances amid the COVID-19 pandemic: a cross-sectional international study.” J Clin Sleep Med. 2021 Jan 1;17(1):45-53.

3“Association of sleep duration in middle and old age with incidence of dementia.” Nat Commun 122289 (2021).

4“Prescription medications for sleep disturbances among midlife women during 2 years of follow-up: a SWAN retrospective cohort study.” BMJ Open. 2021 May 11;11(5):e045074.

5https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8718-sleep-apnea


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