A sleep doctor explains the importance of diet, exercise, and nighttime routines in the midst of a global crisis.
woman in bed waking up with a headache
Credit: LittleBee80 / Getty Images

Let's face it: Stressful times often have a way of negatively impacting our sleep schedules. "We are in the middle of a global pandemic—quarantined at home reading and watching the news daily, week after week, with no definite end date in sight," says Dr. Gelb, DDS, MS and director of The Gelb Center in New York City. "The threat, anxiety, and fear of life right now are key ingredients for nightmares."

Fortunately, Dr. Gelb says there are several ways to calm your nerves before bedtime, so you can bypass nightmares and score a good night's sleep. "Remember, this is temporary and life will go on with a healthy support network and friends to share your fears and anxieties," he says. "We all have them right now—but our worry can move us into action if we follow a few simple steps." Dreaming of a night of uninterrupted sleep? We asked Dr. Gelb for advice on how to avoid nightmares in the first place, and here's what he had to share.

Set a sleep schedule you can follow.

Dr. Gelb says the first step to getting more restful sleep at night is to set a sleep schedule you can follow; it's also important to watch what you eat and drink throughout the day. "Have a regular sleep schedule, with a set wakeup time and bedtime that allows for at least eight hours of sleep," he says. "Don't have caffeine after 2 p.m. and eat earlier in the evening, no later than 7 p.m., and cut down on alcohol, too."

Go outside during the day.

A little sunshine and exercise can go a long way in combating nightmares and bettering your quality of sleep. "Try and get as much light as possible during the day with at least an hour outdoors in the sun," Dr. Gelb says. "Get out and walk or exercise during the day keeping your distance and wearing a mask as advised. Try and breathe through your nose with your lips shut. Your sleep will be improved with daily exercise."

Turn off the TV.

It might seem like a no-brainer, but Dr. Gelb says watching or reading the news before bed will only increase your chances of having a nightmare. "Unwind two hours before bedtime with no Corona-related television and no reading anything about the virus," he says. "Practice mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing during the day and again before bed; positive imagery is always helpful before drifting off to sleep."

Create a relaxing sleep environment.

Once you get into bed, Dr. Gelb says there are a couple of steps you can take to sleep more soundly in your room. "Cool the bedroom to 68 degrees or cooler and darken the shades," he says. "Prop yourself up with an extra pillow to avoid closure of the airway. Make sure your nose is clear before sleep by using Mute nasal stents, Breathe Right nasal strips, or saline nasal sprays."

Talk to someone.

If you've tried all of the above and still can't get a solid night of sleep, Dr. Gelb suggests reaching out to a friend or a professional for help. "Talk to someone about your fears or nightmares and try and imagine or rehearse a better outcome with them," he says. "If necessary, behavioral sleep therapists like Dr. Shelby Harris are doing time-limited telemedicine based cognitive behavioral therapy during this crisis."

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
May 7, 2020
Your article mentions nightmares. I use a blood pressure medication and have discovered that if I take it late in the evening I will definitelhy have nightmares. This happened to me years ago using cholesterol medication. So it might be worthwhile to check with your doctor to see if moving the time you take some of your medication to earlier in the evening is acceptable and perhaps solve the nightmare problem.