Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining both our physical and our emotional well-being. With the current stay-at-home order in place, we have all been spending more time indoors with our families, significant others, and children. This disruption of our typical routines and schedules can wreak havoc on our sleep/wake schedule. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, here are some tips and ideas that may help.
1. Limit your screen time before bed. Blue light emitted from technological devices such as a cell phones and laptops impacts the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin also helps our body prepare for sleep by decreasing our heart rate and slowing our breathing. Blue light also stimulates production of the neurotransmitter, Serotonin, which helps wake us up. Serotonin and melatonin work in harmony with one another - when one is dysregulated, the other follows suit.
2. Exercise regularly during the day. Routine exercise does a mind and body good, of course! Remember to not engage in strenuous exercise shortly before bedtime, as exercise elevates one’s heart rate, increases body temperature, and increases activity within our nervous system. Try to implement a 1 hour cutoff from any exercising before attempting to sleep. Exercise does not have to be something intense or strenuous! A 15-20 minute walk does wonders for our sleep.
3. Set and follow a bedtime routine and schedule. Practicing a pre-sleep routine allows our bodies to become accustomed to relaxing, healthy activities and prepares us to find sleep more easily. Read a good book, enjoy a cup of herbal tea, or practice some good personal hygiene activities before bed. It is important to get up at the same time and fall asleep roughly at the same time. Our bodies get into a “sleep-wake cycle” and this becomes thrown off when we stay up too late, sleep in too long, or take daytime naps.
4. Get out of bed if you are feeling restless and unable to find sleep. Teach your brain that the bed is for sleep and sex only! If you’re having difficulty falling or staying asleep, get out of bed, and try picking up a book or relaxing for 15 minutes before trying to sleep again. By doing so, you are not reinforcing that is okay to be awake while lying in bed.
5. Practice mindfulness-based exercises. Mindfulness is a powerful concept that has been clinically proven to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety and depression, promote focus and relaxation, and can be practiced anytime, anywhere! Try deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery to help move your brain and body towards a more tranquil and present state.
6. Consume media and news from trusted, reliable sources. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly altered the way in which we go about our daily lives. It is important for us all to remain responsible with how we share and consume news related to this pandemic as well as be mindful of how distressing news impacts our emotional well-being. Even with good intentions to stay well-informed and up to date on the status of our communities and conditions globally, we may unintentionally raise our own anxiety and stress levels making it harder to get a good night’s sleep!
7. Remove clocks from the bedroom. Many of us can relate to the practice of staring at the clock and becoming anxious with the time passing before we know our alarm will go off. A simple and easy solution is to remove the clock from the room, or turn it around so you cannot see the light or numbers.
Stay healthy and well during this difficult time, and don’t underestimate the restorative, healing power of sleep!