The novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) has ushered the world into uncharted waters. Countries have established various levels of lockdowns, economies have ground to a halt, and many people are afraid for themselves and their loved ones.
The chronic stress of living through the uncertainty of a pandemic can lead to a host of physical symptoms, including persistent headaches, memory lapses, and digestive problems. Stress-related fatigue is another common side effect.
With such unprecedented changes coming so quickly, it’s understandable that the importance of sleep is flying under the radar. But as we adjust to stay-at-home orders and try to remain healthy in a time of COVID-19, focusing on sleeping well offers tremendous benefits.
Even if you receive an adequate amount of sleep at night, fatigue can still leave you feeling tired and unmotivated in the morning.
Sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune system. It’s also a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health, helping to beat back stress, depression, and anxiety.
Whether you’ve had sleeping problems before COVID-19 or if they’ve only come on recently, there are concrete steps that you can take to improve your sleep during this global pandemic.
At first glance, most of the tips for a good night’s sleep may be familiar to you. They’re straightforward, simple ways to get better sleep. It’s okay if you’ve seen them before. The question is, have you actually put them into practice since the last time you saw them?
Excess Screen Time
Whether it’s checking the news on your phone, joining a Zoom with family, binge-watching Netflix, or putting in extra hours staring at a computer while working-from-home, social distancing can mean a huge increase in screen time.
Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.
Learn your sleep position
Your “sleep position” is the position you always move into right before falling asleep. If I’m not very tired I’ll spend some time on my back, stomach, or other scenario until I feel like sleeping. Then, as soon as I feel like sleeping, I move onto my side and get down to sleeping business. Once you know your sleep position you can move into it immediately once you get into bed. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and your body will assume that it’s time to sleep and you’ll be drooling on your pillow in no time.
Create a sleep ritual
Not unlike your morning ritual, a sleep ritual is a few things you always do before going to sleep. Figure out what helps you relax and make a habit of doing those things every time before you plan to sleep. You’ll soon find it’s easier to rest, even in circumstances that otherwise might have kept you awake, because the rhythm of your sleep ritual has lulled you into a relaxed state.
Build a sleep cocoon
What you should try is creating a “cocoon” of silence and cool darkness that makes it easier for you to sleep. Experiment a bit with earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to counteract the loud neighbors, air conditioning or a fan, and a blackout curtain to keep the street lights from keeping you awake at night.
Experiment with naps
I’d recommend something more along the lines of a quick cat nap in the afternoon when you’re feeling tired. Napping doesn’t work for everybody. In fact, it might make it harder for you to sleep at night! The easiest way to find out if an afternoon nap will work to help you get the best rest is to try napping over a weekend and see how you feel afterward. Keep it under 30 minutes long and you should be able to avoid the bewildering effects of longer naps.
Maintain a sleep schedule
“Get up at the same time every morning and go to sleep at the same time every night” says the Mayo Clinic. If you’re not one of the few who can arrange their schedule around sleep, do your best by keeping your sleep and wake times within an hour at each end. For example, if you can get to bed between 11pm-midnight and wake up between 7am-8am, a few minutes given or taken each day shouldn’t be a problem in the long run.
Go to directly to bed when you’re tired
If you’re within an hour of your normal bed time and you’re feeling tired, go to bed and try to sleep. Anything else is a waste of your time and future productivity.
Exercise early, don’t eat late
Consider exercising when you get up in the morning as a healthy way to get your day off to a running start. Exercise, amazingly enough, can also work well to fight off the fatigue you feel after sitting in an office chair all day. Turn away from the coffee and get moving! You might associate eating with feeling sleepy because of the “carb coma” you get after a big meal. Take a break from the late-night stuffing and focus on relaxing instead.