Rest • 13 Apr 2020

Healthy Sleep in Times of Stress

By uci_admin

by Darlene Lee, ND, MSW, BCB

With the current health crisis around the world, our every day habits have been turned upside down. Some of us may be working from home, while others may be working longer hours in essential industries. Our children are home from school and we may be trying to provide structure, education and activities for them while trying to remain productive with our own work. Our bodies and minds are experiencing stress unlike anything most of us have ever experienced.

If you find that you have been having trouble falling asleep, or that your sleep is interrupted, or if you are waking up feeling less rested and feeling more tired, you are not alone. Disturbed sleep is a common response to stress. Luckily, there are ways to support yourself and improve your sleep, ensuring that you stay resilient and healthy during these unprecedented times.

Healthy sleep helps our brain maintain optimal functioning. It helps to consolidate learning and memory, inspires creativity, and most importantly, helps us to maintain emotional resilience to stress and challenges. In addition, it plays in important role in balancing our blood sugar, regulating our appetite, strengthening our immune system, and maintaining a healthy microbiome.

Here are some tips to for healthy sleep in times of stress:

  • Try to maintain consistent sleep and wake times. Our bodies like consistency – set your alarm clock to remind you it is almost time for sleep – maybe 1 hour before bedtime, to give you time to wrap up for the night and prepare for sleep
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. Turn everything that emits a light or sound off and consider turning the clock away from your bed if you have an alarm clock or keep your phone 3 feet away from where you rest your head. If you are sensitive to noise, consider investing in a white noise machine if you need to.
  • Avoid “screen time” 60 minutes before bed. Mobile phones, laptops, computer screens, tablets, and televisions emit blue light, which suppresses the production of the hormone melatonin in your brain, which is necessary for sleep. If you must look at screens before bed, there are options such as blue light filters and blue light blocking glasses that can help
  • Engage in relaxing activities before bed. For instance, take a warm bath before bed. Avoid watching or listening to the news close to bedtime, use one or more apps to help you with meditation, deep breathing, guided visualization, or simply to listen to sounds of nature
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. We all respond differently to caffeine, but it is safe to say that most of us would benefit from avoiding caffeine after lunch – this can not only improve sleep but also help decrease anxiety and tension throughout the day. Try herbal teas that are calming and relaxing instead.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening hours. While many people think of alcohol as relaxing, and helpful for sleep, the truth is that alcohol significantly reduces the quality of our sleep contributing to fragmented and interrupted sleep patterns and morning fatigue
  • Don’t take naps after 3pm. It reduces what scientists call “sleep drive” – the momentum our body needs towards sleep.
  • Get bright light in the morning, 20-30 minutes. The exposure to bright light serves to reinforce our patterns of sleep and wakefulness (our circadian rhythms), contributing to healthy sleep – if you can, step outside for a short walk and take in the morning light and air
  • If you find yourself unable to sleep, don’t spend more than 20 minutes trying. Get out of bed, do something calming and relaxing, and wait until you feel sleepy. Then get back into bed and try again. Staying in bed will cause more anxiety, which will make it even more difficult to sleep.

If you would like more support or if you believe there is other underlying causes which may be contributing to your sleep difficulty, consider scheduling a telemedicine consult with your SSIHI provider and let’s see if we can get you back to getting to sleeping well and more importantly feeling good.


Darley, C. (2017, March). Lecture titled “Living in Rhythm – Imperative to Health,” given as part of the Sleep Health and Disorders Class, Naturopathic Medicine doctoral program. San Diego, CA.

Walker, M. P. (2018). Why we sleep: unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. New York, NY: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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