There was definitely a lot of anxiety, but for the most part, I remember all of my emotions being subdued by one overarching, undebatable fact: I was knackered.
I definitely wasn’t the only one who felt this way: from problems falling asleep to waking up at random points of the night, many people found that lockdown had an impact on their sleep, leaving many of us struggling to function.
So, why does lockdown impact our sleep so badly – and is there anything we can do to avoid this kind of disruption as we face another one? We asked Kally Sleep’s expert, Ori Leslau, to explain all.
Here’s what they had to say.
How does lockdown impact our sleep?
According to Leslau, there are five main reasons why so many of us found our sleep was disrupted during the first national lockdown.
1. Loss of routine
Our routines have changed so much this year it’s hard to keep track – and that constant fluctuation is playing havoc with our sleep.
“Life has changed for everyone lately,” Leslau explains. “Concepts like social distancing, lockdowns and different working arrangements have all had a profound impact on our daily lives, so it’s no wonder why we may struggle to sleep.
“Being stuck at home, especially with the winter coming and the days growing darker, can mess with our circadian rhythm, too.”
2. Worry and anxiety
The number of things we have to worry about has increased massively during the coronavirus pandemic, making it harder for us to relax when it’s time to go to bed.
“Covid-19 has left most of us feeling worried, anxious or even panicky at some point,” Leslau says. “We’re concerned about catching the virus ourselves, as well as inadvertently passing it on to our loved ones. Economic concerns are a big factor too. The economy is struggling, with many of us worried about job losses or a reduction in hours.
“Longer-term worries about how long the pandemic will last, when (or indeed if) things will ever get back to normal and how the economy will recover can also make the mind race.”
Not only does worry and anxiety make it harder to fall asleep, but it can also lead to poorer sleep quality, too. As Dr Andy Cope, an expert in positive psychology, previously told Stylist: “Stress means we sleep lightly and intermittently instead of achieving deeper REM sleep. As a result, it’s very easy to fall into a vicious cycle of poor-quality sleep which leads to a stressful day which leads to poor-quality sleep.”
3. Feelings of isolation
The impact of loneliness on our mental and emotional health can also impact our sleep, too.
“Perhaps we’ve not been able to see grandparents for a long time as they’re in a care home or have missed out on our favourite hobbies due to restrictions,” Leslau explains.
“Social isolation has been a big theme this year, potentially leading to depression and sleep problems.”
He adds: “This will only worsen as lockdown sets in, with us all being limited to interacting with our own households.”
4. Too much screen time
“Zoom calls, Netflix binges and working from home can mean we’re glued to our screens more than we should be,” Leslau says.
On top of this over-reliance on screens during the daytime, we’re also relying on them a lot at night – to check the latest news updates before bed, for example. And as sleep psychology and mindfulness expert Hope Bastine previously told Stylist, this kind of phone usage makes it much harder to fall (and stay) asleep.
“Our phone usage is knocking our sleep behaviours – it’s actually inhibiting us from sleeping,” Bastine explained. “It takes one hour – post-darkness – for melatonin, which is the sleep hormone, to start being produced, to make you sleepy. So, when the phone is beside you on the bedside table and suddenly you start tossing and turning, what’s the easiest thing to do? Pick the phone up – and then you’re resetting your clock.”
5. Household stresses
Living in close proximity to others for an extended period of time is never easy, so it’s hardly surprising that lockdown has made things a lot more stressful.
“If households are feeling a little on top of each other, tensions can flare up,” Leslau explains. “On top of this, there’s the hassle and disappointment of cancelled holidays and day trips away.
“The stress and discord this can all bring isn’t exactly restful.”
So, what can we do to improve our sleep in lockdown?
On top of taking action to minimise the effects of the above (such as reaching out to others on a regular basis to tackle loneliness and engaging in some screen-free activities), there are a number of extra steps we can all take to improve our sleep.
1. Practice a relaxation technique
There’s a common theme running through all of the above points: stress.
The coronavirus pandemic has added a whole lot of extra pressure and worry to our lives; by dedicating a portion of our day to a relaxation exercise, we can help to limit the impact these stresses might have on our sleep.
“You may also like to listen to some soothing music or practise meditation.”
2. Make sure your bed is comfortable
It’s a no-brainer, right? From your mattress to your pillows, creating a soft and relaxing environment is key to a restful sleep.
“Your bed should be your sanctuary (at bedtime, not during the day),” Leslau points out. “Make sure your mattress supports you correctly and that your bedding is nice and clean – you may feel tense with stress from working from home so make sure you have a supportive pillow, too.”
Alongside making your bed comfy, you might want to think about how you can make your bedroom a more relaxing, stress-free space, too.
As NHS doctor Christie Lewis previously told Stylist: “Keep your bedroom tidy, free of clutter and just for sleeping. If you associate your bedroom with stress and anxiety, it will affect your sleep, so try not to work in your bedroom if possible.”
3. Get active during the day
Lockdown has made it easier than ever to sit inside all day and never leave the house, so dedicating time to getting active (preferably outside) has never been more important.
“Regular exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety and boost the amount of time you spend in the deeper, restorative stages of sleep as well as helping you fall asleep,” Leslau explains.
“Just be careful not to exercise too near bedtime, as it could be counterproductive and in fact wake you up.”
4. Create a bedtime routine
At a time when our days are potentially more stressful than ever, creating a buffer period between your ‘awake’ time and ‘rest’ time is vital.
“A ‘good bedtime routine’ is one that is consistent,” Leslau advises. “Each individual has different needs and ways to relax before going to bed, as long as it is a regular routine that relaxes both mind and body.”
He adds: “Your body will get into the routine of knowing that whatever you choose to do is an indication of being time to rest and sleep, so consistency is key.”
On top of providing you with dedicated time to unwind, engaging in a bedtime routine is a great way to give yourself some non-screen time before bed, something that’s super important if you struggle to fall asleep.
As sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan previously told Stylist: “The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you should stop using electronic devices, like your smartphone, at least 30 minutes before bedtime, as the blue light can affect your internal body clock and throw off your circadian rhythm. Give it a try, and it may help you get a deeper, more restorative sleep.”
For more tips and tricks on how to get a better nights sleep, you can check out Stylist’s sleep content here.