Falling asleep during these past few weeks has, for a lot of us, become a serious struggle. If adjusting to living under lockdown is playing havoc with your sleeping patterns you’re not alone.
The thing is, sleep is super important right now, not only to help you function day to day but also for your mood and anxiety levels. Most of us need around eight hours a night; some more, some less. Losing one night of good sleep might make us feel lethargic and agitated, but is unlikely to do us any harm. Prolonged lack of quality sleep, however, can disrupt the immune system and have a significant impact on your mood.
Why can’t I sleep?
Did you know that your brain is actually built to keep you up if it needs to?
Your brain can register anything ranging from tomorrow’s Zoom seminar, to worrying about your loved ones, to your own concerns about catching COVID-19 as an immediate threat worthy of keeping you awake all night long. Even if you try to tell yourself to forget about it until morning, it’s not so easy for your brain and body to distinguish between what’s an immediate threat and what isn’t.
This anxiety essentially keeps your body in ‘fight or flight’ mode (and very much awake!) preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. It also doesn’t help that many of us have less to do as our day to day activities have come grinding to a halt, which means that this ‘nervous’ energy has nowhere to go.
While anxiety about coronavirus is totally normal, there are things to try to help minimise its effects on your sleeping patterns. Here are some tips you can experiment with to make your nights a little easier and your sleep a little better.
Our top tips
Avoid the news
No news is good news – and that’s especially true if you’re trying to get to sleep. Daytime anxiety can also contribute to sleeping issues and causes nightmares, so try to avoid news outlets and social media for a few hours before bed
Limit screen time
The blue light that electronics emit can suppress your normal release of melatonin – the hormone that regulates your body’s circadian rhythm and helps you get sleepy. So try to stay away from your phone right before bed.
Not only do light rays control the connections between the eyes and the brain’s biological timekeeper, but they influence our chemistry and behavior to keep us in sync with the ebb and flow of the day. Exposing your body to the sun and daylight will not only help alert the brain and set you in motion, it will also help you sleep later on.
Set the scene
To make sleep come as easily as possible, try to establish a wind-down routine that works for you. This could involve turning the lights down, putting on some relaxing music and making sure your room isn’t too hot; between 15 – 22 degrees celsius is recommended.
Try an app
On the Android and iOS app store, you’ll find a variety of apps — sleep trackers, sleep therapy apps and other tools that aim to help you get a restful night’s sleep. Try Headspace or Calm to get you started.
Set your alarm
When you wake up at the same time every day, it’s way more likely you’ll start to feel sleepy at the same time each night too. So try setting your alarm to the same time each day and you should find bedtimes start to feel routine too.
Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine
While alcohol, a depressant, can make you fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and so you’re not getting the quality of sleep you need. We’re not saying never drink alcohol again, but if you’re struggling to sleep try a few nights without it.
Caffeine, a stimulant, works by stopping sleep-inducing chemicals and increasing adrenaline production, so it’s best to avoid any after lunchtime to make sure you’re feeling tired by the end of the day.
Get some exercise
As little as 10 minutes of exercise can increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep – the restorative sleep phase – and improve quality of sleep, especially when done on a regular basis. Just avoid exercising right before bed as this could over-stimulate your body, and keep your workouts to the morning or afternoon instead.
Manage your stress
This is a big one, it’s obvious that decreasing daytime anxieties will have a big impact on your ability to sleep, but it isn’t always that easy. Try keeping a journal to write out your anxieties in the day, or if you need to reach out to your GP or a mental health professional for support and advice.
Accept it’s normal
These are strange times, we’re all going through so much change and stress, so remember that it’s totally normal that you’re not feeling yourself right now. Try not to get too worked up if you feel you’re struggling – we all deserve a pass every now and then. There’s no quick fix to get perfect sleep, but just accepting this could reassure your mind that everything is going to be ok.