There’s a whole load of reasons you might be struggling with your sleep during the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown.
A lack of exposure to natural light, a lack of physical activity, stress, the general fear that the world is ending and everything is awful – all that and more plays a role, making it harder to drift off, stay asleep, and get good quality sleep.
Even working from home can wreck our sleep routine – especially if we work from our beds.
The good news is that there are steps we can take to tackle all the fresh new sleep issues that have arisen during lockdown.
We spoke to Dr Kat Lederle, a sleep expert, author, and the founder of Somnia, for her advice. Here’s what she said:
Get some natural light
‘Having to be indoors all day (which is the best response we can take to help tackle the spread of the virus) reduces the small amount of time we typically spend outside even more than normal,’ Kat tells us.
‘This makes it even more difficult to get exposure to light and for our body clock to stay in sync with the external day. This negatively impacts on our sleep times, as the body clock struggles to send the “bedtime” signal to the body in the evening.’
If you’re heading out for your hour of exercise or shopping, try to do it when the sun’s out, and while you’re working at home have your curtains open so the light can shine in.
Even just standing in the window as the sun shines for a few minutes in the morning can help to wake you up and send those signals to your body about when it’s time to work and when it’s time to rest.
Divide up work time and rest time
This is something we keep banging on about, because it really is important – when you’re working from home it’s hugely important to send signals to your brain to clearly demarcate when it’s time to work and when it’s time to rest.
This is essential for boosting your productivity during the day and for making sure you can get to sleep at night.
Have a designated workspace, change out of your pjs to work, and stick to clear working hours rather than dipping in and out.
Have a tech curfew
‘In the evening we might be tempted to work late or keep watching our favourite new show on the streaming platform of our choice,’ says Kat.T’his means we continue to expose ourselves to light (and in particular blue light) and feed our mind with more information (exciting or scary, both are stimulating).
‘To counter this and sleep well and feel refreshed, try to set a curfew for using your phone and laptop and give your mind the opportunity to settle down before going to bed.’
Stick to regular mealtimes
You’re not alone if working from home as made you into an all-day graze machine.
Try your hardest to stick to regular mealtimes to keep a proper schedule and thus keep your body’s natural sleep signals on track.
‘Being home might lead to more snacking on comfort foods (which have more sugar and are high in fat) and irregular meal-times perhaps because your colleague no longer comes round to ask if you want to go for lunch at 1pm,’ says Kat.
‘Caffeine and other stimulants affect your alertness and make falling asleep harder if consumed later in the day.
‘Eating and drinking healthily are even more important than before Covid-19 spread. Being mindful of what and how much you put in your body also aids good sleep.’
Stress and anxiety are major contributors to sleep issues, whether it’s making it impossible to drift off or causing you to toss and turn throughout the night.
Make sure you have a toolkit for dealing with stress and anxiety when they arise – that might mean mindfulness, breathing techniques, or talking through your worries with a friend or counsellor.
Kat advises making sure to stay connected even when isolating.
‘Humans are social creatures and we love to connect with others,’ she explains. ‘That’s why social distancing and self-isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
‘These feelings and the anxiety and worry they can bring can cause sleep problems.
‘Worse, a lack of sleep only adds to causing feelings of loneliness thus creating a vicious circle.
‘Making the effort to reach out and make contact using old and new formats – email, phone, chat apps and so – are all great ways to offset gloomy feelings.’
And finally, know that it’s totally normal to feel unsettled right now – this is a new situation for all of us and there’s no ‘right’ way to react.
Do what you need to feel comfortable and get the rest you need.
‘These are uncertain and stressful times, nobody exactly knows the immediate and distant future,’ says Kat.
‘A lot has changed and continues to change, not least in the ways we work using distributed and virtual workplace models. Under these circumstances, it’s natural to experience anxious thoughts and feelings.
‘Mindfulness can help us to become more aware of our anxious, difficult thoughts and feelings and help us respond helpfully to them. And it helps you to take more effective action to support yourself in these moments.
‘For example, you can use the time usually spent on the commute in the morning or evening to develop a simple daily mindfulness practice. This isn’t intended to help you fall or stay asleep but it will help you control your attention better and refocus.’