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Struggling to sleep during lockdown? Try these 10 tips for better sleep

Lead Physician at Bupa
14 May 2020

Are you struggling to get a decent night’s sleep? You may be feeling tired and finding it hard to get to sleep. Or do you find yourself waking up frequently and worrying about the current situation? Perhaps you’ve even started experiencing strange and vivid dreams when you do fall asleep.

During times of uncertainty, it’s common to have some disruption to your normal sleep pattern. Feeling more worried and stressed can affect the amount and quality of sleep you get. This makes it hard to switch off. If you’re feeling anxious it can sometimes cause you to have frightening dreams. This can lead to symptoms such as screaming, kicking or sleep walking – also known as night terrors.

Getting regular and quality sleep is very important for your health, both physically and mentally, and helps you to cope better with change. It also plays an important role in looking after your immune system. It can even lower your risk of developing health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Tips for getting a more restful night’s sleep

If a lack of sleep goes on for more than a few nights, it can really take its toll on your emotional wellbeing. High quality sleep needs a good bedtime routine, and the recommended amount of sleep that we need each night is between seven and nine hours. Here are 10 practical steps that you can take to give you the best chance of sleeping well.

1. Establish a sleep routine

Routine is often referred to as the guardian of good sleep, and can really help you to get a good night’s sleep. When you experience changes to your normal routine, this can affect your internal body clock. This is called your circadian rhythm. It controls when you feel tired and when you feel awake. Set up a regular sleep schedule, by aiming to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. Avoid sleeping in on weekends, as this can make it harder to wake up on Monday morning.

2. Get outside

Try and take advantage of your one hour of daily exercise to go outside at the same time each day, so it becomes part of your daily routine. Getting outside and exposing yourself to natural light and dark plays an important role in keeping your circadian rhythm in balance, and can make you feel tired and ready for bed. It also helps to produce a hormone in your body called melatonin, which can regulate your sleep and wake patterns.

3. Limit your news intake

The sheer volume of information and news reports on COVID-19 can feel overwhelming, and increase both your stress and anxiety levels. Avoid the temptation to watch the news and use social media a few hours before bed. The blue light from TVs, laptops and mobile phones can trick your body clock into thinking it’s morning. So ideally have an hour before bed of screen-free time. Try to limit the amount of time you spend watching the news, and do this earlier in the morning, instead of before you want to sleep.

4. Eat well and exercise

Studies have shown that regular exercise and being active during the day can help you to sleep, by relieving the worry and anxiety that can disrupt sleep. Exercise regularly, preferably in the morning rather than at night. If you do intense exercise at night you may feel overly energised and have trouble falling asleep. There are lots of home workouts online to inspire you.

Maintaining a healthy diet is also linked with good sleep. Avoid eating large meals and drinks late at night, as these can cause indigestion and affect your sleep. Try and have a light dinner in the evening, and make sure to drink enough water during the day. Aim for two litres per day, or three if you’ve been exercising that day. Dehydration can cause your mouth to become dry overnight. This can cause snoring which can be disruptive to you or your partner’s sleep.

5. Be careful with naps

If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep and are feeling tired, you may be tempted to take more naps during the day. A short power nap in the early part of the afternoon can be helpful for some people. But it’s best to avoid having a long nap, or napping later in the day, as this could affect your sleep at night.

6. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake

Drinking tea, coffee or energy drinks containing caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime can affect your sleep, because caffeine is a stimulant. Steer clear of these drinks from midday onwards as caffeine can affect your body for up to 12 hours. Ideally, limit your caffeine intake to no more than three cups per day. Instead, have a milky or caffeine-free herbal tea or stick to water.

While it’s tempting to drink more alcohol during lockdown, it can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep. Alcohol actually interferes with your sleep and causes you to wake up in the night. If you have trouble sleeping, steer clear of alcohol.

7. Don’t take recreational drugs

Sleep problems are commonly associated with using recreational drugs – such as cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy – which can disturb your sleep cycle in a number of ways. This can range from having trouble falling asleep, to having vivid dreams or trouble staying awake. Avoid taking recreational drugs as they are stimulants, and will make it harder for you to sleep. They can also cause other health problems, including anxiety and depression.

8. Reduce light before sleep

It’s important to reduce light before you sleep, as artificial lighting can trick your body into thinking it’s daylight, by delaying your circadian rhythm by hours. This can have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep. Remove electronical devices from your bedroom before bed, as this will help you to relax and get ready for sleep (see the ‘Limit your news intake’ section above for more on this).

9. Practise winding down

Building relaxation techniques into your daily routine can really help you to relax before bed, and improve your sleep. This could include doing meditation or mindfulness relaxation and breathing techniques. There are lots of meditation and mindfulness apps which also have sleep stories that can help your mind relax with a simple bedtime story. Other ways to unwind before bed include having a bath, dimming the lights and playing some calming music, or reading a book. Cutting down on the time you spend on electronic devices before you go to sleep will also help you to relax, so your brain isn’t overstimulated.

10. Write down your thoughts

If you’re struggling to fall asleep or waking up frequently during the night, try writing down what’s making you worried before you go to bed. This can help stop them building up inside your head. It can also help you to organise your thoughts. Keep a notepad and pen on your bedside table and use it before bed or if you wake up during the night. You may find this helps you get back to sleep. It might also be helpful to take a look at this interactive worry tree for guidance on how to work through some of your worries.

If you still can’t sleep after 20 minutes, don’t lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something relaxing like reading a book or listening to music.

When to contact your GP

If none of these sleep tips work and it’s not clear what’s causing your tiredness or sleep difficulties, get in touch with your GP. Your doctor can check that your sleeplessness isn’t due to a sleep, psychological or physical condition.

If you haven’t been sleeping for some time, research has shown that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very helpful. It’s really important to remember that your GP and emergency services are there for you – not just for COVID-19 related concerns. Please don’t feel alone if you have concerns about your mood, sleep or other health issues. Help is still at hand if you reach out.

Dr Paula Falconer
Lead Physician at Bupa

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