Here we are, stuck in our homes amidst a global pandemic and #cantsleep is trending on twitter. Why?
Maybe you are someone that finds it hard to relax when there’s the constant news of a fatal disease in the back of your mind? Or perhaps even with your hour outside, your workout done and your Spanish course complete, it just isn’t leaving you tired enough? Maybe, you had the time to do all of the above and more yet managed only half or even none of it, and now you’ve wound yourself up over the lack of productivity? It’s possible that something that troubled you beforehand; your finances, poorly relatives, marital issues, being alone or uni coursework has now become exacerbated and you also have considerably more time to overthink?
Potentially a combination, but the overriding similarity between us all, bar our hero key workers, is that our routines have significantly changed. That combined with us not expending the same energy that may usually leave us exhausted, and not being exposed to as much light means our circadian rhythms – our body clocks essentially – are completely out of whack.
At a time where more of us are concerned about the strength of our body’s ability to fight this and trying our best to stay in a positive mindset, it’s a cruel twist of fate that lack of sleep is now adding to our worry. Good sleep quality is crucial to keeping our immune systems healthy and our emotions regulated, both of which are key to helping us sustain a lockdown lifestyle and overcoming this pandemic.
I am not writing this as a qualified professional, so I will leave it there with the ‘why’, but as a previous insomniac for many years, sleep science has become a bit of an obsession of mine. I continue to learn as much as I can about it and hope to share some tried and tested tips that can hopefully help improve your sleep quality. If you’re reading this, you likely already know that you need to reduce your screen time and limit your caffeine to mornings, so here’s some other ideas to take the edge off.
1. NEW LOCKDOWN ROUTINE
You may not want to stick to your work routine of 6am wake ups and going to bed when it’s just got dark, and that’s understandable. I would, however, try to go to bed at a regular time where possible, aiming for 7-9 hours sleep. You can play around with the exact amount to see what results in you waking feeling the most fresh and alert.
2. MINDSET SHIFT
For me, this was a key tool in helping to increase my sleep from just 0-3 hours every night.
I’ll set the scene:
You get into bed or wake up in the middle of the night, laying there waiting for sleep to hit. You try to relax and let it happen. Until it just isn’t and then you’re frustrated and tossing and turning and willing yourself, almost begging your brain to go back to sleep. This is often made worse by a big meeting or important tasks the next day, making you feel desperate for sleep. You are now in a ‘stressed’ state and it is unlikely you’ll go back to sleep easily.
You can’t sleep or wake up during the night, ‘no big deal, I’ll do something else’. It’s vital to cultivate acceptance rather than stress. Losing the emotional reaction means your body relaxes and doesn’t worry, and your sleep drive will eventually kick back in. Being in lockdown is actually an advantage for this one as there isn’t that impending doom of a long working day on no sleep.
3. GET UP
If that sleep drive doesn’t kick back in, get up. Tossing and turning for hours can cause your brain to make a subconscious association of your bed with frustration rather than relaxation. So, if it’s not happening, go and lay on the sofa, read or light a candle, have a hot shower, tidy up or use one of the techniques mentioned in point 7 when we get there. When you feel sleepy, head on back to bed.
4. BED IS FOR SLEEP AND SEX ONLY
No work on your laptop, no Netflix, no FaceTime with friends, no playing games, no being on your phone. You get the gist. Bed is for sleep or sexy time only.
5. SEX & MASTURBATION
Bit of a taboo topic but it’s one of the most enjoyable ways for your body to produce a relaxation response. Whether you stimulate it or someone else does, an orgasm is a sure-fire way to signal our body to relax. Don’t underestimate cuddling either, the big O and cuddles release a hormone called oxytocin which is both a relaxant and a sedative for the body.
6. EATING & DRINKING
A small carbohydrate snack of between 100-300 calories can often help induce sleep, but try to avoid alcohol or high sugar snacks near bed time. This is often the one we don’t realise we’re ignoring. If you’re doing everything else but you’ve convinced yourself your wine helps you sleep or you need your post dinner chocolate, it might just be the thing you need to remove. Not forever, just to see, to help get you back on track.
7. MEDITATION & PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION (PMR)
We often think of our minds as encouraging our bodies to relax, but we can also use our bodies to do the reverse. There are now plenty of apps that have audio recordings for guided meditations, PMR or calming sounds and music, such as Headspace, Calm, Breathe and Insight Timer. If you cannot calm your mind, use your body. Start with your feet, point your toe and squeeze your calf muscle for 10-20 seconds and then relax. Move up to your frontal leg, then glutes, then other leg. Gradually move up your whole body muscle-by-muscle. The whole sequence can take 5-15 minutes and should leave you feeling relaxed. This is also a great technique to use if you wake during the night.
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