Initial days of the pandemic brought long spells of sleep for many people. The reason was obvious: institutes and offices were closed to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, which meant a break from the routine. As time passed and Coronavirus became the new normal in Pakistan, people started realizing the danger of losing their work.

By : Jamshed Arslan

Stress of losing job was in war with the risk of contracting the virus because Coronaviruses, like all-natural phenomena, are indifferent to our economic ideologies. We in Pakistan arguably preferred to keep a blind eye on the contagion outside educational institutes. The compromise between viral spread and economic realities may be important in a bigger scheme of things.. The least we can do at the moment is to boost our immune system against the virus. Immune system is a term collectively used for the tissues, organs, cells and their products that protect the body. One of the means of improving your body’s armed forces against COVID-19 is to sleep well and maintain body’s natural 24hr sleep-wake cycle, called circadian rhythm.

In this essay, I will first highlight how sleep improves your immunity and how this enhanced immunity can be helpful against Coronavirus. Then, I am going to shed some light on various techniques that can improve your quantity and quality of sleep.

Sleep enhances immunity against Coronavirus

Sleep is not a magic pill, but it sure does act like one. Sleep promotes the production of special types of proteins called cytokines that can make it easier for your body’s immune cells like T-cells to find and fight any potential culprit. The reason is that your body targets infections partly by producing certain types of cytokines. Several immunity-boosting cytokines are produced and released in your body during sleep. So, it is not a surprise that chronic sleep loss has even been found to make the flu vaccine less effective. This does not mean that you should sleep all the time. You need to strike a balance: too much sleep may not be advisable but too little sleep can surely wreck up your immune system.

The rise in temperature or fever is one of the defensive responses of the body against infection from viruses like Coronavirus or Influenza. Sleep deprivation weakens your immune system and increases the risk of infection. The cytokines produced in the cases of insomnia generally promote inflammation without counterbalancing anti-inflammatory cytokines. In other words, not only the metabolic functions to eradicate the Coronavirus are compromised by sleep loss, but the virus may find the bodily environment hospitable for continued growth and survival. Apart from the direct action on immunity via cytokines, optimal sleep improves your mood, brain function, energy and overall productivity throughout the day. All of this can prepares you to adequately deal with the challenge posed by the virus.

Improving quantity and quality of sleep

The stress related to uncertainty of the pandemic is understandable. The time spent on worrying about loss of control needs to be channeled into something you can control: self-care. In other words, the energy wasted on the fear and anxiety of the pandemic can be directed towards improving sleep. As far as quantity is concerned, an adult generally needs 6-8 hours of sleep each night. You can improve your quality of sleep during the pandemic by following these four simple tips:

1) Avoid information overload

First point to note is that information overload can elevate body’s arousal system, making you sleepless and vulnerable to contract the virus. What you need to know about the viral spread and precautions, you probably know it already. Do not bombard yourself with 24 hour news cycle. Remember, pandemic may not be over soon. So, you can’t perpetually stay awake to get “news updates” or “Covid education”!

2) Limit nightly screen time

The blue light from your cell phone may reduce or even stop the production of a sleep hormone called melatonin. If you are having trouble falling asleep, you need to mute or switch off your cell phones during the night, or at least stop looking at your phone while at bed.

3) Develop a routine for sleep and exercise

You need a daily structure to attain a nighttime sleep schedule. Long daytime napping during lockdown makes your nightly urge to sleep less predictable. Depressed mood and low energy increase long napping. To develop a routine and reduce your downtime, physical exercise can be extremely helpful. The need for making your bedroom more conducive to sleep by keeping the temperature a bit cool, or trying blackout shades and eye masks, cannot be ignored.

4) Stress management through mindful meditation

You may not control the circumstances around Coronavirus, but you can manage your response to the current situation. Mindful meditation has several varieties and some of them can teach you how to “not respond” to every thought that appears in your mind. You may choose to install high-quality apps (such as WakingUp or mindfulness app on your mobile and take advantage of meditation in order to improve sleep quality.

In sum,we are living in an unprecedented and unfortunate times. The unpredictability of our lives has increased, which has skyrocketed the stressfulness and sleep-related problems. Humanity may win this war against the highly contagious and potentially deadly pathogen, but for that, we need to sleep well, literally!

Jamshed Arslan, PhD
Assistant Professor
Barrett Hodgson University, Karachi

By Jamshed Arslan

Pharm D (gold medalist); PhD (Neuropharmacology)Skilled in basic and clinical research and scientific writing, with over a decade of teaching and research experience.