Many individuals have suddenly found themselves grappling with sleep issues.
Tossing and turning through the night has become commonplace, owing to consumption of a wave of bad news related to the coronavirus pandemic, calamities and economic woes.
But while there is no way to make you immune to such news and completely safeguard yourself from the virus and its repercussions, we do know that sleep is key to helping our bodies stay healthy.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
A 2015 study found a direct link between shorter sleep times and an increased risk of getting a cold for healthy adults ages 18-55.
Those sleeping for fewer than five hours or between five and six hours had a greater likelihood of catching a virus than those who slept for seven hours a night.
The science is simple: a good night’s sleep supports the release and production of cytokine, a protein that helps the immune system quickly respond to harmful substances known as antigens.
“Sleep is an essential part of protection from and response to any infection,” says Douglas Kirsch, a neurologist and former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
But, he does contend: “Sleep is hard when anxiety levels are high, such as in the case of a pandemic.”
Here’s what you can do to get better sleep, as per The Independent.
Create and maintain a very consistent sleep schedule
The more consistent your sleep and wake-up time, the more consistent your body functions.
The UK’s National Sleep Foundation recommends sticking to a sleep schedule, and here’s how you can follow it: set a regular bedtime. Pair it with a set time to wake. (As many people aren’t currently commuting, this might be easier than normal.)
Some added aspects you can add include: using thick, blackout curtains if you’re sleeping while it’s bright, ditto to earplugs or a sleep mask.
Make sure your bedroom is a cosy, dark room. Avoid using tech gadgets before bed in your room, as they are known to interfere with your circadian rhythm.
If you are easily awakened, use a fan or a repeated song for white noise.
Still, if you’re tired, get sleep while you can. “If you’re tired during the day, get your rest then,” says Janet Mullington, a professor in the department of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
However, don’t oversleep, as it can wreak havoc with your night-time shut-eye.
Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist who focuses on the link between behaviour and sleep, says the sweet spot of naps is about 10 to 20 minutes.
Set a curfew for all electronics
Maintaining a strict electronic curfew does the trick: try 90 minutes without social media, email and even TV before lights out, Breus says.
“It may be tempting to stay up late binge-watching your favourite shows, but it is more important than ever to prioritise your sleep,” says Kristen Knutson, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Centre of Circadian and Sleep Medicine.
If you can’t do 90 minutes, start with 15.
Stay informed, but don’t look at the news right before bed
Limit your types of media consumption too, particularly avoiding things in the evening that increase anxiety.
This might be the hardest but most sane advice. “Only look at coronavirus news once per day, preferably not near bedtime,” Kirsch says.
Turning off notifications on your phone might also be helpful. You can set your phone to automatically turn off notifications in the evenings, by scheduling do not disturb hours.
“Isolation can increase the desire to stay electronically connected even more,” says Lisa Medalie, a behavioural sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago, who adds that it’s vital to keep disciplined, which helps minimise distractions and regain control.
“Setting up plans of action for the day, both for kids and adults, can help alleviate some of that uncertainty,” Kirsch said.
Stay active and increase your heart rate during the day
Exercise is key not only because it tires you out and prepares you for a good night’s sleep, but also because it can relieve anxious, nervous energy.
Kirsch says: “This can be as simple as a neighbourhood walk or doing an exercise video at home.”
Working out at home might be the best — and safest — way to get your heart rate up.
Treat anxiety with gratitude, breathing, meditation and maybe medication
Many people think stressful thoughts as they fall asleep. That feeds a cycle of anxiety. Make an on-paper or mental list of things to be grateful for instead.
Try 4-7-8 breathing. In a comfortable position, with your eyes open or closed: Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, exhale slowly for eight seconds. Then repeat as necessary.
Consider meditation or progressive relaxation before bed or while falling asleep.
Don’t consume coffee or eat before bed
Yes, coffee is good for you in moderation — up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day — but more than that can lead to shakiness, nervousness and an irregular heartbeat.
Don’t eat right before bed. Symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux are unpleasant enough but can be indistinguishable from anxiety, leading to even more anxiety.
Take a hot shower or bath 90 minutes before bed.
Getting warm and then cooling off helps produce melatonin.
One method to maintaining an electronic curfew is to combine it with a hot shower, both of which get you primed for a restful night.