If you are currently experiencing sleepless nights, you are not alone. In the wake of the Coronavirus lockdowns over Australia we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation, so it is understandable that many individuals will be feeling more worried or anxious than usual.
Increased distress can significantly impact sleep; in turn affecting personal social relationships, work output, work productivity and overall decision-making.
During this unprecedented time, four factors have placed healthy sleep into disarray – Lack of consistent exposure to sunlight which regulates the circadian system, reduced physical activity which promotes the homeostatic sleep drive, increased worrying and cognitive rumination during early hours of the morning, and lack of work/life environment balance.
Why is sleep important during COVID?
Sleep is a critical biological process, and the truth is that it’s always important. When confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, though, sleep becomes even more essential because of its wide-ranging benefits for physical and mental health.
Sleep empowers an effective immune system.
Solid nightly rest strengthens our body’s defences by releasing a protein called cytokines which help fight off infections and inflammation in the body.
Brain function is heightened through sleep.
Our mind works better when we get good sleep, contributing to memory formation, complex thinking, memory, decision-making. concentration, creativity and learning.
Sleep enhances mood.
Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy level, and cause or worsen feelings of depression. Stress also affects sleep by making the body aroused, awake, and alert. Individuals who are able to control their stress response tend to have better sleep patterns.
Sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience.
Although the relationship between sleep and mental health is not clearly understood, we believe that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience. Chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking, depression, anxiety, and emotional vulnerability.
Making sure you are getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health and wellness, hence it’s worthy of full attention during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maintain a stable sleep routine.
Establishing a routine which also includes sleep can facilitate a sense of normalcy even in these atypical times.
Your daily schedule should include:
Wake-Up Time: have a fixed time to get up out of bed each day. This time should also be as close as possible even on the weekends.
Create steady routines: to provide time cues throughout the day, including: showering and getting dressed into work clothes. Eating meals at the same time each day. Blocking off specific time periods for work and exercise. Design a morning routine that includes a balance of self-care activities like meditation, exercise, yoga, or spiritual practices and personal care activities like eating breakfast and preparing for the day.
Wind-Down Time: This is an important time to relax and get ready for bed. Design a relaxing routine that includes a balance of selfcare activities like meditation, soft stretching exercise, yoga, or spiritual practices and personal care activities like washing your face and brushing your teeth.
Bedtime: Pick a consistent time to actually turn out the lights and try to fall asleep.
Reserve Your Bed For Sleep
Sleep experts emphasise the importance of creating an association in your mind between your bed and sleep. For this reason, they recommend that sleep and sex be the only activities that take place in your bed. If possible, keep your laptop out of your bed and also your bedroom. It also means avoiding bringing a laptop into bed to watch a movie or series.
Exposure to light plays a crucial role in helping our bodies regulate sleep in a healthy way.
The Vitamin D inhalation – Even if the sun isn’t shining brightly, natural light still has positive effects on circadian rhythm. A deficiency in Vitamin D has been associated with many changes in sleep such as fewer sleeping hours, and sleep that is less restful and restorative. What’s the best way to increase your Vitamin D? There’s no better source than the sun. Direct sun exposure to skin triggers the synthesis of Vitamin D however, the entries to sun exposure need to occur under the eyes and forearms so make sure you have your sunglasses off and your sleeves rolled up for at least 20 minutes. Many people find outdoor time is most beneficial in the morning, and as an added bonus, it’s an opportunity to get fresh air. As much as possible, work near open windows and blinds to let light into your home during the day.
Be mindful of screen time – The blue light produced by electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, and computers, has been found to interfere with the body’s natural sleep-promoting processes. As much as possible, avoid using these devices 1-2 hours before bed. You can also use device settings or special apps that reduce or filter blue light.
It’s easy to overlook exercise with everything happening in the world, but regular daily activity has numerous important benefits, including for sleep. If you can (are able to) exercise outdoors to let your body absorb natural sunlight during the daytime hours (while maintaining a safe distance from other people). If not, there is a wealth of resources online for all types and levels of exercise. Exercise is a must to release those feel good chemicals in the brain and increase problem solving. Early morning and afternoon exercise may also help reset the sleep wake cycle by raising body temperature slightly, then allowing it to drop and trigger sleepiness a few hours later. Timing It Right It used to be thought that working out vigorously too close to bedtime was a no-no for everyone, because it may over-stimulate the body. But it turns out that exercising at night doesn’t interfere with everyone’s sleep—it depends on the individual. So if you find that physical activity in the evening revs you up too much, do it earlier in the day. But if you find that the opposite is true—maybe you come home so exhausted that you plop down on the bed and fall asleep quickly—then, by all means, keep on doing what you’re doing!
Watch What You Eat and Drink.
Keeping a healthy diet can promote good sleep–
Certain foods and drinks contain compounds that help control parts of the sleep cycle, meaning that they may help a person both fall and stay asleep. In particular, be cautious with the intake of alcohol and caffeine, especially later in the day, as both can disrupt the quantity and quality of your sleep. Complex carbohydrates such as popcorn, oatmeal, or whole-wheat crackers with nut butter and foods that are high in lean protein, like cottage cheese, turkey, bananas, pineapple and oranges can increase an individuals serotonin, melatonin and tryptophan levels; helping activate sleep hormones. 4-6 hours before bed, limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
Gratitude Journaling – Research has shown that gratitude promotes physiologically restorative behaviours. Grateful thinking and grateful moods help us sleep better and longer. A simple gratitude practice, it seems, acts like a supercharged version of journaling, helping calm anxious thoughts that can keep us tossing and turning at night. Further – research suggests that grateful people have more positive ‘pre-sleep cognitions’ and fewer negative pre-sleep cognitions. Every evening, jot down three to five things from that day for which you’re thankful gather evidence of your successes each day in a journal before bed. Also, take a few minutes to tell someone just how much a kindness has meant to you. To make it fun and handy, consider downloading a gratitude journal app to your phone.
Don’t watch the clock
Watching the sleepless minutes pass makes it harder to fall back to sleep in the wee hours. Turn the clock face so you can’t see it. Follow your normal schedule tomorrow.
Ditch the nap –
Don’t sleep in, don’t nap, and don’t go to bed early the next night. Get up at your usual time and go to bed at your usual bedtime. You may feel a bit more tired than usual during the day, but by increasing your body’s appetite for sleep you’re ensuring a better night—and you’ll put yourself on track for sound sleep after that.
Frequently changing your sheets, fluffing your pillows, and making your bed can keep your bed feeling fresh, creating a comfortable and inviting setting to doze off.
On any given night, if you find that you’re having a hard time sleeping, don’t spend more than 20 minutes tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and do something relaxing in very low light, and then head back to bed to try to fall asleep. It may take a few tough nights sticking to this rule to see results, but it can be the most effective strategy of the lot.
Experiment with some of these strategies and see what works best for you. If sleep continues to be an issue, it’s worth talking to a specialist and finding out about the full range of treatment options available.