Whether we’re locked down alone, zoom schooling our kids, or working extra shifts on the front lines, our schedules have all radically shifted. There’s a constant buzz of anxiety that the world is wearing, waiting for news that will dust it off. There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty -- both for the state of the world, and our personal lives. Most of us are now living off our computers and smartphones, blue screens burning our eyes. We’re not going outside as much, if at all. There’s no group exercise class to burn off stress with. For a lot of us, our nightly activity has become Netflix binges, watching shows that get our heart rates up and excited with drama, our eyes still blinking once we finally lie down and try to count sheep. And what time, day, month is it anyway?
So yeah... you could say for a lot of us, sleeping’s been a bit tough to come by these days.
We gathered some tips from the National Sleep Foundation to help you slip into those zzz’s. If they don’t work immediately, don’t give up. It takes your body time to stabilize your sleep rhythm.
1. Set Your Schedule and Routine.
Establishing a routine can facilitate a sense of normalcy even in abnormal times. It’s easier for your mind and body to acclimate to a consistent sleep schedule, which is why health experts have long recommended avoiding major variation in your daily sleep times.
Sleep-specific aspects of your daily schedule should include:
Wake-Up Time: Set your alarm, bypass the snooze button, and have a fixed time to get every day started.
Wind-Down Time: This is an important time to relax and get ready for bed. It can involve things like light reading, stretching, and meditating along with preparations for bed like putting on pajamas and brushing your teeth. Given the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s wise to give yourself extra wind-down time each night.
Bedtime: Pick a consistent time to actually turn out the lights and try to fall asleep.
In addition to time spent sleeping and getting ready for bed, it can be helpful to incorporate steady routines to provide time cues throughout the day, including:
Showering and getting dressed even if you aren’t leaving the house.
Eating meals at the same time each day.
Blocking off specific time periods for work and exercise.
2. Reserve Your Bed For Sleep.
Sleep experts emphasize 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. This means that working-from-home shouldn’t be working-from-bed. It also means avoiding bringing a laptop into bed to watch a movie or series.
3. If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.
It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine. 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. 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.
4. See the Light.
Exposure to light plays a crucial role in helping our bodies regulate sleep in a healthy way. As you deal with disruptions to daily life, you may need to take steps so that light-based cues have a positive effect on your circadian rhythm.
If you can, spend some time outside in natural light. Even if the sun isn’t shining brightly, natural light still has positive effects on circadian rhythm. 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, 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 for an hour before bed. You can also use device settings or special apps that reduce or filter blue light.
5. Be Careful with Naps.
If you’re home all day, you may be tempted to take more naps. While a short power nap early in the afternoon can be useful to some people, it’s best to avoid long naps or naps later in the day that can hinder nighttime sleep.
6. Stay Active.
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 go for a walk while maintaining a safe distance from other people, that’s a great option. If not, there is a wealth of resources online for all types and levels of exercise. Many gyms and yoga and dance studios are live-streaming free classes during this period of social distancing.
7. Practice Kindness and Foster Connection.
It might not seem critical to your sleep, but kindness and connection can reduce stress and its harmful effects on mood and sleep. You can use technology to stay in touch with friends and family so that you can maintain social connections despite the need for social distancing.
8. Utilize Relaxation Techniques.
Finding ways to relax can be a potent tool in improving your sleep. Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music, and quiet reading are just a few examples of relaxation techniques that you can build into your routines. If you’re not sure where to get started, check out smartphone apps like Headspace and Calm that have programs designed for people new to meditation.
9. Evaluate your room.
Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Ideally, your bedroom should be cool and be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
10. Avoid becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus-related news.
For example, you can try techniques including:
Bookmarking one or two trusted news sites and visiting them only during a limited, pre-set amount of time each day.
Cutting down the total time that you spend scrolling on social media. If you want a hand in this effort, a number of apps can monitor and even block your time on social media sites or apps each day.
Scheduling phone or video calls with friends and family and agreeing in advance to focus on topics other than the coronavirus.
11. Watch What You Eat and Drink.
Keeping a healthy diet can promote good sleep. 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.
12. Contact Your Doctor if Necessary.
If you have severe or worsening sleep or other health problems, it is advisable to be in touch with your doctor. Many doctors are increasing availability via email or telemedicine to allow patients to discuss concerns without having to physically visit their office.