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How safe is it to use public bathrooms right now?

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A man installs caution tape in front of bathroom stalls with green doors. Experts say that washing your hands and maintaining social distancing are essential to pandemic toilet trips. | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

It’s complicated.

When Steven Soifer, a social work professor at the University of Mississippi, and his wife finally left social isolation for the first time since early March, they encountered a familiar problem: the call of nature. They first stopped by a Starbucks, but the franchise was taking drive-through orders only — the bathrooms were closed. Eventually, the couple came across a gas station, where one toilet seemed to be open.

“I walked in, and I had my face mask on and rubber gloves, so I figured, no problem at all,” explains Soifer, who also heads the American Restroom Association. “And so I lift up the toilet seat, and I realized: Oh my god, that touched the rubber gloves. So I’ve got a problem here.”

Soifer explained that he used his other, cleaner hand to open the door. He noticed the handle was made of stainless steel, which is not as antiviral as the copper fixtures you see in many bathrooms. But it’s virtually impossible to keep any bathroom completely sanitary, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

“So that there is an exact example of trying to navigate this out in public” Soifer added.

As states and localities move forward with allowing businesses to open up, more and more people will need to use public restrooms for the first time in months. But while a patron might be comfortable sitting down at a socially distanced, outdoor restaurant, bathrooms are another story. They’re rife with high-touch surfaces: doorknobs, toilet handles and seats, faucets, and paper towel dispensers. This, in addition to the fact that toilets themselves can possibly spew a plume of aerosol particles into the air with every flush.

So what do you do if you have to go and you’re not at home? Restaurants, parks, and other public spaces are now looking for ways to safely manage lavatories, trying everything from managing traffic flows with “bathroom monitors” to taping off urinals to installing pedals so people can open doors without touching knobs. Some public spaces are simply opting to keep their restrooms closed.

While these are all short-term solutions, they stand to shape how future public restrooms might change during and after this pandemic. But in the meantime, if you do decide to venture out, there are some very common-sense precautions you can take in the bathroom to keep yourself, and the next person in line, a bit safer.

Social distancing at the bathroom matters, even at your friend’s house

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the novel coronavirus primarily spreads when people are in close contact, like when you’re less than 6 feet away from others. That means that when you’re in a public or shared bathroom, your first worry should be to maintain social distancing.

“It can be harder to maintain physical distance when using public restrooms, especially in a crowded setting,” Susan Amirian, a research scientist at the Texas Policy Lab, told Recode. “Some facilities with public restrooms have taped off middle sinks or taken other measures to keep people from standing too close to each other.”

States that are beginning to reopen have this concern in mind. Health agencies’ guides for reopening encourage restaurants to monitor high-traffic areas like bathrooms and to make sure people don’t congregate too densely in those areas. To ensure social distancing, some restaurants have even turned to using staff as bathroom monitors or to taping up some urinals to prevent people from standing too close when peeing.

If you see these measures in effect, you should feel better about that public toilet option. The same principles apply for gatherings at people’s homes. If you’re the host, be mindful of some crowd control. After speaking to Marybeth Sexton, who studies infectious diseases at Emory University, the Los Angeles Times reports:

If someone goes into the house to use the restroom, let them go in alone. When they’re done, it’s critically important that they wash their hands really well. Then you’ll want to clean the restroom afterward.

Almost all household cleaners have indications that they kill coronavirus. As long as you clean surfaces and wash hands, you should be safe.

(You can read the CDC’s published guidelines for disinfecting these spaces here).

Inside the bathroom, take basic precautions, like washing your hands

Let’s repeat that point: When you use a public bathroom, the best thing someone can do is wash their hands thoroughly. Vox explains how best to do that. You should also avoid touching your face and try to keep your mask on.

Amesh Adalja, a scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, emphasizes that while surface transmission is possible, hand-washing is an essential way to stay safe and clean.

“If you’re washing your hands, you really don’t have that risk,” Adalja said. “So if you’re someone that washes your hands meticulously, any of the other stuff is going to be additive and probably a marginal value.”

Even if you’re diligent about hand-washing, there are other threat zones in every bathroom. You should also pay attention to the bathroom’s ventilation as well as frequently touched fixtures like door handles and contactless air dryers.

“Although your hands are probably clean after washing, you will still recirculate the air in the bathroom, and most bathrooms have poor air circulation,” warns Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow and epidemiologist at the Federation of American Scientists.

Consider using paper towels if they’re available. Researchers from the University of Leeds previously found that jet-air dryers could help spread aerosols that contaminate other surfaces and have warned that they shouldn’t be used in hospital restrooms. You might as well steer clear of them in public restrooms, too.

If you don’t have a choice, it’s not the end of the world. Adalja, the Johns Hopkins scholar, argues that the choice of paper towel versus hand dryer likely won’t have a significant impact on your chances of catching the coronavirus.

What about fecal transmission of Covid-19?

Don’t freak out. There is some evidence that the novel coronavirus can be found in poop, though the CDC says that it’s not clear that the virus has actually spread to other humans in that way. Even if it’s possible, the odds of actually catching the novel coronavirus through poop are likely extremely low. (Again, the best precautions a person can take are wearing a mask, not touching their face, washing their hands, and keeping their distance from others.)

“The main problem is the flushing, because unlike private homes that have lids, most public bathrooms only have a toilet seat and not the natural lid,” says Feigl-Ding. “We know that flushing is an aerosol-generating event.”

He explains that the result of an aerosol-generating event is sometimes called a “toilet plume.” A 2013 review of such plumes, which are caused by flushing, pointed to studies showing that “potentially infectious aerosols may be produced in substantial quantities” and that “aerosolization can continue through multiple flushes to expose subsequent toilet users.” The study did not make a conclusion regarding the actual transmission of illness through flushing and was not about the current coronavirus.

“Regardless of how likely it is that Covid-19 could be transmitted through fecal contamination,” Amirian said, “it’s always important to practice good hygiene in a public bathroom or even at home.”

(Side note: Even if the coronavirus can’t be transmitted to other people through poop, a startup called Biobot is working with health researchers to track the spread of Covid-19 by testing water collected from sewage systems.)

What we can learn from the coronavirus bathroom problem

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of bathrooms for not just our own cleanliness but also for public health more broadly. And it’s not just about convenience: Access to toilets is a human rights issue, especially for people who are homeless who can struggle to find lavatories, many of which are owned by private businesses, like Starbucks, and not maintained by the government.

“It’s a huge problem,” Soifer said.

Another challenge is while counties and states continue to open up, increased sanitation duties will inevitably fall on the workers of those establishments. For instance, in its guide to reopening its locations, McDonald’s has directed its franchisees to clean bathrooms every half hour in its restaurants. In order to clean bathrooms safely, Feigl-Ding says those workers should have access to tons of personal protective equipment, including protective goggles and N95 masks. Some McDonald’s workers say the company isn’t doing enough.

While these are short-term measures, the pandemic could actually change how we design bathrooms in the future.

“What we want to see in the long run are single-stall, gender-neutral, full-enclosed water closets,” argues Soifer, explaining that sinks could be available outside the area that houses the toilet, a set-up he says that’s already popular in Europe and parts of Asia.

Those changes could also come with increased interest in more separation between stalls, contactless dispensers for soap and paper towels, and improved ventilation. Some experts think that these bathrooms could clean themselves, perhaps using automated disinfectant sprays or blasts of UV light. This future sounds appealing as we’re all becoming hyper-aware of cleanliness in public places.

But for now, you’ll be safer if you maintain social distancing, wear a mask, avoid touching your face, and seriously, wash your hands.

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Why are liberals more afraid of the coronavirus than conservatives?

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President Donald Trump tours a Honeywell International Inc. factory producing N95 masks in Phoenix, Arizona. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Covid-19 and the complex politics of fear.

In recent years, there’s been an explosion of academic work on the psychological foundations of our politics. The basic theory goes like this: Some people are innately more suspicious of change, of outsiders, of novelty. That base orientation will nudge them toward living in the town where they grew up, eating the foods they know and love, worshipping in the church their parents attended. It will also nudge them toward political conservatism.

The reverse is true, too. Some people are naturally more oriented toward newness, toward diversity, toward disruption. That base orientation will push them to live in big cities, try exotic foods, travel widely, appreciate weird art, sample different spiritualities. It will also nudge them toward political liberalism.

In Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, John Alford, John Hibbing, and Kevin Smith summarize the evidence:

Numerous studies have linked these personality dimensions to differences in the mix of tastes and preferences that seem to reliably separate liberals and conservatives. People who score high on openness, for example, tend to like envelope-pushing music and abstract art. People who score high on conscientiousness are more likely to be organized, faithful, and loyal. One review of this large research literature finds these sorts of differences consistently cropping up across nearly 70 years of studies on personality research. The punch line, of course, is that this same literature also reports a consistent relationship between these dimensions of personality and political temperament. Those open to new experiences are not just hanging Jackson Pollock prints in disorganized bedrooms while listening to techno-pop reinterpretations of Bach by experimental jazz bands. They are also more likely to identify themselves as liberals.

Researchers have sliced, measured, and analyzed these psychologies through dozens of schemas. NYU’s Jon Haidt is known for moral foundations theory, which emphasizes the value structures underpinning our political beliefs. Political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler study “fixed” and “fluid” personalities. Michele Gelfand tracks “tight” and “loose” societies. Some scales measure “openness.” Others measure “authoritarianism.”

But all of them converge on the same psychosocial cleavage. Put simply, conservatives are psychologically tuned to see threat, and so they fear change. Liberals are tuned to prize change, and so they downplay threat.

“Liberalism and conservatism are rooted in stable individual differences in the ways people perceive, interpret, and cope with threat and uncertainty,” write Christopher Johnston, Howard Lavine, and Christopher Federico in Open versus Closed.

“Of the many factors that make up your worldview, one is more fundamental than any other in determining which side of the divide you gravitate toward: your perception of how dangerous the world is,” write Hetherington and Weiler in Prius or Pickup.

“Conservatives react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger, including the threat of germs and contamination, and even low-level threats such as sudden blasts of white noise,” writes Haidt in The Righteous Mind.

If that’s true, though, why is it conservatives who are downplaying the coronavirus, and liberals who are sheltering in fear of it?

How infectious disease shaped human psychology, politics, and culture

A virus isn’t just any threat, some researchers say. It is the threat at the root of these psychological cleavages.

Infectious disease has, historically, been humanity’s most lethal foe. Our immune systems have evolved to protect us, but so, too, have our cultures, societies, and psychologies. As Haidt writes, “It’s a lot more effective to prevent infection by washing your food, casting out lepers, or simply avoiding dirty people than it is to let the microbes into your body and then hope that your biological immune system can kill every last one of them.”

To some researchers, much of human civilization is a lightly disguised effort at pathogen avoidance: The purity laws of the Old Testament are, from this perspective, a spiritually branded public health campaign. Spicy foods are more common in pathogen-rich areas because they kill bacteria.

How a society treats strangers is of particular importance. Strangers carry novel pathogens, diseases to which you and your community have amassed no immunity. A mix of psychologies helps strike the right balance between being overrun by outsiders spreading infection and reaping the benefits of trade and cooperation.

Dozens of studies have confirmed the relationship between the rate of disease and political attitudes. For example, in a 2008 paper titled “Pathogens, Personality, and Culture,” Mark Schaller and Damian Murray showed that worldwide, people were less open, less extroverted, and more sexually conservative in regions rich with disease. In another study, Randy Thornhill, Cory Fincher, and Devaraj Aran found that a “high prevalence of infectious disease” regionally predicted more conservative political values. Gelfand has looked at US states and found the “tightest” political cultures are in the states “with the most disasters and pathogen prevalence.”

But here we are, in the midst of a pandemic, and it’s conservatives seemingly dismissing the danger, opening states and counties prematurely, refusing to wear masks, waving off the deaths of older people as a small price to pay. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” said President Trump.

And, more often, it seems to be liberals who’re locked in their homes, who are warning the worst is yet to come, who are shaming anyone who dares step foot on a beach or forgets to don personal protective equipment. A recent Pew poll showed 61 percent of conservatives fear that state restrictions won’t be lifted quickly enough, while 91 percent of liberals worry they’ll be lifted too quickly.

This is the opposite of what a straightforward read of decades of political psychology research would predict. Early in the pandemic, it was plausible to argue that the divide reflected the virus hitting blue cities first, and sparing red counties its punishments. But Covid-19 has made its way into Trump country, and at any rate, studies show that political beliefs are a more powerful driver of views on the virus than personal experience.

So I asked political psychology researchers: Why are liberals more afraid of the coronavirus than conservatives? And what does that say about political psychology more broadly?

Why aren’t conservatives more afraid of the coronavirus?

In conversations with more than half a dozen political psychologists, three theories dominated.

One is that we aren’t seeing anything unexpected at all. John Jost, at New York University, suggested that my reading of the reaction was mistaking its psychological foundations. Liberals were acting out of care, not fear. And conservatives are panicked, he suggested, but showing it in odd ways.

“The fact that liberals are taking the scientific evidence and medical recommendations seriously does not, in itself, mean that they are more threat sensitive than conservatives,” he wrote over email. “All of the liberals I know have been self-sequestering to ‘flatten the curve’ — to save other people’s lives.”

As for the right, “some conservatives are denying and repressing fear, but that doesn’t mean they are cool cucumbers. Fears of economic devastation (and the anger by conservative activists in Michigan and elsewhere) may even reflect displacement of the fear. For all we know, Americans who are explicitly denying the problem are experiencing (even) more stress and anxiety than those who are not.”

A second camp argued that the tension is real, but it was being swamped by partisanship. Perhaps, in laboratory conditions, conservatives would be more afraid of the virus. But politics doesn’t play out in laboratory conditions. Trump is the leader of the Republican Party, and his decision to downplay the threat, his dismissal of masks, and his clear desire to reopen is the stronger signal.

“Yes, I would expect conservatives to be more worried about virus X coming in from abroad,” said Haidt. “When Obama was president and America was threatened by Ebola, it was conservatives freaking out, demanding a more vigorous government response to protect us, while Obama kept steady on following scientific advice.”

Trump, it’s worth noting, was at the forefront of the Ebola panic. “Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting,” he tweeted in October 2014. “Spreading all over Africa — and fast. Stop flights.”

Here, though, it’s been the opposite. “Trump laid out his view of reality very early: This is nothing to worry about, it’s a plot to discredit me, and it will magically go away,” Haidt continued. Trump’s leadership “overwhelms the small average difference in disgust sensitivity which would, ceteris paribus, have Republicans more concerned about contagion.”

Federico made a similar point. “Chronic sensitivity to threat, disgust, and disease is one factor that should influence concern about Covid-19, [but] it is not the only one. Partisanship itself is perhaps the most important factor in shaping how people respond to issues or public concerns.”

Gelfand said much the same. “Even though groups tighten up under threat, that signal can be weakened. Groups follow their leaders.”

This would confirm what we’ve seen throughout the Trump presidency. A 2018 paper by Michael Barber and Jeremy Pope showed that the more conservative someone believed themselves to be, the more likely they were to follow Trump when he took an unexpectedly liberal position on an issue. Trump’s connection with his base has often, well, trumped his heterodoxies.

A third argument, which acts in some ways as a bridge for the first two, is that everyone was scared, but for conservatives, fear was coming out more through acts of xenophobia than epidemiology — in part because that’s where fear of the virus and Trump’s natural politics find harmony.

“I can’t resist noting that current events are perfectly consistent with my claim that those on the right, and especially the Trumpian right, are not generically more threatened but rather only more attentive to those threats they believe to be emanating from human outsiders (defined broadly to include welfare cheats, unpatriotic athletes, norm violators, non-English speakers, religious and racial minorities, and certainly people from other countries),” wrote Hibbing. “Thus, disembodied threats such as climate change, Covid-19, and economic inequality are not primary sources of concern for them.”

That would explain why Trump oscillates between downplaying the threat of the coronavirus and escalating tensions with China over its response to it. When Trump wants to bludgeon the Chinese, he plays up the threat of the virus; when it comes to domestic governance, he plays it down. More than 70 percent of Republicans now hold an “unfavorable” view of China, a doubling of anti-Chinese sentiment since George W. Bush’s presidency.

“In some ways, this pandemic was tailor-built for right-wing xenophobia, and we are fortunate (thus far, at least) that Trump’s response was to downplay it solely to keep the stock market from tanking completely,” said Jost.

And that “thus far” is ending quickly. “The National Republican Senatorial Committee has sent campaigns a detailed, 57-page memo authored by a top Republican strategist advising GOP candidates to address the coronavirus crisis by aggressively attacking China,” reported Politico, and Stephen Miller is using the coronavirus to push a broader anti-immigration agenda.

What political psychology can, and can’t, do

Here’s my view: Political psychology is like the soil in politics. There are differences in the liberal and conservative soil — particularly in how they view threat, change, tradition, outsiders, and diversity — so different kinds of politicians, tactics, and movements take root on the two sides.

Trump is, at his core, a suspicious, threat-oriented, traditionalist figure — he’s nostalgic for the way things were, hostile to outsiders, angry over demographic change (he’s even, in normal times, a germaphobe). There’s a reason he took root in conservative soil.

By contrast, former President Barack Obama is optimistic, cosmopolitan, and temperamentally progressive — he looks at change and sees hope, he looks at other countries and sees allies, he sees diversity as a strength. There’s a reason he took root in liberal soil.

But once a politician captures a party, other dynamics take over. For one thing, partisans trust their leaders and allied institutions. Very few of us have personally run experiments on the coronavirus, or gone around the world gathering surface temperature readings over the course of decades. We have to choose whom to believe, and once we do, we’re inclined to take their word when describing contested or faraway events.

For another, we all fall prey to motivated reasoning, in which we shape evidence, arguments, and values to align with our incentives. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Many Republican officeholders, led by Trump, think the coronavirus threatens their reelection because the lockdown threatens the economy. As such, they’re motivated to believe that reopening the economy sooner is better, and attracted to evidence and arguments that support that position. Sometimes that means downplaying the coronavirus. Sometimes that means accepting its risk but suggesting the costs of reopening are worth it. In both cases, the argument is working backward from the desired conclusion.

The political tragedy for the Republican Party, and the actual tragedy for America, is that the politics and the substance here should have been aligned. If Trump had taken the disease seriously from the outset and mounted a competent and consistent response, his approval ratings would be higher today, and the country would be in a better position to reopen safely, and sooner. As it is, Trump has been denied the polling bounce other governors and world leaders have seen, and he’s split his own coalition, forcing them to choose between their fear of the disease and their trust in him.

“The thing people often miss about moral foundations theory is that the foundations are just foundations,” says Haidt. “People don’t live in the foundation of their house. A house must be built upon those foundations. Moral and political entrepreneurs build structures, over time, and invite people to live in them.”

Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

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A sleep expert has some tips for your quarantine insomnia

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A person in a bed holds a pillow over their head. Many people are sleeping poorly during the pandemic. | Getty Images/EyeEm

Turn your bedroom into a “sleep sanctuary,” consider buying a white noise machine, and stop checking your phone before bed.

On a recent FaceTime call, my friend Jon told me that he hadn’t had a satisfyingly restful night of sleep since March, before the stay-at-home orders and the wave of coronavirus cases hit the US. He’s taken sleeping aids, exercised before bed, and listened to ASMR videos but to no avail; he couldn’t manage to turn his brain off until 2 or 3 am on most nights.

Jon isn’t alone in his sleeplessness. While many people have anecdotally reported having startlingly vivid dreams in quarantine, some are struggling with what feels like incurable insomnia, whether that manifests as difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep through the night, or waking up too early.

A survey of nearly 1,000 people by SleepHelp.org found that 22 percent of responders have had poorer quality sleep due to the pandemic, and a third said their sleep troubles stemmed from the news coverage they consumed. In China, health care workers were reportedly prone to sleeplessness and experienced feelings of depression, anxiousness, and stress-based trauma. The coronavirus, it seems, has conjured up “a perfect storm of sleep problems,” according to one Stanford sleep researcher.

In pre-pandemic times, about 30 to 35 percent of adults suffer from insomnia, and most are short-term conditions that can be resolved without professional help. (Medical professionals and sleep experts generally recommend about seven to nine hours of sleep each night.) The inability to fall asleep can be frustrating, especially in the midst of a pandemic with no end in sight. If you’re an insomniac, you’ve probably spent at least one night Googling something along the lines of “How to fall asleep” instead of actually falling asleep.

I spoke to Bill Fish, a certified sleep specialist and managing editor at SleepFoundation.org, about those struggling with sleep and lifestyle changes. Here is his best advice to achieve more restful nights.

How has staying inside affected our sleep patterns?

It’s interesting to see a progression of the pandemic from a mental health and sleep perspective. Within the first three weeks, starting in early to mid-March, there wasn’t a lot of talk about sleep, but as we got into the stay-at-home orders for two to three weeks, people have really started to notice they weren’t sleeping as well and have had trouble sleeping. There are all kinds of factors at play that cause insomnia in people. For those of us who are fortunate to be working from home, we’ve lost the structure of our daily lives. We don’t have an external reality, so to speak.

What a lot of people have started doing, instead of going to bed at 10:30 and getting up at 6:30, there’s no longer a big motivator to get up at 6:30. While that can be good to some extent, at the end of the day, all adults should be getting between seven to nine hours of sleep on a nightly basis.

If you’re getting any more than that, you could wake up feeling lethargic and not really yourself. Our bodies have become trained to know and prepare for the sleep process. With more people staying up at night and sleeping later in the morning, their bodies after about two to three weeks have redialed, and that doesn’t even take into consideration the health and the financial stress the pandemic has caused.

What tips do you have for people struggling with insomnia?

My biggest thing is schedule — encouraging someone to get back to a sense of normalcy. I have two sons who just want to stay up all night and play video games because they can’t see their friends. I have to explain to them that it’s not healthy for them to stay up. If your body is used to you waking up early, consider adopting that habit again. All of us, and our bodies, are trying to figure out what this “new normal” is, and what I push for is to try and do everything you can to get back to your old bedtime. If you’ve messed up your sleep pattern, I’d recommend trying to change it in increments of 10 or 15 minutes a night until you get back to where you were before.

At one point, kids are going to go back to school and people are going to go back to work, so we can train our bodies by the repetition of going to sleep at the same time and waking up at the same time. It might not cure all insomnia, but it’ll give you a better chance of success.

That’s why I suggest not watching television or scrolling on your phone in your bed. It’s about creating that separation in your waking and sleeping environments between sleep, leisure, and work that’s now occurring in the same building. It’s hard, though. Even my wife does it; she sits with her headphones on and watches a show in bed.

Can you explain how a lack of sleep affects a person’s immunity?

Sleep is considered the third pillar of wellness along with diet and exercise. Those are the three most important factors to keep us healthy. When we get ready to sleep, our body produces melatonin, which causes us to tire. When we aren’t getting that full night of sleep, our immune system isn’t producing as much of an effective response to fight against other infections or viruses. We really want people to get those seven to nine hours of sleep to stay as healthy as they can.

What tips do you have to improve a person’s quality of sleep, not just the duration of sleep?

I’m a believer that people should turn their bedrooms into a sleep sanctuary. Create a separation of your bedroom from the rest of your life. Set up your bedroom so that it’s intended for sleep. Clean up around your sleeping area, since your mind might race if there’s clutter in the room. Consider charging your phone in another room, and don’t watch television before bed.

Give yourself at least 45 minutes away from screens before you go to bed, so maybe read a book or keep a journal — just something to allow your mind to calm down before bed. Make sure that your room is cool and that it’s as dark as possible. I’m a fan of a white noise machine; you can buy it online for $20 and plug it in beside your bed to create a steady stream of white noise, which can mask any external sound that might jolt you out of sleep. The machine can help you stay in sleep and help you feel more refreshed when you wake up in the morning.

Since more people are staying home and, as a result, are more sedentary, how does that affect our sleep?

The key is to get 30 minutes of some form of cardio movement or even just walking. The human body is not meant to sit at a desk all day. Think about it like how a dog needs to be walked every day. We have to get this energy out of our bodies so we are physically tired by the time we get to bed each night.

I do get the question a lot of when you should be exercising, and there are a bunch of studies, but none of them are really conclusive as to what point of the day you should be exercising. You should have your body temperature back to normal, and not be out of breath at least 45 minutes before bed. It doesn’t make sense to run a few miles right before your bedtime.

Are there certain foods or substances like caffeine that might affect a person’s sleep?

You shouldn’t have any caffeine at least three to four hours before bed so it’s out of your system, and really, you shouldn’t be eating anything within an hour of going to bed because your body needs to digest your food and makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Eating spicy foods that could possibly cause indigestion doesn’t make a lot of sense. I would stay away from caffeine, and I’ve read a lot of stories that people are drinking more during the pandemic. That’s really not good for your sleep. While alcohol might help you get to sleep a little quicker, the quality of sleep you want, as the alcohol leaves your system, a lot of people tend to wake up in the middle of the night.

As the pandemic becomes the “new normal,” how do you think it will affect our sleeping habits?

It gives us the opportunity to get the recommended amount of sleep. The vast majority of people have a commute, and they used to spend a lot of time in the car, in the subway, or on a train. Now that’s gone. While we will go back to work eventually, we don’t know how quickly that’ll be and whether it’ll be five days a week or less. It takes away the excuse of saying, “Well, I don’t have the ability to get eight hours of sleep a night.”

Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

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How staying indoors affects your immune system


“Circadian disruption and sleep curtailment have been linked to a reduced immune system response,” Figueiro says. “So, while light may not have a direct impact on immune function, it can have a strong indirect impact via its ability to entrain the circadian system and improve sleep.” Exposure to bright light during the morning also has a positive impact on people’s mood and may help to guard against depression.

As for how much time you need to spend outdoors to reap these benefits, it is difficult to say.  Although morning light is particularly important for keeping our circadian rhythms synchronised, optimal vitamin D synthesis occurs around noon, when the UVB rays in sunlight are at their peak.

So, if lockdown conditions allow, you should strive to get outdoors at least once a day, whilst taking steps to maintain social distancing and sunburn. Sunlight and nature are great healers, and they also come for free.

Linda Geddes is the author of Chasing The Sun: The new science of sunlight and how it shapes our bodies and minds.


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CDC Says Coronavirus Does Not Spread Easily on Surfaces

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If you’re worried about wiping down grocery bags or disinfecting mailed packages, this C.D.C. guidance might bring some relief. It’s not new information; the agency has been saying this for months.

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4 days ago
Washington, District of Columbia
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