Finding your sleep pattern turned upside down? Sleeping way more than usual? Way less? Nodding off in the afternoon? Having odd dreams? All perfectly normal right now, according to the National Sleep Foundation, a non-profit agency for sleep education and advocacy.
There are all sorts of reasons you may not be sleeping soundly—most of them will stem from the fact there’s a global pandemic that has profoundly altered just about every aspect of life.
Your schedule will almost certainly be off, for example, possibly causing you to oversleep, which can leave you groggy, irritable and unfocused. On top of that, daily routines around school, work and fitness may have collapsed. At home, low levels of natural light can confuse light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep, known as zeitgebers. There’s a fix for that I wrote about in the Ottawa Citizen.
Then there’s the worry—about health, money, parents, sick friends and family, relationships. For those living alone, there can be an increased sense of isolation and loneliness.
Screen time may be on the rise; that can affect sleep—especially in the evening, when it stimulates the brain and suppresses production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. Stress-related fatigue may present as persistent headaches, memory lapses, and tummy trouble.
Sleep hygiene is more important than ever. It bolsters the immune system, heightens brain function, enhances mood, and can alleviate symptoms of anxiety or bipolar disorders, and PTSD. The good news is that are ways to improve sleep hygiene, ones you’ll benefit from long after the current crisis is over.
Here are some tips from the Foundation.
- Set a schedule: Establish fixed wake-up and wind-down times, and stick to a consistent time at which you turn off the light and go to sleep. It’s probably a good idea to incorporate some level of routine throughout the day.
- Keep the bed for sleep or sex: Create an association in your mind between your bed and sleep and sex. Don’t use it, for example, to work in.
- It’s nicer to sleep in clean bed linens: Change sheets once a week. To create an even fresher feeling, change pillowcases mid-week.
- Look to the light: Spending some time outside in natural light every day will have a positive effect on circadian rhythms. Open windows and blinds to let light into the home during the day.
- Nap, but not too much: Avoid long naps or naps later in the day that can leave you wide awake at night.
- Keep moving: If you can, go for a walk—don’t forget to maintain a safe distance from other people. If not, try an online class, or even some simple stretches at home a few times a day.
- Be nice: It might not seem critical to your sleep, but kindness-to yourself and others-can reduce stress and its harmful effects. Look for positive stories, and use technology to stay in touch with friends and family.
- Relax: Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, meditation, music, and quiet reading can all aid relaxation. Check out the many apps now available.
For some, the combination of factors can lead to feelings of despair and depression, so ask for help if you have severe or worsening sleep or mood problems. In that case get in touch with a doctor. Here in Canada, the federal government has launched Wellness Together Canada, an online portal to resources, tools, apps, connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals, and which includes modules for addressing low mood, worry, substance use, social isolation and relationship issues, as well as ways to get support if you are in crisis. Don’t forget that there’s always someone who wants to listen, and to help.
Featured pic supplied by Au Lit Fine Linens. One of Toronto’s prettiest store, it has an extensive selection of bed linens and accessories that are available online, and an outlet section with some really good deals.