Many people are feeling anxious and stressed due to the current situation which can be consequential for your sleep, and therefore your health. Here’s how to fix it.
Sleep is necessary to keep us healthy, functioning human beings. No animal can survive for very long without it. However, due to the levels of anxiety, stress and worry that many people across the globe are experiencing, one of the body’s key processes for keeping us healthy – physically and mentally – is being completely disrupted.
A healthy adult is recommended 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Some will need more, and some will need less. Although, having a poor night’s sleep can leave us feeling more irritable and agitated the next day, it is unlikely to do us any real harm. However, consistently repeating this type of behaviour makes it a pattern which can then be difficult to break.
Losing sleep regularly can disrupt the immune system as well as significantly impact our mood. Right now, we’ve found ourselves in a time where we need to be keeping our immune systems stronger and healthier than ever before.
What is happening?
Sleep disturbance is a well-documented response to stress. There are many ways in which your sleep could be suffering including struggling to get to sleep in the first place and waking up at regular intervals through the night.
This can be explained through the stress hormone, cortisol. When we perceive danger, the amygdala (nervous tissue central to emotional processing) signals for cortisol to be released to prepare the body for fight or flight. This affects the body in a number of ways such as increasing the heart rate, tensing muscles and headache. However, the danger we’re perceiving now – the coronavirus- is not going away yet which means that the stress itself is not discharged, keeping us on high-alert, maintaining those uncomfortable physical and neurological effects.
Even people who normally cope well with stress may be experiencing this as the state of lockdown impacts our ability to go out and socialise which might usually help you to manage your stress levels. As a result, you might become tired earlier than usual as well as wake up earlier. This can make daytime napping all the more tempting when many people are finding themselves working from home. However, it is important to resist the urge as napping – particularly late in the afternoon – can diminish sleep drive. The longer we are awake, the stronger our drive to fall asleep. Therefore, interrupting our time of being awake can result in a decreased drive to fall asleep at the appropriate times.
What to do about it?
It can be a difficult problem to solve because if you’re tired, you want to nap but then if you nap, you hinder your ability to sleep at night. It is a vicious circle. However, there are things that you can do to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep – even when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.
Focus On Food
It is natural right now to feel a desire to reach for comfort food whilst experiencing a situation that feels far out of your control. However, more often than not these foods tend to be high in sugar and high in fat which will only lead to rapid surges of energy as blood sugar spiked, followed by rapid crashes. Try to keep your meals high in protein (meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce) which helps to make us feel full and makes us less likely to crave sugary snacks. Make sure to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as complex carbohydrates to keep your energy levels sustained throughout the day which will hopefully increase your sleep drive.
Set aside time to switch off in the evening as relaxation will counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. Implementing activities such as reading a book before bed or cleansing your face might bring you a sense of relief as well as practising formal relaxation techniques such as yoga. Even sitting down for a minute with your eyes closed and thinking about relaxation can help.
Research shows that some regular exercise during the day can assist you to enjoy a restful night’s sleep but leaving this too late in the day can lead to you feeling energised instead of relaxed. If you enjoy doing your exercise in the evening, perhaps opt for a less intense activity such as a light walk or yoga.
Right now, a lot of your stress is probably coming from worrying about the future. Mindfulness is effective for dealing with stress – and aiding with sleep – because it encourages you to pay attention to the present moment. You can focus on being present formally such as meditation, or informally such as going for a walk or even listening to music.
Do Not Disturb
When looking at interrupted sleeping patterns, most often than not it is your phone that’s the biggest culprit – being on it too close to bedtime, or even sleeping with it beside your bed. The TFT digital light from mobile and computer screens can disrupt the sleep -promoting neurons in your brain. Be sure to actually turn your phone off before bed and keep it at the other side of the room. I would even recommend keeping it in a different room whilst you’re sleeping. That way, it isn’t even on your mind and you can’t be tempted to reach for it.
To help combat stress and anxiety, it could be worth trying a herbal remedy. If you find one that is natural and non-addictive, then you will not have to worry about becoming dependent on it and the very fact that you have taken something may help your mind relax and assist your dropping-off to sleep naturally.
Do yourself a favour and try to create a relaxing routine before going to bed. Ensure the room isn’t too warm or hot, and that it is quiet and dark. The world is a scary place right now and nobody would blame you for experiencing anxiety and stress. If you have something on your mind that is stopping you from sleeping at night, then my one to one counselling sessions might be just what you need.
Although things may remain ambiguous and challenging for a while longer, I hope these tips might help you to get into a good sleeping pattern during lockdown, keeping your immune system strong, your spirits high and your days productive.