Updated: Jun 29, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has an enormous impact on our sleep. I have been having some real vivid nightmares the last couple of weeks. Also the quality of my sleep has gotten worse with less deep sleep and feeling like I’m on the verge of ‘waking up’ constantly. Because of this, I don’t feel rested when I wake up in the morning which affects my mood for the rest of the day. Then I read online that many people around the world have been experiencing the same thing. Especially people who are at risk, healthcare workers, those who have lost loved ones or those who are stressed and anxious for the consequences of this pandemic.
When we don’t get enough sleep, our body and mind reacts on it by becoming forgetful, chaotic or just really tired. Although it may seem like our sleep is something we can’t do anything about, there is actually many things we can try to affect our sleep positively. According to science, we should try out the following things if we want our sleep quality to come close to that of a koala (okay minus the koala part).
Ditch the screens
We are used to having our phones with us 24/7, even when we go to bed. But this is a big no-no as the blue light from tv screens, computers and smartphones makes it difficult for our bodies to produce melatonin, a hormone our body needs to feel sleepy. Also it disturbs the natural course of our body’s circadian rhythm, making it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. To do: Don’t sit behind a screen 2 hours before going to bed. Instead, you could try reading a book, play cards or boardgames, listen to a podcast, make preparations for the next day, etc. You can be as creative as you want as long as there is no screen involved.
Move your body
Our bodies need physical and mental challenges to find the need of wanting to relax afterwards. If we choose to be sitting or lying around during the whole day, how do we expect our bodies needing to rest during the night as well? It’s too much to ask really. Make sure to exercise 30 minutes per day, pump that heartbeat up and make those sweat pores work their ass off. Think of jogging, skating, dancing, doing cross-fit exercises, biking and there are so many other options! Try to find out what activity you enjoy most, so it’s easier to keep up.
Be mindful of what you eat and drink
Who doesn’t enjoy snacking after dinner; a Kinderbueno or even better a piece of cake goes right in with a cup of hot tea. Wait what, we also have popcorn or a bag of hummus chips? Tough choices. The harsh truth is that it’s really best if we don’t go to bed with a full stomach. But you may already know this after all those restless nights with stomach acidity or ache. In case you’re worried you won’t make it through the night, try some crackers, yoghurt or a bit salad. Also try not drinking too much as toilet visits in the middle of the night can be very disturbing for your sleep cycle. If drinking, avoid drinks that have caffeine or alcohol. These have stimulating effects on the body which can reduce the need for sleep. Oh and by the way, while we’re at it, also smoking has that same effect.
To maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, we have to make sure to have enough daylight exposure. After my rant about exercising, if you still decide that it’s too much to ask, at least make sure you go for a walk of 15-30 minutes to feel the sun on your skin which will help regulate your sleeping patterns. The earlier you expose yourself to daylight, the earlier you’ll fall asleep in the evenings.
Exposing yourself to daylight helps your body regulate your sleeping patterns
Do your breath-work
I used to underestimate the power of deliberate breathing, but it is actually one of the most powerful and accessible tools when you’re lying in bed in the middle of the night and you just can’t fall asleep. Breathing exercises not only lowers the heart rate making the body ready for sleep, but it also helps to stay focused and present instead of being distracted by anxiety provoking thoughts. One popular method is called the 4-7-8 technique; slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale slowly through your mouth in 8 seconds. Do this for about 5-7 times and whenever you feel light-headed, take a break in between the cycles.
Relax to the max
I hate to break it to you, but watching a movie or a sitcom before going to bed does not fall in the category of relaxation. Aside of the negative effects of the blue light, it simply exposes us to more stimuli our brain has to process which requires activation and deprives us from a good preparation for sleep. Instead, take a hot bath, listen to some zen sleeping music (so many mental health apps that provide that nowadays), stretch away the tense from your body and clear your mind by writing your worries off in a diary/journal.
Use bedroom wisely
While working from home, it’s tempting to do everything from a place you’re most comfortable while having space for yourself. For many, that would be the bedroom (don’t you deny it!). But it’s important to condition ourselves to use our bedroom for sleep so our mind associates the bedroom with sleep only. It’s best to not have your phones and laptops in the bedroom, have a good quality mattress and cushion, good air-ventilation (maybe keep the window open) and that it’s light- and sound proof.
Teach your mind to associate your bedroom with sleep only
Maintain a routine
Especially during a pandemic when everyone’s usual routine has been compromised, it’s important to still maintain this to have a sense of normalcy. To have a healthy circadian rhythm, you should sleep and wake up every day at the same times. Even in weekends, don’t sleep in more than 1,5 hours.
It’s tempting to catch up on our sleep by taking naps during the day when we haven’t slept well in the night. But this actually messes up your sleeping patterns as you won’t be tired again and having the need to sleep at night which creates a vicious cycle. If you feel you're really not functioning anymore during the day, you could (still not preferable) take a nap of 30 minutes before 3 pm. Later than that will probably mess up your sleep at night.
Good luck trying these things out! One more reminder; while sleep is important, try not obsessing about it, because it will only cause more stress. Although it can be frustrating when these tips don’t work out for you, don’t forget that there are still many other options you could opt for (like sleeping therapy). And most importantly, bring your focus to control the controllables as you can only control your own efforts, not the outcomes of it.