We’re living in unprecedented, unparalleled, and extraordinary times. Sound familiar? I’m not surprised. You’ve probably heard one of these words or a similar variant countless times on the news or across the internet since the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the planet.
The pandemic has impacted everything from politics and supply chains to the way we work and raise our children. One oft-overlooked victim of Covid-19 is sleep.
There are some of us that have found a combination of working from home and lockdown restrictions has enabled the important 8 hours of sleep a night. However, personal circumstances including isolation, quarantine, anxiety, excess screen time, stress, increased alcohol consumption, family, work and/or financial issues have caused the opposite effect on others.
If you’re already a part of the DORMU community, you’ll know that we love sleep! We are however also aware that the majority of the global population are not getting enough of it. According to the World Economic Forum, sleep deprivation affects roughly 62% of adults worldwide and the pandemic appears to not only be exacerbating the matter but also increasing the number of insomnia sufferers.
Sleep and Mental Health During The Pandemic
In October 2020, the Journal of Thoracic Disease undertook an analysis of 843 individuals in the UK. 69.4% of the participants reported a change in their sleeping pattern since the start of the pandemic, and less than half the participants (44.7%) reported a consistent quality sleep. Alarmingly, 65.2% of the participants reported a change in their mental health during 2020.
A similar study regarding the impact of COVID-19 on sleep and mental health in China revealed that participants suffering from insomnia fell between 20% - 36% and depression or depressive symptoms ranged between 24.5% - 50% depending on the proximity to outbreaks with the more extreme end of the scale being more closely rated to China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.
According to Prof Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine and Clinical Director of Oxford’s sleep medicine training programme, good quality sleep is crucial for helping us cope and for tying together our overall health and well-being during times of high stress and disrupted daily routines. Sleep is also critical to physical health and a key factor to have a strong immune system.
Persistent sleep deprivation is not without consequences. Common side effects are loss of energy, sleepiness, impaired concentration and memory, and mood disturbances. At the more extreme end of the scale, low sleep quality has been associated with an increased risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, and risk of developing anxiety or depression.
How To Get Better Sleep During A Pandemic
1. Develop a bedtime routine and sleep schedule
Bedtime routines are important because they help us to develop and establish a ‘sleep habit’. This tells our brain that it’s time to sleep. A routine also helps to allay sleep-onset insomnia, which is the commonly felt experience of finding it difficult to with off and fall asleep.
Want to create your perfect bedtime routine? Check out our guide and start your journey.
2. Reserve Your Bed For Sleep & Sex
This one sounds pretty straightforward, but how many of you treat ‘working from home’ as ‘working from bed’? Sleep experts across the world champion the philosophy that there should be a strong association in your mind between your bed and sleep. The only activities you should associate your bed with are sleep and sex, not work and other related stressors. Sex boosts oxytocin (a hormone that makes you feel connected to your partner) and lowers cortisol (a stress-related hormone), both of which ease you into a natural slumber.
Taking your laptop or phone into bed for work, movies or endless scrolling has a detrimental impact on this association. If you find yourself tossing and turning in the night, do not continue to fight it past the 20 minute mark, get up and do something relaxing in low-light. This does not mean go and watch the TV!
You can also take this time to upgrade your sleeping environment with new bedsheets, a new mattress or a weighted blanket.
3. Be Aware Of Inconsistent Napping
We’re all guilty of it. When you’re stuck at home all day the bed and sofa look so inviting, especially after a big lunch. Long and inconsistent naps can lead to grogginess and a disruption of your natural sleep cycle, making it hard to fall asleep at night and leading to inconsistencies in your bedtimes.
If used correctly, naps can actually improve our learning, help with memory formation, and assist with our emotional regulation. Make sure you typically nap around the same time each day for no more than 20 minutes.
4. Introduce Some Physical Activity Into Your Schedule
Depending on your circumstances it may be hard to exercise in the traditional sense, but regular daily activity can have a positive impact on our sleep (as long as you avoid intense workouts right before bed).
If you can still safely visit gyms or go outside to exercise it’s a great way to take a break from some of your daily stressors. If you’re currently in lockdown then YouTube is a great place to start for some imaginative workouts around the home.
Light is the most powerful cue in aligning your circadian rhythms to the environment. Light exposure suppresses melatonin, so when it’s light outside, your brain tells you to stay alert. And when the sun sets and melatonin production initiates, your body knows it’s time to sleep.
Getting exposure to light during the day it’s crucial in keeping our circadian rhythms in check. Taking a short walk during the day or ensuring your blinds / curtains are open when you’re working from home has a significant impact on your sleep quality and mental wellbeing.
As always, be mindful of using devices before bed. Blue light emitted from phones and laptops interferes with the natural processes in the body that promote sleep, so best to avoid your tech devices for around an hour before you sleep.
6. Relaxation Techniques
Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music, and reading are just a few examples of relaxation techniques that you can build into your routines. Avoiding doomscrolling and taking a moment to separate yourself from Covid-19 related news can do wonders for your mental wellbeing.
Check out these relaxation techniques from Headspace and Harvard Medical School.
7. Food and Drink
Sleep and diet are interdependent; a healthy diet will help you sleep better and a good night’s sleep will help you manage your diet. This can become difficult when your daily routine is upended by frequent changes in rules in your locality.
Unfortunately, you are more likely to eat foods high in calories when sleep deprived, which may lead to a poorer night’s sleep. A good start is to steer clear of caffeine and alcohol where possible, as both can have a negative impact on sleep quality.
You should also attempt to to eat foods that promote sleep like fatty fish, chamomile tea, almonds, and tart cherry juice.
8. Practice Kindness And Connection
This isn’t something you probably think about when considering the quality of your sleep, but kindness and fostering human connection can reduce stress and lessen the negative effects stress has on our sleep and mental health.
As mentioned, taking a break from doomscrolling and seeking out positive stories can help us feel more supported throughout our own individual struggles during the pandemic.
Even if you’re currently unable to meet those you care about, a phone or video call to another person can make a world of difference to both your own and their mental health.
Have any sleep tips that have helped you throughout 2020 and 2021? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!