If you’re like me, the current situation has made a good night’s sleep less and less likely. I wake up several times a night, and my brain kicks right into worry mode. I’m worried about everything, as are most of you right now. Once my brain wakes up, I lose at least an hour – maybe more – of badly needed rest.
And sleep matters, even if you’re working from home. Havard.edu’s site says, “Too little sleep affects mood, contributing to irritability and sometimes depression. Vital functions occur during different stages of sleep that leave you feeling rested and energized or help you learn and forge memories.”
There are thousands of articles on self-care during this period of social isolation, and they often offer the same advice. That’s because it’s good advice, and it will also help you sleep better.
Even if you’re out of work right now, establish a routine that has you going to bed and getting up at the same time each day – including on the weekends. If you’ve had a rough night, it’s tempting to sleep in late the next day. But sticking to your schedule is actually healthier for you, and for me, anyway, after I get up, shower, get dressed and take in some water, I feel better. You might too.
The same goes for crashing early at night – it might feel better in the moment, but your body craves the predictability of a schedule. According to sleep.org, “Your circadian rhythm (also known as your sleep/wake cycle or body clock) is a natural, internal system that’s designed to regulate feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. This complex timekeeper is controlled by an area of the brain that responds to light, which is why humans are most alert while the sun is shining and are ready to sleep when it’s dark outside.”
It’s important to get outside into natural light for at least 30 minutes a day. Daylight helps set healthy sleep patterns, so try to be outdoors while it’s light out. Humans were never meant to spend as much time indoors as we do – even during normal times – so spending all day inside is just making you feel worse, physically and mentally.
Speaking of light, screen time is a real problem if you’re having trouble sleeping. One problem is the anxiety caused by all the bad news; the other is the screen itself. Turn off electronics an hour or so before bed because your devices emit a blue light that suppresses melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. If you really want to reduce the effects of blue light, leave off the TV after dinner. Exposing yourself to a screen even three or four hours before bed might be hurting your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Exercise also helps; a nightly walk, a stretching session, or yoga can help you get back into your body and out of your head. Exercise will also help tore you out and change your body’s chemistry to prepare for sleep. You can also find meditations online that will help relax you and ease your anxiety.
If you must nap, sleep experts agree that you will benefit the most from 30 minutes or so. Long naps will take you into deep sleep mode, leaving you tired and groggy afterward. You shouldn’t nap after 3:00 PM, or risk tampering with your body’s sleep rhythm, doing more harm than good. If you lay down to nap and can’t fall asleep within 5 – 10 minutes, you probably don’t need a nap. Try 20 minutes of exercise instead – a walk around the block or some gardening. Your mood and your fitness may get a boost.
Lastly, if you’re not already working on your physical environment, this is a good time to make your home a place of order, serenity, and comfort. Many of us have been stress cleaning and organizing, de-cluttering, and rearranging furniture to create comfortable and cozy spaces. Dim the lights in the evening, put on soothing music, and turn off the news. If we have to spend so much time at home, we might as well make it a place that soothes our spirit.
Remember that this, too, shall pass, and we will get back to our regular life eventually. We can’t help but feel anxious, but we can take control of our home environment, take care of ourselves, and stay connected to people we love and care about through technology.
Here’s wishing a speedy end to this crisis and a good night’s sleep.