By David Saunders, Health Editor | UPDATED: 08:28, 29 May 2020
Between homeschooling unruly kids, concerns about your finances and worrying about the health of friends and family, getting a full night’s sleep is no easy feat these days.
With so many extra stresses to think about, it’s not unusual to spend the night tossing and turning, only to catch a glimpse of the clock and realise you’re way behind on your sleep schedule.
At this stage, you might be wondering whether you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re anxious, or you’re anxious because you can’t sleep. The truth is, it may be both. Being in a heightened state of stress can delay the onset of sleep and cause anxious thoughts to occur at night. But lack of sleep can cause anxiety disorders too.
New research from Public Health England has found four in 10 of us are experiencing more sleep problems than usual during the coronavirus outbreak, meaning we’re missing out on the important physical and mental health benefits of a good night’s rest.
So what can be done? We asked Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, medical director at Bupa Health Clinics (bupa.co.uk), to share his top tips for beating insomnia, relaxing your mind and avoiding restless nights…
1. Make sure you maintain a routine
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“With everything going on at the moment, it can be really difficult to maintain a routine. Whether you’re furloughed or working from home, it is likely your ‘normal’ routine will have changed quite a lot from what it was before.
“Try to wake up and go to bed at a similar time to what you would before lockdown began. This will help you maintain a regular sleeping pattern – you should be aiming for seven and a half to eight and a half hours per night.
“Avoid napping during the day and make time to wind down before bed to help you get to sleep more easily. You can do this by either reading, practicing mindfulness or taking time away from technology.”
2. Limit caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
“Drinking tea, coffee or energy drinks during the day can impact your sleep at night. While people process caffeine differently, as a general rule it’s recommended that we stop drinking caffeine after 3pm – so consider switching to decaf or herbal teas after this.
“When it comes to alcohol, consumption may make you feel sleepy and reduce the time it takes for you to fall asleep. However, once the alcohol wears off, it is likely you will sleep more lightly and have more disturbances during the night, leaving you feeling less refreshed in the morning.
“Most people are well aware of the physical health benefits of cutting down on alcohol – but there are also mental health benefits too. For example, alcohol can make people feel more anxious – so cutting it down can help manage anxiety.
“It’s also important to consider the impact of smoking on your sleep. Nicotine can increase your heart rate and alertness, so if you smoke before bed, you may feel more awake and struggle to fall asleep.”
3. Manage your news consumption
“It’s normal to feel anxious during this current time, especially as we move into the next phases of the restrictions. These worries can keep you awake at night and affect how you sleep.
“There are lots of techniques you can use to help reduce anxiety, such as talking about how you are feeling with a close friend or family member. Another good idea is managing your news consumption throughout the day, and if what you are reading is making you feel overwhelmed, try to turn it off, focus on something else, or go for a walk to clear your head.
“Be careful about the source of your information. Twitter and forwarded social media messages are often misleading and incorrect, which can further fuel anxiety. Try to stick to reputable news sources.”
4. Think about your sleep environment
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When you feel out of control, finding one thing to do that you can control will make a big difference. With everything going on right now it is easy to feel overwhelmed and think, “what can I even do?” Protecting your peace and being proactive to have a healthy mind is something you can do that is really important! This week I have been being intentional to make my bed first thing in the morning. Is it going to save the world? No, but is it going to help me start the day with a win? Yes. We need all the wins right now no matter how big or small! This is something small that I can do to pursue peace and regain a pinch of control. What is something that could help start your day with a win? ????
“Your sleep environment is personal to you, but try to create a space that is cool, dark and quiet, as this will make it easier to fall asleep.
“Some people use sleep stories to send them to sleep, or listen to calming music. Others will sleep better if their phone is in a different room. Create an environment that works for you and keep this as part of your sleep routine throughout lockdown.”
5. Take some time out from staring at the ceiling
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“If you’re struggling to fall asleep, don’t lie in bed worrying or feeling anxious. Get up and read a book, or listen to a podcast or relaxing music.
“This can get your mind to focus on something else and ultimately help you feel sleepy again. Try to limit your screen time though, or use devices on night mode, so the light doesn’t further disturb your sleep pattern.”