Sleep is such an important part of life that it even has its own special day. World Sleep Day is an annual event that celebrates the benefits of good and healthy sleep and draws attention to the burden of sleep problems. Like everything else, sleep has also been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"COVID did a big number on our human experience," said Dr. Randall Wright, a neurologist who specializes in sleep disorders at Houston Methodist Hospital. "Our sleep patterns changed."
Wright told Anadolu Agency (AA) that during lockdowns and quarantines, especially in the early stages of the pandemic, people’s routines and habits went out the window because the majority of the world stayed at home, living with stress and anxiety.
"Insomnia was really one of the biggest, the highest number of cases that I saw over the pandemic year," he said. "Anxiety and stress can ... lead to insomnia, it’s actually one of the most common causes of insomnia.”
And between adults working from their living rooms and kitchens and children going to virtual school from their bedrooms and basements, Wright said sleep cycles were severely disrupted.
"We binge-watched a lot of movies over the pandemic, and so we were staying up later, and we weren’t respecting the boundaries because I haven’t had to wake up for traffic ... so I can just go ahead and stay up later and wake up later.”
Organizers are using the occasion to raise awareness about the importance of sleep during the pandemic.
This year’s theme is "Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World."
Wright said this is the perfect opportunity to emphasize getting a good night’s sleep, citing the alarming statistic: "30 to 35% of the American adult population suffer from chronic insomnia.”
That means one-third of all adults in the United States get less than 5-1/2 hours of sleep every night, due to either not being able to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night or not being able to fall back asleep once they wake up.
"Sleep really is an important part of our lives,” he said. "If we don’t sleep, we feel really, really bad.”
Pandemic or no pandemic, the world does not stop.
"We staff the mission control center 24/7,” said Mike Lammers, flight director at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Lammers told AA that NASA’s work is never done, whether it is the crew on the ground at mission control or astronauts in space manning multibillion-dollar projects like the International Space Station.
He said sleep is a must.
"There is a lot of detail work, attention to detail, and mental acuity is required for both astronauts and flight controllers in running through procedures and potentially responding to malfunctions on the spacecraft,” said Lammers
"Astronauts are required to sleep at least eight-and-a-half-hours each day,” added Paul Spana from Space Center Houston.
Spana points out that sleep is crucial for astronauts, who have an incredible amount of responsibility on their shoulders to not make any mistakes.
"In space, sleep is even more important because of the risks involved in their job,” he said. "They need to have a clear mind in order to focus on making lots of critical decisions while on a mission.”
Wright agreed, emphasizing that if we do not get enough sleep, "we can’t focus, and we can't concentrate, and we can’t think straight, we can’t perform.”
But he stressed that sleep alone will not make someone healthy.
He said the proper amount of sleep must work hand-in-hand with eating healthy, getting enough exercise and taking care of one’s mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.
"You’re going to sleep well if the other aspects of your life are in order,” said Wright.
A perfect example of the cocktail for success is Major League Baseball player, Randal Grichuk, who plays center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I would say the best sleep schedule to get the best rest for my body would be going to bed early and getting 8-plus hours of sleep,” Grichuk told AA via text message.
Grichuk is one of the world’s top professional athletes.
He tries to maintain the perfect balance of sleep, nutrition, exercise and living a stress-free life with his family.
"In the offseason, my wife and I make sure we get a good night’s rest and are well recovered for offseason training,” he said. "I also drink Skinny Girl Cherry Juice every night to help fall asleep quicker and recover better.”
Grichuk stressed the importance of getting a proper regimen of sleep.
"It 100-percent affects your game,” he said. "Recovery is the most important thing in-season, I would say. If you are well rested and recovered, your body will be physically ready to play at your top level each and every day.”
And with a sport like professional baseball, where every athlete is at the top of his game, Grichuk said sleep can make the difference between success and failure on the field.
"If athletes don’t get a good night’s rest or not enough hours of sleep, we can tell with our energy level and just the way our bodies feel sluggish.”
So, how much sleep should you get every day?
On average, Wright said those aged 10 to 18 should get at least eight hours per day. If you’re 20 to 30 years old, seven hours is a good number and for those 30 and older, you should get at least six hours every day.
"Sleep is just part of the human experience we have to have,” said Wright.
"If we didn’t sleep, we wouldn’t survive.”