Of the many challenges lockdown has presented, the struggle for a good night’s sleep has been a consistent theme across conversations with friends and many social media platforms.
There are a number of reasons why sleep is elusive during this time.
Being confined to our homes has blurred the boundaries between leisure and work. Your bedroom may now double up as a make-shift office or be a play area for your children.
The lack of outdoor activity means our circadian rhythms are not being regulated by sun exposure. Your circadian rhythm is a series of internal clocks that govern chemical and hormonal changes and these changes impact your energy, appetite, alertness, and your sleep and wake cycles. And then there is the increase in screen time. The blue light emitted from our devices also has a part to play in disrupting these rhythms, especially if used at night.
Another factor is daily activity, not related to your usual workout. Non-exercise activity like walking around the work place, lunchtime walks around the block or taking your kids to extra-mural activities, has been curtailed during lockdown. Both non-exercise activity and our sorely-missed gym workouts are major contributors to good quality sleep.
And then there is stress and anxiety.
The pandemic and its social and economic consequences are different to the usual stressors we experience. These emotions are easy to supress with distractions while we are awake but are inevitably processed by our brains when we are trying to sleep.
So what can we do to improve sleep?
To prevent a few restless nights becoming a bad habit, experiment with these strategies to help improve your sleep.
Maintain a mind and body routine
Get out of bed at your usual time and make your bed. Shower, dress, get ready for the day and maintain regular meal times. Try not to stay up late watching your favourite shows. While it is tempting to engage in behaviours usually reserved for holidays or weekends, a consistent schedule helps your mind and body regulate its internal clocks.
Exposure to natural light
Try get a few minutes of natural light, preferably early in the day after waking. Spending a few minutes in the sun helps to regulate your wake-sleep rhythms.
Create boundaries between work and leisure time
If you are working from home, ensure that you keep your work hours defined. This can be difficult if you have a family, the boundary between parenting and delivering on your work commitments can become challenging but try to get your family on board with the reality of you having to work from home. Clock off and put the laptop away instead of constantly checking on emails or work tasks when you should be relaxing.
Regular physical activity
While this may be difficult if you live in a flat or don’t have access to a garden, there are strategies that can help. Get up and do a quick 5 minute routine every hour. Squats, burpees, push ups or mobility drills. Short bursts of activity spaced regularly and often throughout the day will counteract the effects of being confined to your couch.
Avoid stimulants like alcohol, dark chocolate, caffeine and sugar
Limit these tasty morsels from early afternoon. Chocolate, coffee and sugar-laden treats are stimulating for the brain and body. Replace your afternoon caffeine kick with a herbal tea like camomile, known for its potential to aid sleep. Eating starchy carbohydrates like sweet potato and butternut at dinner may also contribute to restful sleep.
Avoid blue-light or too much artificial light before bed
Put your devices away and if possible, dim or turn off some of the lights to mimic the lower light setting of sunset.
Have an evening routine
Just as beneficial as a morning routine, an evening routine tells your brain and body that bedtime is approaching. Have a hot bath, drink a herbal tea, do some restorative yoga poses or whatever gets you relaxed and in a sleep state of mind.
Journaling and gratitude
There may be merit in writing down anxious thoughts before bedtime. Do a mind dump before you turn in for bed to help your brain to process these thoughts. Expressing gratitude for all the good things we have is also a counter balance to stress and uncertainty.
Good sleep is critical to our health and wellness. Much like good nutrition habits, working on improving your sleep quality pays dividends across all physical and mental markers and is a life-long skill to cultivate.
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash