COVID -19 Series: Secondary Sleep Strategies
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May 25th , 2020
Secondary Snapshot
Sleep Strategies

Sleep Strategies
As we move to a gradual reentry into schools, sleep and schedules will become a more important issue. Many teachers and counsellors are hearing from families that youth are struggling with sleep patterns, and it is important to be aware of the consequences of disrupted, inconsistent or flipped sleep. The longer youth continue with unhealthy sleep patterns, the more entrenched the habits and consequences become; we know that diet, sleep and exercise are the foundations of health, and even more important during these turbulent times.   
Why is Sleep so Important?
Sleep is a critical biological process, and the truth is that it‘s always important. When confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, though, sleep becomes even more essential because of its wide-ranging benefits for physical and mental health. 

Sleep empowers an effective immune system. Solid nightly rest strengthens our body‘s defenses, and studies have even found that lack of sleep can make some vaccines less effective.
Sleep heightens brain function. Our mind works better when we get good sleep, contributing to complex thinking, learning, memory, and decision-making. For teens adapting to work and school at home, good sleep can help them stay sharp.
Sleep enhances mood. Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy level, and cause or worsen feelings of depression and/or anxiety.
Sleep improves mental health. Besides depression, studies have found that a lack of sleep is linked with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Factors Impacting Sleep:

Anxiety and Worry:

Worries abound in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, many people fear catching the coronavirus because they don‘t want to get sick or infect other people inadvertently. 

There‘s still so much unknown about this pandemic: how much the disease will spread, whether hospitals can manage a second wave, how long lockdowns will last, when the economy can recover — and such uncertainty often brings anxiety that disrupts sleep as a racing mind keeps the body tossing and turning.

Increased Screentime:

Whether it‘s checking the news on a phone, joining a Zoom with family, binge-watching Netflix, gaming online with friends, or putting in extra hours staring at a computer while learning from home, social distancing can mean a huge increase in screen time for youth.

Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help with sleep.

Stress Related Fatigue:

The chronic stress of living through a pandemic can lead to a host of physical symptoms, including persistent headaches, memory lapses, and digestive problems. Stress-related fatigue is another common side effect.

The Mayo Clinic defines fatigue as “a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces one's energy, motivation and concentration.” Even if a youth receives an adequate amount of sleep at night (8 - 10 hrs) , fatigue can still leave an individual feeling tired and unmotivated in the morning. 

Lack of Routine:

Circadian rhythms refer to the bodies natural sleep/wake pattern in a 24 hour period. Teens often maintain an unnatural pattern (waking up earlier than their body wants to) due to school and other social responsibilities. A lack of routine will probably shift most youth to a natural 11:00 pm - 8:00 am pattern, but social pressures (social media, gaming, etc), at night with no morning routines may shift their sleep patterns further.

Some youth further flip their routine to avoid daytime obligations or scrutiny over activities. It can also be a way to create 'space' during home isolation, by maintaining a different schedule than the rest of the family.

Diet and Exercise:

As reported later in the Snapshot, diet and exercise have a major impact on sleep. It may be difficult during the pandemic for teens to maintain their previous levels of physical activity and focus on healthy eating due to lack of access, low motivation, or disinterest. Of course, once sleep is disrupted or flipped, it becomes even more difficult to push through these obstacles. 
 Studies show that diet, exercise and sleep have a major impact on mental health and Harvard University posted a paper in 2018 stating, "studies suggest that a good night's sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability."

Tips to Improve Sleep:


Food and Drink:

Caffeine – Some people may be more sensitive to the awakening effects of caffeine than others, but all of us react to caffeine. Get to know how your body deals with caffeine. In general, it‘s a good idea to avoid caffeine within 6 to 8 hours of bedtime. 
Alcohol – Part of being a young person is learning how to use alcohol responsibly. Try not to consume alcohol within 3 to 4 hours of going to sleep. Alcohol might seem to relax you at first, but later in the night it can interfere with your sleep patterns.
Nicotine – Overall, it‘s not a good idea to smoke because of the harmful health effects caused by tobacco products. A common misperception is that smoking a cigarette helps to settle you down. Although nicotine can make some people feel calmer, it simultaneously tells your brain to stay awake. 

Sleep Environment:

Make your bedroom a good place for sleeping – dark and comfortable.

Make sure it is not too warm; people sleep better in cooler spaces.

Keep your bed as the place you sleep. Don‘t use it for doing homework, talking on the phone, texting, or watching videos and TV.
You want to help your brain link being in bed with sleeping; that makes it easier to fall asleep when you are ready.

Keep electronic gadgets out of your bedroom when it‘s time to sleep. Remove your phone, your iPad, your computer, and any other screens from your room at bedtime. If you must keep them in your bedroom, disconnect them so that they don‘t interrupt you when you are ready to sleep. 
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Bedtime Routines:

Have a regular bedtime. This sets your body‘s inner clock for sleep. Identify your circadian rhythms – the hours when you sleep best.

Most teenagers‘ brains naturally want to go to sleep between 10 p.m. and midnight. Experiment, but remember not to trick your brain into staying awake by watching TV, working on your computer, or talking to your friends at those times. This kind of activity can over-ride your natural sleep tendency.
Have a pre-bedtime routine that calms you down and prepares you for sleep each night. Don‘t spend that time getting ready for the next day, as that will wake you up. Avoid looking at bright screens (such as cell phones, tablets, laptops, TVs) close to when you try to sleep, as the brightness wakes up your brain. Make your electronic devices a no-go zone for the last half-hour before bed. 

Falling Asleep:

Try to put worries and problems out of your mind. Imagine something relaxing and pleasant – a purring cat, the sound of the ocean, a hike you enjoy, etc. If counting sheep works, do it!

Keep a pen and paper by your bed and jot down anything that’s nagging at you. With the note there to read the next day, your mind may feel freer to relax.
Use a sleep diary to monitor patterns in sleep schedule.  Try to keep routines consistent.

It is not recommended that you use herbal remedies, such as valerian, kava-kava, or melatonin. This is because good scientific evidence doesn’t yet exist to suggest that they help with sleep when they are used regularly.
Additionally, they can have side effects of their own (for example, kava-kava can damage the liver), they can interact with medications that your doctor has prescribed to you, they can be expensive, and the product you buy may not contain pure herbal compounds.
We also do not recommend that you regularly take prescription medication to help you sleep. If your doctor suggests you take some medication to help you sleep, make sure you understand the risks and benefits of doing so. 
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Box Breathing:

Box breathing or progressive muscle relaxation can help people relax. You can do these lying in bed. Box Breathing can help your heart rate return to normal, which helps you to relax.

Here’s how you do it:

1) Close your eyes and inhale (preferably through your nose) for 4 seconds.

2) Hold your breath for 4 more seconds. You’re not trying to deprive yourself of air; you’re just giving the air a few seconds to fill your lungs.

3) Exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.

4) Pause for 4 seconds (without speaking) before breathing in again.

Repeat this process as many times as you can. Even 30 seconds of deep breathing will help you feel more relaxed. 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation helps to get rid of the tense feelings in your body.

Here’s how you do it:

Starting with your toes, clench your muscles really tightly for 5 seconds. Then let go gradually (over the course of about 15 seconds), breathing slowly and concentrating on the feeling in your toes.

Then do the same thing with your entire foot.

When that’s complete, move on to your calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and face.

By the time you’ve relaxed all the muscles in your body, you may find it much easier to fall asleep.

Try not to look at the clock. Place it somewhere that you can’t see easily from bed, or turn it to face the wall, if necessary. 
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Apps to Help with Sleep
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Sleep Cycle App:

Sleep Cycle is an app that monitors how the user sleeps and  provides strategies to support healthy wake patterns. It tracks  sleep patterns and graphs sleep time and sleep quality.    It provides tips to optimize sleeping patterns  and stabilze circadian rhythms.   Plus, it has an alarm clock that gently wakes a youth up when they are in the lightest sleep phase so the individual will wake up feeling refreshed.  



Calm is a leading app for meditation and sleep. It helps users lower stress and anxiety, while providing a more restful sleep with guided meditations, Sleep Stories, breathing programs, masterclasses, and relaxing music. It has been consistently recommended by top psychologists, therapists, and mental health experts.  Calm is a mindfulness app appropriate for beginners, but also includes hundreds of programs for intermediate and advanced users.


The app, developed by Kelty Mental Health at BC Children's Hospital,  provides opportunities for users to try out a variety of mindfulness practices, while also teaching them interesting facts about the brain science behind those practices. For example, did you know that regularly practicing mindfulness can improve your relationships with others? Or that it has been shown to change parts of the brain that affect memory, empathy and stress?

Breathr was  listed as one of the best apps to support teens with positive sleep habits by the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep.   


Slumber offers a combination of experiences to help youth fall asleep, whether it's meditation focused, a six-part bedtime story series, or the sound of a warm jacuzzi. Users can also choose a background noise (like rain or the ocean) to play for up to 10 hours after the main track ends. New sleep-inducing stories and meditations are added each week, and many episodes are free or users can upgrade to the premium version.
Resources and Sources used in Snapshot:
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Click the button below for a comprehensive list of Community Services and their availability during the pandemic.

Learning Resources
The Ministry of Education site contains excellent information on learning at home and resources for families
The Greater Victoria School District provides learning opportunities for elementary, middle and secondary age students.
TedED - Parents can sign up for grade specific daily lessons on any subject imaginable.  Fun and engaging!
BCTF - Aboriginal Education Teaching Resources
Indigenous Educational Resources

  Learning Resources for Students with Complex Needs

Food Resources for Families 

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