How lockdown has affected our sleep
Lockdown has created a huge change in our daily routines which has lead to some perhaps unsurprising findings with regards to our sleep patterns which were reported recently by the World Economic Forum
Some of the key findings show that we are;
- Going to bed later at night and getting up later in the morning too
- Having more disrupted sleep with vivid dreams
- Reporting a decreased quality of sleep.
Surveys and stats from sleep trackers have confirmed that without our early morning commutes and school runs, we have time to lie in far later than usual. This means as a nation we are actually getting slightly more sleep under lockdown. This is somewhere between 42 minutes and one hour more sleep each day.
However, a significant number of us are struggling to get a good night’s sleep due to the disruption to ‘sleep as usual’.
A recent survey on changes to sleep patterns under lockdown by EveSleep highlighted that whilst we are having more sleep than we were before lockdown our anxiety levels are higher. Roughly half of those surveyed were kept up worrying about the pandemic.
Another survey on life under lockdown by Kings College London (in partnership with Mori) reported that 38% of us are finding that we have slept less well or less than normal during the lockdown.
Thus, all in all, things are far from normal, not least with regards to our anxiety levels, our sleep quality and our sleep schedule.
How to reset your sleep patterns
As restrictions are lifted and we move to a ‘new normal’ it’s important to rebalance your sleep patterns. For those going to bed a lot later than normal, there is the challenge of resetting their sleep clock back to their normal routine. For others, it is learning to live with ‘Covid anxiety’ at night so that they can get to sleep easily.
Rather than just going back to your ‘old-routine’ however, why not take the opportunity to adopt a new sleep regime. My hope is that I can help you get a better night’s sleep than you had ‘pre-Covid’. This is not least because a good night’s sleep is needed for a healthy immune system.
Here is my ‘5-step plan’ to help you both reset your sleep patterns and get a great night’s sleep in the ‘new normal’.
1. Stagger your return to your normal sleep pattern.
If you are going to bed later than normal you will need to adjust back to your usual earlier sleep times. The problem here is that not only is it harder going to bed earlier, when you aren’t necessarily tired, but your body clock expects you to go to bed at the same time give our take two minutes each day.
Although your body clock and internal systems can adjust by an hour each day, it is far easier to acclimatise in smaller steps especially when going to bed earlier. An ideal length which I find is easily manageable is to make the changes in ten-minute steps. So, if for example, you are going to bed an hour later than normal you would take six nights to adjust back to your normal sleep routine. If you are going to bed even later (i.e. two to three hours) you could take larger steps. However, I would limit the adjustment to thirty minutes maximum to allow your body to acclimatise.
2. Change your meal times straight away
Eating at regular meal-times helps us to maintain our sleep/wake cycle. They also support our digestive system and metabolism by feeding into the body’s Circadian Rhythm. If your current meals are out of cinque with your normal routine change them back to your usual times straight away. This then makes it easier to reset your body clock.
The best ‘diet for sleep’ is typically a ‘Mediterranean Diet’ consisting of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, with fish, nuts and seeds too. Typically, it would have less meat and dairy than we are used to eating. This sort of diet helps boost the immune system and is rich in all the nutrients and antioxidants that we need to support our immune system.
Rather than get bogged down with which fruit supplies what, I often recommend to my clients that they aim to eat as many different coloured fresh fruit and vegetables as possible each day. This will then typically supply a healthy range of essential vitamins and minerals as different coloured fruit and vegetables tend to have different nutrients. Don’t forget to always eat fermented foods such as yoghurt too as these are needed for a healthy gut flora, which in turn helps both your sleep and immune system.
It is also important to drink lots of water as hydration helps us sleep. However, always make sure you avoid caffeine after lunchtime if you are finding it difficult to nod off. Caffeine prevents us from going to sleep if drunk too close to bedtime.
3. Reduce your anxiety levels
Anxiety is often cited as the main reason we have trouble both getting to a staying asleep. In fact, nearly 80% of us reporting that stress stops us from switching off at night. In addition six out of 10 of us find that we often wake suddenly in the night with thoughts of work and other worries. Now there is the added anxiety of Covid to cope with too.
The problem here is that when we get less sleep due to anxiety it actually makes it harder to cope the next day. Indeed, research has also demonstrated that sleep deprivation is associated with negative mood states, including anxiety
Specific tips to reduce Covid Anxiety include only getting your news from reliable sources and to avoid looking at the news late at night. Increasing your exercise will help too. If you are struggling to cope you could also try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
For those of us who tend to let our thoughts get on top of us, who suffer generalised nightly anxiety, and are worried about Covid in particular I would suggest you focus on two key areas.
The first is to continue to be vigilant with basic Covid Hygiene. This means avoid touching your face and eyes when you are out of the home. Also, continue to always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when returning from outside. By remaining vigilant it will help you reduce anxiety around the virus.
The second is to keep your ‘emotions in the day’ by writing down a to-do list of all your deadlines and concerns before we go into the bedroom at night. This list helps you to separate tasks into the urgent and ‘none urgent’. Within it have a list of jobs which need to be done the next day. Once you have your thoughts down on paper and out of our head it will help you to contain your thinking and reduce your anxiety. Don’t forget though if you are awake for more than 20 minutes don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and wait until you are tired enough to return to sleep.
4. Learn from your positive lockdown experiences
It’s well known that exercise is proven to help us get to and stay asleep. So how did you find exercising outdoors versus the gym perhaps? Also, if you were going out to walk more outside to stop yourself from going stir crazy how did this work for you?
Exercising and walking outdoors is a great sleep aid as getting sunlight helps us to sleep better. Firstly, sunlight helps us produce Vitamin D which is needed to help us both stay asleep and get deep restful sleep. Secondly, sunlight helps to reinforce the distinction between day and night. This strengthens the body clock which in turn makes it easier to get to sleep at night.
Did you start to use relaxation and meditation for the first time to help cope with the anxiety of Covid and the lockdown? If so, why not continue? Also, was the lack of structure and routine unsettling. Your brain likes habit and structure, how can you take this forward into a good sleep routine for example?
5. Create a new, improved, sleep routine
Following on from this why not try to establish a regular sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time seven days a week? Here a tech curfew of stopping use of all tech (including mobile phones) at least an hour before bed is key. Use of technology just before bed makes it hard to switch off as it overstimulates our brains. It also emits blue light, which is the light which wakes us up. Instead, wind down with a shower or bath, then read a book, and then go to bed.
You can also incorporate your to-do list along with some meditation and relaxation exercises in your routine. One proven technique is called the 4-7-8 breathing. This involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 7, then slowly breathing out for 8 seconds. Deep breathing, in particular, mimics the breathing pattern of sleep and helps you to get to sleep more easily as it relaxes you.
I hope that this 5-step process helps you get a great night’s sleep. If you are personally concerned that you aren’t getting enough sleep please get in touch via our email form in the contact section and I will set up a free 10 minute online / phone sleep consultation.
For those in business who would like wellness and sleep advice as a company, I offer online presentations and bespoke courses covering areas from sleep, workstation and postural assessment, nutrition and exercise, and stress management amongst others.