By Jim Donovan


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A lot of people are losing sleep during this coronavirus pandemic. Certified sleep medicine specialist, Dr. Thanuja Hamilton, joined Eyewitness News to talk about how people can improve their sleeping schedule.

Dr. Hamilton is the medical director of sleep labs at Virtua in Mount Holly and Jefferson in Washington Township.

Credit: CBS3

Q: A lot of people right now, even if they don’t have a history of sleep problems, they may not be getting the rest they need. What do you advise your patients and others? 

For one thing, we are all experiencing a lot of stress right now and that’s normal but at some point, we have to turn off what is going on in the world. And that means shutting off the news because there is a lot of anxiety and racing thoughts. What I suggest if you’re having racing thoughts spend a little time, about 15 minutes, writing down the things that are going on in your head. It might be random thoughts, whatever it is you might come up with solutions, coping, you might write a to-do list. But it gets some of the box in your head and put them on paper — which can be helpful.

Q: A lot of people when they have issues sleeping, may go to the medicine cabinet from time to time, but this is a long, drawn-out stretch. Are there risks of people self-medicating for too long? 

Exactly. You know there are lots of options out there now, but remember some of them have side effects. If you find yourself taking a sleep aid every night, you will develop what’s called dependence. You will be dependent on a sleep aid, soon that starts to not be enough, you go up on that dose and you grow tolerance. So I would start with good old fashioned hygiene. Power down the electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bed. It allows your natural melatonin to be secreted. Set the stage for sleep, dim lighting, mood music. And have a bedtime ritual, I know you (Jim) like adult coloring books.

Q: People are stuck inside their homes, and some people aren’t leaving the house at all. Why is it important for people to get outside a little bit while practicing social distancing? 

You know Jim, it’s all about the sunlight. For one thing, sunlight helps our rhythm. It keeps us in sync. It perks us up, it wakes us up. It also provides vitamin D and that helps our immune system, which is so important to have strong and robust right now. And what I’m really concerned about is we’re going to see an increase of seasonal affective disorder, or the winter blues, in the spring because we’re all cooped up inside. We’ve got to get out, get sunlight to help our mood, our immune system, our energy, wear your sunscreen and if you can’t sit outside, sit by a window to get your sunlight.

Watch the video above for the full interview.