Are You Sleeping Well In This Pandemic?
In the last few months, I have found myself tossing and turning, hoping for my brain to relax and give in to how tired my body is; to succumb to a peaceful sleep. However, I am as alert as ever! On top of that, my dreams are so vivid and nightmares so frequent, that I truly miss my pre-pandemic sleep.
Well, we aren’t alone. Wakefit.co, a Bangalore based sleep-solutions firm implemented a pan-India survey that shows that 44 percent of 1,500 respondents were getting less than six hours of sleep during the lockdown. In addition to all of this, many people are experiencing nightmares and dreams revolving their fear of COVID, infections, and death. From those work-from-home adults balancing between home and work to those who might have lost their jobs; to students who face the doom of employment uncertainty, many are facing anxiety and stress related to career, work opportunities, and future in general. On the other hand, some others are either old or living away from families and find loneliness hard to deal with. This pandemic has caused a sudden disruption to our daily routines, life calendars, and social commitments which can cause stress and worry and eventually hamper our sleep.
Factors affecting our Sleep Hygiene
In order to understand why we can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep, there are certain factors that we need to keep in mind:
Lack of Daily Routine
From work-from-home lifestyles to closed educational institutions and restrictions on social distancing, the pandemic has severely impacted the world and brought it to a standstill. We no longer conform to our pre-pandemic schedules and have given in to unnatural circadian cycles. Sleep researchers explain our lack of ability to track time these days by talking about a lack of “time anchors” for example, time of our first lecture, or the start of our lunch break at work. On the other hand, due to the change in our routines, many may get too many non-working hours and may oversleep and find it hard to get up.
Screen-Time before Bed-Time
Don’t most of us spend a lot of time on our digital devices before going off to sleep? The blue light from such devices hampers the secretion of melatonin in our brain and can make it difficult for our bodies to wind down and prepare for a good sleep. The screen tricks your brain into thinking it is still day and therefore makes us alert as ever.
Stress and Anxiety
The fear and anxiety specific to the perceived risk of COVID-19 infection, along with the worry of impacted jobs and a lack of livelihood; the uncertainty that the future holds as well as the existential hopelessness of 2020, has caused many of us to be stuck in a loop of negative thoughts. The stress-sleep link is a widely known one and many people may not be able to get good sleep because of such intrusive and worrying thoughts.
Do you Move-it, Move-it?
With all that is going on in our world, it’s natural to not be mindful of how active we are daily. However, a lack of daily physical activity hampers our sleep to a large extent. Not limited to high-intensity workouts or weight-lifting, such physical activity can also start by taking a simple walk around the house or even practising yoga and simple stretching exercises.
Guidelines to Sleeping Well
To help you get the sleep that you deserve, here are some guidelines compiled from various sites/research articles:
Label your Space
One way of tackling our sleep troubles is to label our work/rest spaces in the house, for those who can. This ensures that we leave behind our work in the space that is designated for it and not carry it over to spaces that are intended for us to rest and recuperate in. Another tip is to not use the bed for anything else other than sleep or sex. This helps our brain create the necessary association between the bed and sleep, ensuring a smooth passage into slumber.
Maintaining Sleep Hygiene
Sleep Hygiene or Bed-Habits should include not having caffeinated products before sleep time, reducing alcohol intake, and not exercising close to bed-time. Such activities may hamper our body’s natural sleep-wake cycles. Another vital guideline is to maintain a fixed wake-sleep routine and to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
It may not seem connected, but staying connected to our friends and family through such times may help alleviate stress levels, improve mood, and thus help us get to sleep faster. Therefore, while conforming to physical distancing norms, don’t socially distance yourself from your near and dear ones.
As a habit, journaling can be beneficial in more than one ways: Firstly, maintaining a sleep log about the number of hours you slept, the time that you took to sleep, the number of times you woke up at night, what emotions you felt in bed, the dreams you had, etc. help you to become more mindful about your own body and mind. Secondly, a worry list in your journal where you record all your worries and offer solutions for them may offer you relief when you try and attempt to go to sleep. Thirdly, writing down the positive things that happened in the day/week may also help alleviate stress and induce a night of peaceful sleep. If writing is not your cup of tea, there are a lot of apps like Pillow, Sleep Cycle, Calm, etc. that log your sleep information, which you can use.
Worry Hour Quite often, our sleep comes slowly because we are stuck in the vicious cycle of worrisome thoughts throughout the day and we bring them with us when we go to sleep. Fixing a “worry hour” in the day to limit the time we worry, helps some individuals to avoid bringing them to bed.
There exist several relaxation techniques including meditation, muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, etc that can help individuals reduce their anxiety and stress levels, and strengthen well-being.
Screen Time Detox Its best to avoid the blue light right before bed-time. Thus, try to switch off the devices when you go to sleep so as to avoid the temptation to respond to those distracting alerts and notifications. Instead, try on some winding-down activities like reading a book. During the day too, try to limit the exposure to anxiety-producing news that may follow you to your bedroom.
Exposure to Natural Light For our circadian cycles to function properly, our body needs exposure to natural light. Hence, during the day its best to open up windows to get in as much light and fresh air as possible. If you have terraces/balconies, take a walk outside, or sit there for some time during the day.
Why is good quality sleep so vital, you ask?
To remain healthy and fit, one important criterion is good sleep. However, when living through a pandemic, it becomes even more essential as a part of your immunity-building habits. Not only impactful on your physical health and well-being, but sleep is also a determinant of our mental health. A good sleep routine enhances our mood and energy levels, our cognitive functions like concentration, learning, problem-solving, and memory too. Not only this, but a lack of good sleep also increases the risk of various mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, PTSD, etc. It's important thus to seek professional help from pulmonologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, or psychologists if sleep problems persist. The period of sleep is vital in our body and mind’s rejuvenation process and we should try to give our body the rest it deserves! Article and graphic by - Niharika Suri
References/Read more at:
Altena, E., Baglioni, C., Espie, C. A., Ellis, J., Gavriloff, D., Holzinger, B., ... & Riemann, D. (2020). Dealing with sleep problems during home confinement due to the COVID‐19 outbreak: Practical recommendations from a task force of the European CBT‐I Academy. Journal of Sleep Research.