The COVID crisis has, for lots of us, had a significant impact on our sleep. It has been common for us to feel stressed and anxious about the outbreak, with worries about homeschooling, the health of our families and fears about job security impacting on our sleep. More alcohol, less exercise and erratic sleep times, coupled with the temptation to nap has had a negative impact on sleep for many of us. However, there has also been a significant minority of people whose sleep has improved. We have seen this in people who are more late sleep types or ‘owls’. This is because owls have been able to sleep with their body’s natural rhythm, going to bed later and getting up later; owls haven’t had to be woken by an alarm to start the daily commute to school or work, and a pattern has been developed that allows work to be undertaken at a time that is best for owls.
But now, as the trumpets sound and the angels sing, we have vaccination and some hope. When lockdown measures begin to be slowly relaxed, allowing us to return to more familiar patterns when it comes to working, school, exercise and socialising, our sleep may change again. There has to be an acceptance that our sleep might get worse before it gets better. To help here are 5 tips from our in house Sleep expert, James Wilson, to help with transitions:
1. Can we work more flexibly? For owls who took advantage of sleeping with the body’s natural rhythm and felt more productive later in the day, discuss with the powers that be if work patterns can reflect this. If this isn't possible and the work schedule is more rigid, then try and do more demanding tasks in line with your body’s natural rhythm. Owls should do more mentally demanding tasks later in the day, while those of us with more larkish rhythms should do this work earlier. Follow this advice and work becomes a little bit easier.
2. Our wake up time might be earlier than it has been during lockdown. Most of us will think we need to bring our bedtime forward, but this ignores one of the truths we know about sleep; that we cannot force ourselves to sleep. This means we end up going to bed earlier; tossing and turning for hours on end and often we end up going to sleep later than we have been. If we want to go to bed earlier, to handle the earlier wake up we are better off starting by moving our wake up time first. Some people do this gradually, making their wake up time earlier by 30 minutes while many will just force themselves to get up at the new time. Doing this so we can be consistently waking up at the new time at least 3 days before starting work or school again will help our bodies get into a routine. This will help drive our sleepiness at bedtime and will more than likely help us fall asleep earlier, within the parameters of our sleep type.
3. Natural light earlier in the day helps our body understand it is now daytime and helps reduce lethargy and improve alertness. This means getting outside earlier in the day, particularly in the summer, and if additional help is needed then try a sunshine alarm clock and/or a natural lightbox. The sunshine alarm clock has a light that rises like the sun and gently eases the body out of sleep. The lightbox can be used as we get dressed or eat our breakfast and helps us feel ready for the day.
4. If returning to exercising remember that it is great for sleep, but do it too close to bedtime (in the three hours before sleep) and it will more than likely make our sleep worse. We may struggle to get to sleep, but more likely it will cause us to wake up numerous times during the night.
5. Make sure the hour before bed is focused on being relaxed and cooler. Is what we watch, listen or read funny, trashy or repetitive? Stuff like horror films, engrossing books or inspirational podcasts are not right before bed, as they can raise our heart rate and get us thinking. If we want to be cooler try a warm bath or shower, as it will slightly raise our core temperature and then drop it. This is an important part of the process that prepares our bodies for sleep.
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