The coronavirus pandemic isn’t just disrupting our daily schedules and working arrangements – it’s affecting our sleep, too. Across the world, the lockdown restrictions have left many people feeling particularly exhausted, despite the fact that we’re probably moving less than ever.
Thanks to a combination of low sunlight exposure, energy stagnation (from a lack of movement) and staring at screens all day, we’re more tired than ever. However, despite feeling so tired during the day, more of us are also finding that our sleep patterns are still disrupted.
Indeed, new data from Public Health England has revealed that more than four in ten adults are experiencing more sleep problems than usual during the coronavirus outbreak. With more time than ever to dedicate to our sleep schedules and routines, you might presume we’d be getting more quality sleep – but that’s just not the case.
“It’s natural to experience trouble sleeping from time to time and it’s understandable that the current climate is making sleep harder for lots of us,” said Paul Cosford, Emeritus Medical Director for Public Health England. “We want people to know that if you are having trouble sleeping, there is help available.”
In collaboration with Colin Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, NHS Every Mind Matters has launched a new range of resources to help people improve their sleep during the pandemic.
On top of this, there are a number of small changes we can all make as part of our everyday routine to give ourselves the best chance at a good night’s sleep and help us to maintain a sleep schedule.
With this in mind, we asked NHS doctor Christie Lewis to provide her top tips for keeping on top of our sleep in lockdown. Here’s what she had to say.
1. Stick to a routine
It may sound obvious, but giving yourself a set bedtime and wake up time – and actually sticking to it – can help your body clock to get into a routine.
“Try to wake up at the same time each morning and go to bed at a similar time each night as the body clock likes consistency and it will help you sleep,” says Dr Lewis.
2. Keep your body active
Working from home makes it all too easy to sit down all day long, so it’s important to make sure that we’re incorporating some movement into our daily routine.
As Silentnight’s sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan previously told Stylist: “The main reason why inactivity makes us tired is because our muscles become under-utilised and our energy stagnates. We might think we have no energy when we actually do – it’s in the form of potential (stored) energy rather than kinetic (movement) energy.
“The best thing to do is to avoid sitting and staring at screens for too long and get up and move regularly – even for just a few minutes. Do this every hour or so to keep your energy moving.”
Because of this, Dr Lewis recommends making time to do physical activities every day – including ensuring that we get up from our desks regularly.
“There are so many amazing home workouts online for you to keep physically active during lockdown,” Dr Lewis explains
“Whether you want more restorative exercise like pilates and yoga, or more strenuous exercise, there is something for everyone. Ensure you’re also taking regular breaks from sitting to keep your body moving. Keeping physically active will help to maintain a healthy mind and body.”
3. Create a personalised bed time routine
Having a ritual you complete before bed is a great way to notify your body that it’s time to go to bed. It can also help you to destress and deal with any anxiety you’re experiencing before you get into bed.
“Have a relaxing bed time routine which prepares your body for sleep,” Dr Lewis explains. “Try a relaxing warm bath, read a book or listen to some calming music which will relax your body and mind in preparation for sleep.”
Other activities you could incorporate into your bed time routine include completing your skin care routine, practicing some mindfulness meditation, listening to a relaxing podcast or preparing a special drink – as long as it helps you to unwind and feel calm before bed, anything works.
4. Calm your mind
If your bedtime routine doesn’t work to ease all of your anxiety, Dr Lewis recommends adding a sleep aid into your sleep schedule.
“It is normal to over think due to so much uncertainty,” she explains. “Life Armour’s Drops of Slumber contains ingredients that help to calm an overactive mind and ease you into a deep sleep. These 100% natural drops can be taken before bed or if you wake up during the night.”
5. Practice gratitude
While it’s important to note that some people may be dealing with a lot of pain and grief at the moment, if you want to try and improve your everyday sleep routine, Dr Lewis recommends trying to practice some gratitude just before you go to bed.
These don’t need to be elaborate – you can be grateful for getting through another day, for example.
“Gratitude practice is an amazing way to feel positive before bed,” she explains.
“Before going to sleep, tell yourself three things that you’re grateful for today. However small, there will always be something that you are grateful for.”
6. Keep your bedroom clutter free
“Tidy house, tidy mind” is a well-known phrase for a reason – when our environment is organised and clutter-free, we’re likely to feel less stressed and anxious. With this in mind, Dr Lewis recommends trying to keep your bedroom tidy and trying to keep it a space just for sleeping.
“Keep your bedroom tidy, free of clutter and just for sleeping,” she says. “If you associate your bedroom with stress and anxiety, it will affect your sleep, so try not to work in your bedroom if possible.”
7. Avoid bright lights
Reducing noise and light in your bedroom might sound obvious, but it’s all too easy to get stuck on your mobile phone without even realising it. Making sure that your bedroom is a dark, peaceful place will help your body to produce melatonin, a hormone which promotes sleep.
“Try to reduce noise and light in your bedroom where possible,” Dr Lewis suggests.
“If necessary wear ear plugs and an eye mask. If reading, try to use a relaxing bedside light and nothing too bright that may stimulate your brain and affect your sleep.”