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WELL-BEING

Tips to get your sleep cycle back on track

Sleep disturbance is a common trauma response, along with anxiety and depression.

In Summary
  • The only thing worse than waking up to more bad news is not falling asleep.
  • Those who sleep for five to six hours per night will be 19 per cent less productive at work the next day, compared to when they sleep seven to eight hours.

Covid-19 has brought the world into uncharted waters characterised by slowing economies, lockdown and uncertainties, which have detrimental effects on health and livelihoods. As a result of changes to our routines, and a lack of structure in our everyday lives, many are finding it more difficult to fall to sleep and sleep well.

Worrying disrupts sleep cycles. The only thing worse than waking up to more bad news is not falling asleep. Sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune and metabolic systems, heightening brain functions, enhancing mood, improving general mental health wellness, beating back stress and optimal productivity.

Those who sleep for five to six hours per night will be 19 per cent less productive at work the next day, compared to when they sleep seven to eight hours. Sleep disturbance is a common trauma response, along with anxiety and depression.

Social distancing, school closures, quarantines and working from home all bring profound changes to routines. Physical exercise, exposure to natural light and regular meal times are powerful forces in aligning our circadian rhythms. Current sleep patterns characterised by sleeping more or sleeping less impact our natural circadian rhythm, which is an essential internal “clock” that plays a key role in regulating our sleep and controlling body temperature and hormones.

While some of us are reconnecting with our natural circadian rhythm, others might have trouble falling asleep, or may be waking up multiple times during the night as uncertainty increases stress levels and stress hormones such as cortisol, which help regulate our sleep-wake cycle.

Anxiety can be exacerbated by isolation at home, leading to sleep problems. Cancelled trips, isolation from friends and an abundance of time cooped up at home can place a strain on anyone. Keeping up with work-from-home obligations such as managing a house full of children accustomed to being at school can pose real problems, stress and discord.

Create the right sleep environment. Light is one of the biggest barriers to sleep, thus, keeping your bedroom dark and cool at night is advised. Avoid using the bedroom as an office. Using the bed as a workstation or eating area can adversely impact sleep patterns.

Other factors contributing to insomnia at this historic time include difficulties in adjusting to new daily schedules or lack of schedules, inability to keep track of time without typical time “anchors”, naps during the day, economic concerns and more time for TV and films with increased intake of drinks such as coffee and alcohol. In addition, excess screen time, especially later in the evening, have a detrimental impact on winding down and suppressing the natural production of melatonin necessary for sleep.

The good news is that there are steps we can take to mitigate insomnia. These include coming up with daily schedules that include wake-up time, wind-down time, bedtime, eating meals at the same time each day and blocking off specific time periods for work and exercise.

Create the right sleep environment. Light is one of the biggest barriers to sleep, thus, keeping your bedroom dark and cool at night is advised. Avoid using the bedroom as an office. Using the bed as a workstation or eating area can adversely impact sleep patterns.

Ditch digital devices. Many of us are spending more time on our digital devices for news, social media feeds and audiovisual communication. Digital devices emit a blue light that delays the production of melatonin. Avoid looking at screens an hour before bedtime. Laptops and TV mess with the body’s clock, making it harder to fall asleep and the content one comes across could be destructive.

Get exposure to natural light and dark to help keep circadian rhythms in balance and make one tired. Maintain a healthy diet. Finish your evening meal and let it digest before bedtime, ideally three hours. Do not drink too much caffeine and never after 2pm.

Be careful with alcohol consumption. Above a moderate level, alcohol can certainly help us fall sleep, but it will also ensure that sleep is lighter and can lead to early morning awakenings. Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Take a warm shower 90 minutes before bed to help you nod off faster and increase total sleep time.

Keep the pets away. Exercise daily. Exercise has been shown to aid in getting more and better quality sleep. Make use of relaxation techniques and, lastly, contact your doctor if necessary.