The coronavirus has gone on to impact human health in many other ways than its known symptoms. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 77% of American adults haven’t been sleeping as well. The root of America’s recent sleep issues has been linked back to the stress and anxiety that comes with social confinement and the scarcity of healthcare access. Although there are habits you can practice to achieve healthier sleep, sleep solutions via telemedicine have also proven to provide help for patients seeking treatment for sleep disorders. For health’s sake, it’s crucial Americans get better rest. The best way to do so is to understand how stress due to the pandemic correlates to sleep problems and insomnia.
How Sleep Works
When it comes to sleep, there are two cycles: the sleep cycle and the wake cycle. Humans enter the wake cycle in the morning and the sleep cycle in the evening. These cycles are regulated by two hormones: cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is known as the “stress” hormone, and melatonin is known as the “sleep” hormone.
Body chemistry also plays a major role in regulating rest cycles. A healthy wake cycle consists of high cortisol levels, low melatonin levels, higher blood pressure, and lower inflammation. This combination of chemistry is what helps us feel awake and alert in the morning.
On the other hand, a healthy sleep cycle consists of low cortisol levels, high melatonin levels, lower blood pressure, and higher inflammation. This combination of chemistry is what helps us feel tired and drowsy at night.
When our body chemistry is out of alignment, our sleep can get disrupted. For example, too much stress can raise cortisol levels. As a result, one can experience memory and focus issues, sleep problems, fatigue, and poor immune function. Experts predict that Americans will spend $52 billion on sleep aids and remedies in 2020 alone – could stress be the reason?
Does COVID-19 Cause Stress?
Before the pandemic, most Americans felt they got enough sleep. In fact, 65% of employed Americans, 60% of unemployed Americans, and 51% of those unable to work felt this way. However, COVID-19 has wrecked the economy and changed life for good.
Today, unemployment is at an all-time high, fewer people than ever are commuting to work, grocery shopping requires a mask, and are encouraged to avoid leaving our home unless it’s absolutely necessary. As a result, many feel fatigued, depressed, and anxious. These are all feelings that can raise cortisol levels, disrupting sleep, and wake cycles.
Why Sleep Is Important
At least 6 of the 10 leading causes of death in America have been linked to lack of sleep, so addressing methods to rebuild healthy sleep habits is crucial.
COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, meaning no one has been exposed to it prior to the pandemic. In other words, our immune systems are weak to COVID-19, making it extremely important to be in good physical health. Humans have three forms of immunity: active, passive, and innate.
Active immunity exposes the body to an antigen to generate a long-term adaptive immune response. Passive immunity provides antibodies from another source to provide immediate, short-term protection, and innate immunity is the body’s ability to defend against pathogens – even without active or passive immunity. Sleep helps build innate immunity – helping humans build natural defenses like coughing, tears, skin, hair, mucus, and stomach acid.
Sufficient sleep helps us build cytokines. Cytokines are proteins produced and released during sleep that regulate both innate and adaptive immune systems. However, insufficient sleep reduces our immune responses that target infection and inflammation.
Furthermore, sufficient sleep helps us produce white blood cells, which fight infection, control immune response, and create antibodies. White blood cells accumulate and fight off antigens trapped by lymphatic tissues during sleep.
Although cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol may improve immune function when delivered in short bursts. However, chronically high stress has the opposite effect. Cortisol is produced during sleep, which reduces the inflammatory response and triggers lower cytokine production.
Can Telemedicine Treat Sleep Problems?
Since the pandemic, many health services have gone remote. Meaning that Sleep telehealth uses technology, specifically audio and video, to assist patients seeking professional treatment for sleep disorders. Through sleep telemedicine, sleep specialists can monitor patients without the need for office visits.
For example, CPAP machines can be monitored remotely – even from the patient’s home. Patients can connect their machines to WI-Fi upon receiving. This way, sleep specialists can adjust settings and monitor the patient’s sleep habits. This is extremely helpful for patients with Sleep Apnea, Narcolepsy, Insomnia, Restless Legs Syndrome, and even REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.
In May 2020, the World Health Organization warned the novel coronavirus “may never go away.” Knowing that telehealth and telemedicine may provide permanent solutions for patients struggling to receive in-person care. Technological approaches to medicine and healthcare also benefit physicians. As a result, experts believe telehealth and telemedicine will continue to rise – even after COVID-19.
However, all sleep problems may not require the attention of professional care. There are several approaches people can take to improve the quality of sleep they receive, such as eliminating light when winding down for sleep and avoiding screens for at least 1 hour before bed. Sleep is important, so we feel our best. Continue reading for more information on the power of sleep in the infographic below.