Sleep. Are you getting enough? If the answer is no then you are not alone. More and more people are reporting poor quality sleep during the covid-19 pandemic. Coronavirus is having an indirect impact on our health, and messing about with our sleep patterns. That isn’t surprising given our brain is being bombarded with the kind of news, imagery, and stimulus often associated with war. It’s creating constant low-level stress/trauma.
Sleep is the time when our brain processes the day’s activities, helping us make sense of what we have seen and heard. So, if you have strange dreams, that’s why. Not only are our waking thoughts being dominated at a conscious and unconscious level by coronavirus, but our daily routine has changed beyond recognition.
So if you’re struggling to nod off (or stay that way!) during the covid-19 pandemic or beyond, here are my 5 top tips to help.
Watch What You Drink
Alcohol and caffeine are the two horses of the apocalypse when it comes to problematic sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant and keeps your brain active, while alcohol will turn off certain brain receptors responsible for getting you into deep NREM sleep. If you have a coffee at any point after midday, it will impact your ability to sleep.
Drinking alcohol will impact your sleep no matter when you drink it (unless it’s as soon as you wake up, in which case you’ve got an even bigger problem!). I’m not suggesting you become teetotal, but being aware of what, when, and how much you are drinking will help you get a better night’s sleep.
Cut Out Smoking
If you’re a smoker then the middle of a global pandemic is probably the worst time to be telling you to quit! That being said, there is plenty of research showing a direct link between smoking and insomnia. If you can cut down, you will be doing yourself a huge favour, and it will have a positive impact on your sleep quality.
Cutting down (or even stopping altogether) is no easy feat, but your health will really benefit from doing so. Given social distancing and the temporary closure of many outlets means there are no social pressures to smoke, it might just be a golden opportunity to kick the habit for good. Though, if you need any help with this then I offer help for smokers looking to quit.
No Chocolate Before Bed
This one is my downfall as I love having some chocolate in the evening! While chocolate might taste great, it can actually have an adverse effect on our sleep. That’s because chocolate contains caffeine which as I mentioned above is a stimulant, rather than relaxing our minds ready for a restful night’s sleep.
The New York Times also published an article claiming chocolate “contains theobromine, which increases heart rate and causes sleeplessness.” So, if you find yourself eating chocolate (especially close to bedtime) then it’s worth cutting back on. This in itself can be tricky to do because sugar is addictive, which is even more of a reason to lay off it.
Exercise & Meditation
I promise you, this is a biggie. If you exercise and meditate regularly, you will see a dramatic shift in the quality and quantity of your sleep. You will sleep deeper, and you will find yourself waking up far more refreshed. Exercise kick-starts plenty of dopamine, and serotonin, which will contribute to a greater feeling of wellbeing and ultimately to a much better night’s sleep. It’s a great way to burn off the stress of the day, which we are all feeling in one way or another during the current pandemic.
In terms of meditation, it is all about focusing on your breath and finding a state of calm. Which, when you are stressed or anxious may be lacking. These days, there are plenty of free apps and even YouTube videos which have free exercises to try so it’s definitely worth checking these out. Even a few minutes of meditation can make a real difference in helping you drift off at night. At the very least, they will leave you feeling much calmer.
As your brain gets ready to shut down for the evening, it starts producing melatonin. That’s the chemical which induces sleep. Phone screens and TVs inhibit the production of melatonin, and there’s plenty of research showing just how much screens impact sleep. So, 30 minutes before you normally go to sleep, do your brain a favour, shut it down gently with a good book. Preferably made of paper!
We are living through some very strange (and worrying) times, and it’s an enormous challenge to break well-established habits and routines. Sleep is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. You will find your anxiety will drop, and your overall wellbeing will improve dramatically.