The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults over age 18 get more than seven hours of sleep a night as part of a strategy to achieve peak mental and physical performance.

But the stresses of COVID-19 may be impacting your sleep, so in this week’s health tip, we get advice from Keith Brazendale, a sleep and physical activity expert in the Department of Health Sciences.

While we all tend to focus on the actual hours of sleep we get, it’s important to remember that sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity. Poor quality sleep can increase your risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease while also negatively impacting your mood, concentration and memory.

So how to do you improve and maintain your sleep quality?

First, go to bed and rise at the same time every day.  Maintaining a consistent schedule helps to minimize “social jetlag,” which can occur when there are large differences in your sleep schedule between two nights. The most common example of this is having different bed and/or wake times on weeknights compared to weekends. Social jetlag interrupts your body’s circadian rhythm – its internal clock for all biological processes. Your goal should be to try and wake up naturally with no alarm at about the same time every day. The best way to do this is to stick to a consistent sleep schedule seven days a week.

Be aware of activities that may be affecting your sleep. Engaging in a lot of screen time before bed and exercising vigorously after 7 p.m. can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. So can consuming caffeinated drinks later in the day. And while drinking alcohol can make you sleepy, it can also cause sleep disruptions during the night.

Routine plays a huge role in the quality of your sleep. COVID-19 has brought enormous disruptions of our daily lives and schedules.  You may be experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety with a new “home” life that suddenly incorporates work and school/daycare schedules. These changes can significantly impact your sleep quality. So find ways to help you manage stress, such as physical activity in the earlier parts of the day, meditation, journaling and connecting with others.

We all need to practice self-care during this high-stress time. By paying attention to sleep quality in addition to sleep quantity, we can better care for ourselves.