The Coronavirus pandemic has brought huge changes to our everyday lives and increased our anxiety about the future. Not surprisingly many of us are experiencing sleep problems.
HOW TO SLEEP WELL DURING COVID 19 – HEALTHY HABITS, is the second in a series of three articles to help you focus on improving and maintaining good patterns of sleep – the key to physical and mental well-being during stressful times. My recommendations combine my experience as a qualified sleep coach and as a mother of two children working at home during this enforced period of isolation. This series of articles are particularly for people following the social distancing rules at home, but who are otherwise healthy.
You can read my previous article about living in line with your circadian rhythm here and sign up below to our newsletter to be informed about our next article – proactively managing anxiety for better sleep.
If you have been staying at home because of Covid-19 you might be keen to find some new ways to improve your well-being and sleep. Good sleep is not necessarily about the big, noticeable achievements, but about the little choices that we make every day. Bread and jam or eggs for breakfast? A morning jog or a lie in and a latte? TV or a book before bed? Go to bed at 11.45pm or 11.15pm? Small decisions like these can make a big difference to your sleep and your well-being today and accumulate to have a massive impact over the long term.
IMPROVE YOUR HABITS FOR BETTER SLEEP
The focus this week is on creating healthy habits that will improve your sleep. There are many things that we do during the day that impact our ability to sleep well at night and now could be an ideal time to examine your habits, question them and perhaps change some of them completely. However, changing habits isn’t easy, so I will also offer some practical tips on how to move through the transition and arrive without a lot of effort on the other side of the habit-adoption curve (see below!)
Why change your habits now?
When you are in the flow of “normal life” your habits take place within a given context – the daily schedule and the environment in which the pattern of days unfold. For example, I can easily be tempted to have a cup of tea at 4pm, do an exercise class late after work and have a heavy, late supper before bed. I may even decide to catch up with friends on What’s App or to watch (just one!) of my favourite episodes, all of which leads up to a late bedtime and poor quality sleep.
At the beginning of this time of social isolation, you may have held on to some of those habits but perhaps you are noticing that they are not indispensable now that the context of your life is entirely different.
Some habits are good to hold on to. They create structure and a greater sense of ease. For example, I notice that I still do the housework on a Saturday morning even though in theory I now have the chance to do it any day of the week. These old habits are familiar and useful.
What habits can we change, or get rid of altogether? Given the amount of stress that we are experiencing, it helps to focus on small wins – little improvements to your habits that can have a big impact. Here are some examples of healthy habits that you can introduce over the next few weeks. Perhaps they will even stick around once life gets back to normal.
Changing habits requires effort, organisation and discipline in the beginning and this is a good time to get over the first hurdle! Once the new habits are set, it will become easier and easier to stick to them.
Source : Michael Widdell
5 healthy habits for better sleep to adopt during Covid-19 isolation
1. Wake up at the same time every day
My children wake me at 6.30am every day. Whilst this can feel painful, especially on Sundays, it is in fact excellent for sleep! The reason why waking up at the same time everyday is so important is because your body plans your sleep backwards based on the time that it thinks you are going to wake up.
How does that work? Your body tries to get the best sleep possible within the time it believes it has available. If you normally wake up at 7am, on any given night your body will expect you to wake up at 7am and will optimise your sleep for the time available (i.e. 8 hours if you go to bed at 11pm or 6 hours if you go to bed at 1am).
If, as an exception, you lie in until 9am, the sleep between 7am and 9am will not be high quality because it was unexpected and not planned for. To make matters worse, because you woke up at 9am your body is expecting you to wake up at 9am again the next day. So, if you go back to 7am wake-up time, you will lose two hours of very important, optimised sleep!
One of the best things that you can do in the coming weeks is to stick to the same wake-up time, on weekdays and at weekends! It might feel hard to begin with but your sleep will thank you for it. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do this forever, but it will help you enjoy a better-quality sleep and get to know your sleep requirements. Once you have improved your sleep you can bring more flexibility back into your wake-up time and see how your sleep responds.
If you are having sleeping problems, check that you are not actually spending too much time in bed. It is better to spend only the time that you need in bed so that your body gets used to being in bed only for sleeping.
2. Energise your morning
The morning is a wonderful time of day, full of hope and optimism. A positive, energising start to your day will wake up your body and mind and kick-start your circadian rhythm so that you expend enough energy during the day to get a restful night’s sleep at night. (See more about your circadian rhythm in my last article).
Can you fit a little bit of exercise into your morning? I have noticed the difference if I fit in just 15 minutes of exercise before I start my day (e.g. between breakfast and work). My mood improves, my day is more positive and productive and, as a result, my sleep is better too.
If you can, exercise outside. Your body needs Vitamin D, which the body gets from direct sunlight or certain foods, to keep your circadian rhythm on track. Exercise in the morning will make sure you are wide awake and ready for your day and may even reduce your caffeine intake.
3. Do something quiet every day
As you slow down and take stock of what’s really important to you, you might notice that you have time for nourishing activities that sustain your emotional well-being and mental health. Even though my days are full and long, I have made time to meditate (I do a weekly yoga nidra and regular 10-minute mindful breaks), read more (I have just finished Anna Karenina) and call my friends and family.
Now that you have a more consistent schedule (if not more free time) try to get into the habit of incorporating some self-care into your day – a time just for you to welcome and explore what you are feeling. It doesn’t have to be too long, even 10 minutes every day is already a great start. It’s better to do something for 10 minutes every day than for 30 minutes every week.
Slowing the body and mind during the day prevents an accumulation of thoughts and emotions clamouring for your attention the moment your head hits the pillow. In the same way as we need time to digest our food, we need time to digest our experiences, thoughts and emotions at regular intervals throughout the day.
“Powering down”, as Lisa Sanfilippo, author of Sleep Recovery, calls it, helps you practice moving between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (your “fight and flight” and relaxation responses). If you are able to move in and out of alert and relaxed physiological states during the day, you are more likely to be able to relax and let go at night too.
4. Mindful eating and drinking
If you find it hard to take breaks it might be easier to try doing everyday activities more mindfully. A practical way to apply mindfulness is with your food and at mealtimes. Taking time to prepare and enjoy food can be relaxing and helps you make better choices about what you eat. Now is an ideal time to get back into healthier eating habits – preparing healthy meal plans, having more home-cooked meals and eating more slowly.
What you eat and when you eat are very important. Try not to eat too close to bedtime (allow 2 hours to digest your food) but it’s not a good idea to go to bed hungry. Very simply, you need to be eating a balanced, healthy diet for optimal health and optimal sleep.
The amount of caffeine you consume has a big impact on your quality of sleep. In fact, if you are suffering from sleeping problems it is one of the first places to look. Cutting down on caffeine can be a challenge so try swapping one of your caffeine breaks with something even more appealing. Can you find something that you will really look forward to to replace your afternoon tea/coffee/cola? How can you make that caffeine-free moment a highlight of your day?
If you are struggling to make better choices, think about what it is that drives your habits – also known as your “habit triggers”. What are you feeling or experiencing when you reach for a sugary snack or decide to have carbonara for supper again? Becoming aware of your habit triggers is often overlooked as we want change to happen quickly, but it helps to make long-term positive improvements to daily habits.
5. Reassuring evening routines
In times of mounting stress, we naturally look for distractions to avoid thinking about things that are worrying us. Watching TV or series are obvious choices, particularly in the evening. However in the evening we need to prepare the body and mind for a restful sleep. Avoiding screens and doing something positive and relaxing is a good habit to get into.
You don’t have to go without TV and screens altogether – just avoid it in the hour before bed. I immediately notice that my sleep suffers when I have not respected this simple rule. If you are turning to TV to distract yourself from worrying thoughts, try doing something more positive instead: read a book, draw, write in a journal, cook, or one of a large number of activities without screens. Here are 50 things you can do in the evening without screens!
Earlier in the evening, it is a good idea to introduce a “news curfew”, maybe by watching the news at 6pm (or earlier) rather than 10pm. Watching the news right before bed can increase anxiety and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. If you are sensitive to anxiety and stress, it can be helpful to avoid talking about Covid-19 and the repercussions after a certain time of day. At home, we try to share our thoughts and concerns about the current situation during the day so that the evening can be a time for lighter conversations.
Make your evening a time to mentally wrap up your day, release stress and tension, be grateful for the small pleasure, practice self-compassion and to plant the seeds of some dreams about a brighter future.
One thing I have learnt about creating healthy habits is that it’s all in the preparation. If you have a goal to be healthier and sleep better, without a concrete plan for how you will get there, you are much less likely to succeed. Start by introducing some easy-to-achieve, practical changes, like have a peppermint tea every afternoon or reading a book before bed.
Take the time over the next days and weeks to pay attention to your habits – especially those that impact your sleep – and make some small, but significant, improvements! We recommend keeping a sleep diary (sign up to our newsletter below for your free Sleepability Sleep Diary) and setting some easy daily habit goals for yourself.
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