Since the onset of COVID-19, we have been establishing new routines to stayA healthy. Covid-19 prevention has placed a heavy emphasis on personal hygiene and unique social interaction routines. When you start a new routine and repeat it for several weeks or sometimes months, it can become a habit. Some of the physical and emotional healthy habits we establish during this trying time are meant to benefit us for a short time and others for years to come.

Healthy routines and habits help foster emotional and physical health. Research shows that routines are vital for children. Bedtime routines lead to better family functioning and healthy restorative sleep. Family routines have been linked to better social skills, moderation of impulsiveness, improved academic achievement, and enhanced stress handling. However, the importance of routines is not just for children. When evaluating adults in good emotional and physical health, research has found that they exhibit these same healthy routines.

Healthy morning routines are; getting out of bed at a set time, making the bed, showering, putting on day clothes (not pajamas), eating breakfast, and establishing a schedule for the day. This is especially important for children who no longer can attend school and are “distance learning” and adults who now may work from home. Regular exercise and creative outlets promote both physical and emotional wellbeing.

Evening routines of eating healthy meals with others and having a set bedtime lead to healthier lives. Sleep hygiene is essential for health. This refers to having a set bedtime (adults and children), hygiene (hand and face wash, tooth brushing), reading from a book, no alcohol within 2-3 hours of bedtime, finish eating 2-3 hours before bedtime, no caffeine after noon, stop screen time (phone, TV, etc.) at least one hour before bedtime. Have a dark, quiet, and cool bedroom, and do not allow animals in bed with you. Sleep on your side. Back sleeping is the worst position for breathing and needs to be avoided, especially when you are congested or having trouble breathing. I know some will find this onerous, but if you try these things for several weeks, you will notice a more refreshed feeling in the morning and throughout the day.

Nasal breathing is extremely helpful to prevent illness. Your nose filters, cleans, humidifies, and slows the flow of the air coming in, so when it reaches your lungs, there is proper oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. Mouth breathing brings in the air that is harsh and contaminated with environmental toxins and allergens, causing the throat and lungs to become irritated and inflamed, which leads to inefficient oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. To help keep your nose clean, use a xylitol spray daily (Xclear) and a Neti pot during allergy and flu seasons. If you struggle with nasal breathing, ask your physician to evaluate your nose. If there are no physical problems with your nose, but you have a mouth breathing habit, you can establish good nasal breathing habits. These books are very beneficial: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor. Close Your Mouth, by Patrick McKeown.

Personal hygiene is essential now more than ever. Although we’re bombarded with this message, it’s worth repeating: regular hand washing and sanitizing surface areas effectively reduce the spread of germs. Avoid hand contact with your face. If you are a caregiver, wash your hands well before and after caring for others and, when necessary, wear disposable gloves. Cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue, or if a tissue is not available, use the bend of your elbow rather than your hand. Wash reusable masks or replace disposable masks daily or sooner if soiled.

When resolving to commit to healthier habits, don’t leave out social interactions. As COVID-19 has impacted the way we would typically socialize, we should evaluate how we can remain connected to benefit our emotional health while maintaining our physical health. Distancing is effective while still allowing for healthy in-person interaction. Phone and video chats are a secondary means when you cannot meet in-person. Although personal touch may not be appropriate at this time, we need to keep in mind that personal touch signals safety and trust. It soothes and calms cardiovascular (heart) stress. Eventually, real handshakes and hugs need to return.

Routines are essential to our wellbeing, both emotionally and physically. Evaluate your daily routines and weed out unhealthy habits and build on healthy routines. It is best to start with one or two easy things and not overwhelm yourself with too much change at once, as this can feel unsettling and may discourage you from making healthy changes. Resolving to stay healthy during this challenging time will result in a better New Year.
Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty at Spear Education, an alumnus of Pankey Institute, a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, and the American Dental Association. Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA. www.MiddleburgSmiles.com.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty at Spear Education, alumnus of Pankey Institute, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association. Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA. www.MiddleburgSmiles.com.