Have your sleep patterns been compromised by coronavirus crisis?
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Struggling to shut down at the end of the day during lockdown? Christine Webber has nine tips to make sure you sleep easy at night
I don’t remember many restless, wakeful nights when I was young. But as I’ve aged, sleep has become more of a luxury and is the first thing to fly out of the window if my life is disrupted in any way. I realise this is true for lots of people.
It’s not surprising therefore that research is emerging about sleep being a major casualty of the corona crisis. After all, we’re dealing with something so strange and unexpected, it’s hard to relax, isn’t it?
Some of you though may feel that in a kind of way you’ve rehearsed for this period, because you’ve lived through other unwanted life events which have left you tossing and turning through the night.
Certainly, like so many individuals, when I was caring for my husband through his terminal illness, I accepted that my own longed-for shuteye had to take a back seat. But I wasn’t prepared for how chaotic my slumber patterns would be after his death. One night I’d fall asleep quickly, only to find myself wide awake after half an hour. At other times. I’d lie sleepless till dawn. So, I found myself reading up about insomnia and experimenting with various strategies. And this week. I thought I’d share with you those that work for me.
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1. Eat a decent-sized lunch but a lighter meal in the evening. Avoid drinking anything with caffeine in it after midday. And make sure you’re getting as much exercise as you can. If you’ve been sufficiently active during daylight hours, sleep will be easier to achieve at night.
2. During the day, make a note of anything that’s worrying you and try to assess if it’s really worth worrying about. If it is, plan small steps to start dealing with it. This will help you later, because when you’re lying in bed, and your head is throbbing with anxiety, you can remind yourself that you’ve started to work on these problems, and that your brain needn’t bother with them now.
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3. Check if your bedroom is dark enough. I realised that my curtains were inadequate for keeping out streetlamps at night and the sunrise in the mornings. So, I bought a roller blind to go behind the curtains and that’s really helped.
4. Establish a routine for winding down at the end of your day. Switch off all screen devices except the TV an hour before bed. And restrict television viewing at that point to soothing music, nature or cooking programmes, and favourite comedies. At all costs, avoid fast moving, complex dramas late in the evening. And don’t read complicated novels or frightening thrillers either – especially not in bed. They kickstart your brain into being busy just when you want it to rest. Try a travel guide instead. Or a book you read as a child.
5. Dale Carnegie, the author of the hugely successful 1936 title How To Win Friends and Influence People, said: “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there and worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the loss of sleep.” Since then, countless experts have said much the same and usually suggest that if you’ve been in bed for 20 minutes without sleeping, it’s best to get up. I agree that this is a good tactic if you’re so wakeful you’re not even yawning and feel you’re nowhere near dropping off. But if you do get up, don’t look at a screen of any kind, just have a hot milky drink, keep warm, listen to a soothing station on the radio and do something gentle like a jigsaw.
6. If you’re not sleeping but don’t actually feel wide awake, I believe you’re better off staying where you are rather than getting up. Sometimes, if you have a partner, snuggling up to him or her will give you comfort, and enable you to rest quietly. Also, if you’re not very mobile, it may be unwise to get up in the night in case you fall.
7. A neurologist once told me that sleep comes in waves and that if you imagine you’re a surfer, in the sea, waiting for absolutely the right wave to convey you to the shore, this imagery will keep you pleasantly occupied until slumber overcomes you.
8. Visualise something lovely, such as a rose in your garden. Focus on it closely and intently. Or imagine a walk in a much-loved holiday destination. Mentally, potter through the streets, noticing people, the shops, the blue skies… These are good ways to quieten your mind
9. Try 7/11 breathing. This is marvellous for calming the body and the spirit. Breathe in through your nose, mentally counting to seven. Then breathe out through the mouth to the count of 11. If you keep this going for ten minutes, you’re likely to become so relaxed that sleep will follow.
Good luck. And if you need more support, I’ve recorded some video podcasts on anxiety and low mood. You can access them free, on: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNUB09f2peBrQyO_VBHK2Vw