The coronavirus ‘stay at home’ situation in which we find ourselves is the perfect recipe to ruin a good nights sleep. Currently forced upon us is increased anxiety and worry, increased isolation, a change in regular routine, and an increase in screen time as we navigate ‘remote learning’ and utilize Face Time, Zoom, House Party and other digital methods to stay in touch with friends and family. This stressful ‘new normal’ has made it increasingly difficult to use normal coping strategies and has inevitably resulted in a change in sleep patterns, including a reported rise in ‘lockdown dreams‘.
Although an apparent return to ‘regular life’ is still weeks/months away, it is important that we do not sacrifice the many benefits of sleep.
EVERYTHING you do, you do better on a good night of sleep, and so with one (very sleepy) eye on an eventual return to normality, let me help you take your hand away from the Netflix ‘Are you still watching?’ prompt and present you with five tips to claim back your valuable missing hours of sleep.
1. Set an alarm for bed time
My go-to sleep guru is Dr. Matthew Walker, author of one of the most amazing books I have ever read. In Why We Sleep, he suggests that we keep a regular sleep pattern – something that I’m guessing you haven’t been doing this ‘stay at home’ period. We should go to bed and wake at the same time each day and this is particularly important if your school is continuing with a remote learning schedule. Dr. Walker suggests that it’s more important to set an alarm for bedtime. Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up, but fail to do so when it’s time to go to sleep. Most phones now offer the ability to calculate what time you need to wake, and remind you when it’s time to go to bed.
If you think that the return to an early alarm call (mine is 4:45am!) will be too much, then start to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each day. This gradual shift in your circadian rhythm will help train your body to get back into a regular schedule…and resist the urge to watch one extra episode of that new binge-worthy show that you just discovered!
2. Show me the light
On second thoughts, don’t. Surely we all know now that the lights around our house, including those from TV and phone screens are major disruptors to our sleep patterns. Light suppresses our melatonin levels and melatonin is the hormone that rises when it gets dark to signal to our body it’s time for bed. In Arianna Huffington‘s book The Sleep Revolution she suggests that it takes just the light of an ordinary light bulb and only just twice that of a night-light, to disrupt our melatonin levels.
So consider using light in these two ways. Shut down screens at least 30 minutes in advance of bed time and if your phone is too much of a temptation get into the habit now of leaving it on charge downstairs and use one of these alarm clocks for your wake up.
I also suggest that you utilize the power of your device to improve the likelihood of a good night of sleep by turning on the sleep settings, turn off notifications, set the ‘do not disturb’ hours, and change the screen display. On my iPhone I can access the advanced health features via > clock > bedtime > ‘show more in health’.
You can also use light to your advantage in the morning. Light will shut off your melatonin levels and help you wake faster – so perhaps sleep with the curtains open and allow the sun to gently wake you.
3. Keep it cool
It’s (finally!) spring, your room is warmer at night, and that is guaranteed to keep you awake. Cooling of the body at night triggers melatonin release and as such you need to set your thermostat to the ideal temperature of 65 degrees or else you are likely to be more restless. How do scientists know this? Sleep research is a quirky business, and scientists have found that if you gently warm the feet of sleeping rats (!) thus causing a lowering of their core body temperature, then they fall asleep quicker. You could of course, try a warm foot bath before bed, or wear bed socks.
A relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music should be part of your sleep hygiene and if you haven’t considered meditation, now might be the best time to do so. The first thing you NEED to do is download the Calm App. THIS is the app that has allowed me take ownership of my sleep patterns again and I have a 30 day pass to share with you. PLEASE access this free pass AND share it with friends and family. I promise you’ll thank me.
Calm Premium offers:
- An original Daily Calm meditation every day.
- 100+ guided meditations covering anxiety, focus, stress, sleep, relationships, and more.
- An entire library of Sleep Stories, with new stories added weekly.
- Awesome music tracks for focus, relaxation and sleep.
- Monthly Calm masterclasses (including a sleep masterclass).
- Calm body programs, a blog and downloadable resources.
This is the app that I use at night to help me sleep and their pre-sleep relaxation meditations are their most popular. There are also ‘nap’ soundtracks that will lull you into a 20 minute nap and waken you with birdsong. I swear by it! Calm also have a great book to accompany their app that is full of easy to implement ideas to make your life a calmer one.
5. Get out of bed
Yes, this fifth tip might seem counterintuitive but hear me out. If your head is filled with anxious thoughts about our current situation, know that you are not alone. Disrupted or altered sleep is commonly reported after any kind of stress, from perceived social sleights to natural disasters. If, like me, you’ve tried the other tips above and you still can’t fall asleep, Dr Matthew Walker recommends that you get out of bed, leave the room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. You don’t want to associate wakefulness with your bed and this is the reason for going elsewhere to relax and become sleepy. In his AWESOME TED talk, Dr Walker finished with the following analogy – “you’d never sit at the dinner table, waiting to get hungry, so why would you lie in bed, waiting to get sleepy? ”
Other resources you might like to check out:
Sites: CDC’s Tips For Better Sleep
Downloadable: Calm guidebook to help you sleep
App: Calm. The awesome app incorporating sleep stories, sleep sounds and meditations. I use the desktop version for a daily morning meditation before school starts.
Blog post: ‘Teaching Sleep’ Read about some of the things that I do with my students when teaching them about the importance of sleep.
Hashtags: #YourDayBeginsWithSleep, #sleepbetter, #worldsleepday, #healthysleepchat
This blog post is an update of 2019’s ‘5 Tips for Better Sleep’