Mind, Body & Sleep BLOG

Content published by the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine

Sleeping Well During Social Distancing

Target Audience:  Adults in the general public

Learning Objectives: 

  • Learn why good sleep is important during the pandemic.
  • Learn about the circadian rhythm and its effect on sleep.
  • Learn ways to strengthen the circadian rhythm to make sleep less vulnerable to disruption during self-quarantine and social distancing.

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the United States, Americans have been urged to stay at home to help reduce the spread of the virus.  For some, especially those who have lost work, staying at home can be an extreme hardship.  For others, it’s a bit easier.  But for all of us, almost overnight, there has been a significant change to our daily routine.  This change in routine, combined with stress from the uncertainty of our situation, can lead to poor sleep.  However, in this time when so much feels out of our control, there are things we can do to make our sleep less vulnerable to our new reality.

First, it is good to consider the importance of sleep.  With everything else to worry about, why think about our sleep at a time like this?  Good sleep feels relaxing and peaceful.  But beyond that, sleep influences our immune system.  Getting enough sleep is important since sleep deprivation makes us susceptible to infections.   Lack of sleep can also have a significant effect on mood.  In one study, researchers brought healthy young adults into a laboratory.  For one week, they were only allowed to sleep only five hours a night.  Over the week, these individuals showed increased tension, anxiety, confusion, and changes in mood.  At a time when we are facing stress, sleep can improve our mood and better equip us to handle new challenges. 

To consider ways to improve our sleep, it is helpful to understand one part of our sleep biology: the sleep wake circadian rhythm.  This biological rhythm is roughly a 24-hour rhythm (circadian translates to “about a day”).  It aligns closely with our day and night cycle.  The circadian rhythm regulates the timing of sleep and wakefulness.  Other bodily functions also have a circadian rhythm.  For example, body temperature, certain hormones, and the digestive system also vary on a 24-hour rhythm.  For the best sleep and health in general, we want a strong circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is our internal biological clock, but it is also influenced by our environment.  Daily routine, light exposure, and activity can all affect our sleep quality.  We can make changes in our behavior in these areas to enhance our sleep. 

Here are several suggestions to keep your sleep wake circadian rhythm strong: 

Wake up at a consistent time:  For those who are no longer working or are working at home, it may be tempting to turn off the alarm clock.  However, having a consistent wake-up time can ensure that your sleep wake circadian rhythm remains strong.   As sleep need builds across the day, you will feel sleepy in the evening when your sleep wake circadian rhythm is also dipping.  Going to bed when sleepy (when you feel like you’re about to nod off, as opposed to just having low energy) and maintaining a consistent rise time will help you determine the amount of sleep your body needs, and help establish a consistent bedtime. 

Pay attention to your evening light exposure:  Blue light from your phone and computer screens at night can shift your sleep wake circadian rhythm later.  This can result in difficulty falling asleep.  Use the night shift setting or blue blocker controls on all of your electronic screens in the evening.  Try making the last hour before bed technology-free.  This will also help you avoid any distress before bed from seeing the news. 

Routines can help:  Try to keep regular times for meals and have a regular bedtime routine to help wind down.  If it’s safe, spend some time each afternoon outdoors, and consider taking a walk. 

If you’re not getting enough sleep, consider getting more:  The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get at least seven hours or more of sleep every night.  For those who sleep well but haven’t been getting enough sleep due to a busy lifestyle, staying at home can provide the perfect opportunity to get a little more sleep.  If that is your goal, try to add in more sleep gradually and in small amounts.  Try going to bed a little earlier if you are sleepy, taking care to keep your sleep schedule consistent in the process.  Avoid long (>30 minutes) naps, which can weaken the circadian rhythm.

Self-quarantine and social distancing are new experiences for most of us.  Despite the difficulties we face, there are opportunities to create positive changes in our sleep and health that may remain even after the coronavirus pandemic has come and gone.


Asif N, Iqbal R, Nazir CF.  Human immune system during sleep. Am J Clin Exp Immunol, 2017; 6(6): 92-96.   

Dinges DF, Pack F, Williams K, Gillen KA, Powell JW, Ott GE, Aptowicz C, Pack AI.  Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night.  Sleep, 1997; 20(4): 267-277.

Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, Bliwise DL, Buxton OM, Buysse D, Dinges DF, Gangwisch J, Grandner MA, Kushida C, Malhotra RK, Martin JL, Patel SR, Quan SF, Tasali E. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep, 2015; 38(6): 843–844.


Cathy Loomis, PhD, DBSM
Outreach and Public Education Committee
Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine


Later School Start Times

“Mind, Body, Sleep” SBSM Blog Post January 2020 

California becomes the first state to officially promote later school start times and better sleep habits among teenage students. By July 1st, 2022, public middle schools will start no earlier than 8:00am, while high schools will start no earlier than 8:30am.  

The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine (SBSM) interviewed Julie Dahl, APRN, the president of the Minnesota Sleep Society. Julie explains the science behind the start school later movement in our podcast interview.  Click here to listen to the podcast.  Highlights from the interview are noted below. 

How many hours of sleep do teenagers need?

According to American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), it is recommended that “teenagers, 13 to 18 years of age, should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health and daytime alertness during the critical transition from childhood to adulthood.” 

Additionally, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7:00am to be the earliest wake-up time for teenagers. “7:00am for teenagers is like 4:00am for adults.”  

Julie points out that teenagers can be night owls by nature. It is quite normal for growing teens to want to sleep late and sleep more in the morning.  

What are some benefits for a later school start time?

During a 3-year research study, which involved over 9000 students from eight public high schools across three different states, researchers found the following results:

  1. Within the schools with a start time after 8:30am, 60% of students received over 8 hours of sleep per school night. 
  2. For teenagers getting more than 8 hours of sleep: Many reported decreased depression symptoms, less use of caffeine, and lower risk of using illegal substances.
  3. For teenagers with a school start time of 8:35am or later, academic performance outcomes and attendance rates were improved while tardiness was reduced.
  4. The rate of teen driver car accidents dropped significantly after the school start time shifted to a later time. 

Later school start times are also associated with improvements in sports performance, reduction in sports injuries, and reduced need for sleep on the weekends. 

What can parents and teenagers do to help optimize sleep?

Julie suggests that the practice of a later school start time should be combined with a sleep education program. She encourages parents and teenagers to watch for signs of lack of sleep, such as grumpiness, poor grades, and/or difficulty waking up in the morning. Parents may want to help their teen(s) make sure to allow enough time for sleep and arrange family priorities around sleep time. Julie encourages teens to “wind-down” both body and mind about 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.  

How can you find more resources and information about this topic?

Julie shares some great resources during our interview.   Click here to view these resources.  For parents, this FAQ sheet and the Evidence Summary section of the Minnesota Sleep Society Teen Sleep Loss Toolkit, may be useful. To advocate for later school start times in your area, visit Start School Later.  


 AASM website: https://aasm.org/california-governor-signs-school-start-time-bill-into-law/

Wahlstrom, K., Dretzke, B., Gordon, M., Peterson, K., Edwards, K., & Gdula, J. (2014). Examining the impact of later high school start times on the health and academic performance of high school students: a multi-site study.

National Sleep Foundation: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/school-start-time-and-sleep

Minnesota Sleep Society: https://www.mnsleep.net/

FAQ Sheet: https://www.mnsleep.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/FAQsBetterSleep.pdf

Evidence SUmmary: https://www.mnsleep.net/school-start-time-toolkit/why-improve-sleep-for-teenage-students/evidence-summary-from-the-mn-sleep-society-toolkit/

Sleep Loss Toolkit: https://www.mnsleep.net/school-start-time-toolkit/why-improve-sleep-for-teenage-students/

Start School Later: https://www.startschoollater.net/about-us.html 


Yishan Xu, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist (Mandarin & English)
Psychotherapy & Assessment Group Practice
Mind & Body Garden Psychology Inc

Thank you Julie Dahl, APRN for your time and contribution to this post.