How to sleep well in lockdown

Lockdown affected the quality of your shut-eye? You're not alone. Lots of us have experienced disrupted sleeping pattern as a result of the COVID pandemic. Here's how to return to peaceful nights. 

If you're struggling to get a satisfying night's sleep during the lockdown, fear not, Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder at personal development and mental wellbeing app Remente offers his top tips:

Sleep is essential to our existence. It powers the mind, restores the body, and fortifies virtually every system we have. The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of seven to nine hours of sleep for adults, per night, but of course, everyone is different and there are always exceptions, with around 20% of the population needing as little as less than six hours per night. Finding the right sleep routine that suits you is essential to maintaining good mental and physical wellbeing.

lockdown sleeping

While a sleep routine is typically associated with children, it also holds numerous benefits for adults. A recent study, published in the Journal of Public Health, found that when ‘sleep coaching’ (strict sleep guidelines) is implemented, people show a significant increase in well-being, self-care behaviour, and self-care awareness, with a significant decrease in feelings of irritation. Another study, carried out by Universidade Estadual de Campinas, in Brazil, found that those who regularly reported suffering from poor sleep had an increased number of mental health disorders, a greater number of physical health problems, reduced self-confidence, and expressed an increased dissatisfaction with life.

Further to this, the Mental Health Foundation states that there are numerous links between poor sleeping habits and mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. For many, the pandemic has caused a notable disruption to sleep and sleep routines. A recent study into changes in sleep pattern and sleep quality during COVID-19, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, found that many people are napping more in the daytime, going to bed later and waking up later. These small changes in sleep patterns may not seem a lot, but the disruption to sleep hygiene showed an increase in depressive symptoms amongst those who took part in the study.

 

Why has lockdown made such a difference?

sleeping soundly

The pandemic has inevitably caused a lot of uncertainty for all of us over the past year. Whether it is due to health concerns, financial worries, changes in personal circumstance or something else, most of us have had a low moment or two. Anxiety and stress can negatively impact your sleep patterns, and therefore mental wellbeing. Additionally, poor sleep patterns can also lead to poor mental health outcomes, creating a cyclical issue.

Forced changes to our daily routines have meant we cannot visit gyms or participate in exercise classes, and that we are spending an increased amount of time at home and are socialising less. This has resulted in all of our pre-existing routines, including sleep, completely going out the window, imbalancing our circadian rhythms. Finding a routine that works for you throughout the pandemic is important, as it will help to balance energy levels, boost sleep hygiene and bring a new balance to your body's natural sleep-wake cycle.

"When properly aligned, a circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative sleep"

Before exploring the ways to hack your sleep, it is important to understand the importance of circadian rhythms. When you are working a full week, waking up every day at a certain time and going to bed at the same time, do you then find yourself still waking up at that ungodly hour at the weekend? That is your sleep-wake circadian rhythm, aka your internal clock. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that form part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background, carrying out essential functions and processes. Our circadian rhythms are synchronised with a "master clock" in the brain. This master clock is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light, which is why circadian rhythms are tied to the cycle of day and night. When properly aligned, a circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative sleep. When your circadian rhythm is thrown off, however, it can create significant sleeping problems, including insomnia or repeated waking in the night. Creating a steady sleep routine can help you to maintain a healthy, balanced circadian rhythm.

If you’ve found yourself struggling with your sleep routine during the pandemic, and think that a thrown-off circadian rhythm may be to blame, there are some steps you can take in order to create a balanced sleep routine, therefore improving your ability to drift off into a restful night’s sleep.

 

Sleep tracking

sleep tracking apps

By better understanding your own sleep cycle, you have the opportunity to improve not only your mental wellbeing but also your physical health.

As you would record a run using apps like Strava, or improve workouts with new gym gear, advancements in technology can help us track our sleep. This allows you to better understand how you drift off under different circumstances and can help us to improve our sleeping patterns by pinpointing what works, and what doesn’t.

You can monitor your sleep through a variety of wearables, such as Fitbit, while you can find out more about improving the overall quality of your sleep with apps such as Remente.

 

Naps

napping

Though there is evidence to suggest that short power naps in the day can be beneficial to cognitive function, taking irregular and extended (longer than 40 minutes) naps can leave your circadian rhythm all out of whack, meaning you will struggle to sleep properly at night.

For example, one study looked at the sleep patterns of long-haul bus drivers and the effect their irregular sleep patterns had on their overall ability to achieve good sleep. It concluded that while some drivers managed to keep sleep patterns balanced, those who napped irregularly and for extended amounts of time in the day had longer-term issues with sleep.

During the pandemic, people are adapting daily to achieve a sense of work-life balance whilst working from home. However, to achieve a positive balance, it is important to find a routine that works for you, including when you sleep. If furlough or working from home has left you napping during the day, it’s time to cut the habit! It may feel good in the short term, but in the long-run, it can be damaging to your sleep cycle.
 

Screentime

reading in bed, no need for screens

To boost your chances of a restful night’s sleep, reduce screen time before bed. Research has shown that increased levels of screen time can actually slow the release of melatonin—the hormone released by our bodies at night that controls the circadian sleep-wake cycle.

Blocking out time before heading to bed, when you leave your phone in another room, do not check notifications or even switch it off completely can be one way of getting a better night's sleep.

 

Relax

relaxing before bed

Breathing techniques and meditation can be a great way to end the day. Research into improving sleep hygiene supports the notion that just like getting ready for bed by brushing teeth and donning your prettiest pyjamas, relaxation techniques, like breathing and meditation, should also be part of that nightly ritual, to achieve a full and healthy night's sleep.

One such technique involves breathing in slowly through your nose, whilst counting to ten; and then repeating this slow count when exhaling through your mouth, dropping your shoulders and relaxing your body. Repeat this breathing exercise several times. If you struggle, there are meditation apps that can help guide you, and different breathing techniques to overcome anxiety can be found within mindfulness apps, like Remente.

 

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