Despite sitting indoors pretty much all day, every day, you may be feeling more tired than usual at the moment – and, yes, coronavirus is probably to blame.
Stress impacts on “both the amount of sleep we achieve and its quality”, says sleep specialist Dr Michelle Miller, associate professor in Biochemical Medicine at Warwick University. And few things are as stressful as a global pandemic.
Perhaps the Covid-19 situation has left you struggling to switch off at night. Or you doze off – but wake more frequently than usual, and find it hard to get back to sleep. Fighting to get some peaceful shut-eye affects both our physical and mental wellbeing, says Dr Miller. Heightened levels of stress or trauma are also known to increase frequency of night terrors or “anxiety dreams” in adults.
“Sleep is important for memory consolidation [the process where our brains convert short-term memories into long-term ones] and immune function,” she tells HuffPost UK.
Conversely, sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on mental resilience, making coping with the pandemic – and the precautions we are being asked to take – that bit harder during the day. It has also been shown to mirror brain activity in anxiety disorders and can exacerbate pre-existing ones.
“Lack of sufficient sleep affects emotional regulation, inhibition, control and judgement,” Dr Miler says. “It is associated with low mood, irritability and the inability to concentrate on performing tasks.” Which is why it’s important to address sleeping issues – but how can you best do this when you’re already feeling overwhelmed?
Sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works, recommends some proactive steps to regain control over your situation. If you’ve been struggling to fall asleep, she advises spending 10-15 minutes in the early evening writing your worries and thoughts down on paper. “Think about the thoughts you have when you are lying in bed feeling anxious and write them down,” she says. “The simple act of writing them down and seeing them visually in front of you can help alleviate their build in your brain.”
Getting the basics of good sleep right will also help. These include detoxing from the news cycle and social media before bed, trying to stick to a regular bedtime and wake time, and making the most of daily exercise (don’t skip it because you’re tired!)
“Have a light dinner and as varied a diet as possible, as many dietary compounds can boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and reduce the stress-hormone cortisol,” Dr Miller adds. “Try to exercise early in the day, not immediately before bed, and dim down your lights in the evening.”
Taylor also recommends listening to an audio book (hundreds have recently been released for free on platforms like Audible), having a hot shower or bath, then listening to a meditation or breathing exercise while lying on your bed.
“All this allows us to maintain a sense of calm leading up to bedtime.”
If you’re worried about waking regularly, Dr Miller suggests it can help to remind yourself that it is completely normal to do so. “We sleep in cycles of approximately 90 minutes. If you wake up, remind yourself it’s not uncommon to wake up in lighter phases of sleep and try to settle down again,” she says.
For those still struggling to drift back off, Taylor says there’s no point lying in bed tossing and turning. “All this does is build up our anxiety and stress levels and enhance our thoughts, which always seem more catastrophic during the night when all is quiet,” she says.
Instead, during this uncertain period, Taylor recommends building a ‘nest’ in another room other than your bedroom, if you have the space. “Make it a nice, comfortable space, with dim lighting,” she says. “Put a book, or headphones with audiobook or music ready. If you are not feeling sleepy within around 10-15 minutes, get up and go to your nest.”
However tempting it may be, do not look at your phone while visiting the ‘nest’. “Even a quick check of the phone with alerts on screen can be enough to trigger anxious thoughts,” Taylor says. “When you are feeling sleepy, go back to bed and hopefully you will find it easier to get back to sleep.”
For more article and tips, read The Sleep Edition from HuffPost UK.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.