Why can’t I sleep?
You may be feeling tired but find it hard to get to sleep. Maybe you’re waking up frequently during the night, 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 makes it hard to switch off, and can affect both the amount and quality of sleep you get.
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.
Why is sleep important?
Getting regular, good quality sleep is very important for your health, both physically and mentally, and helps you to cope better with things that come your way.
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
Poor sleep for more than a few nights can really take its toll on your emotional wellbeing. Here are 10 tips to help give you the best chance of sleeping better.
1. Establish a sleep routine
Routine is often referred to as the guardian of good sleep. Set up a regular sleep schedule, aiming to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. Avoid sleeping in at the weekend, as this can make it harder to wake up on Monday morning.
2. Get outside
Getting outside and exposing yourself to natural light plays an important role in keeping your circadian rhythm in balance. Your circadian rhythm helps control your internal body clock schedule, following a 24-hour cycle.
Exposure to outdoor light and dark helps to regulate a hormone in your body called melatonin, which helps to regulate your sleep and wake patterns.
Getting outside when it’s light is especially important at this time of year when daylight hours are much shorter.
3. Limit your news intake
The sheer volume of information and news reports on coronavirus (COVID-19) can feel overwhelming and increase both your stress and anxiety levels. Avoid the temptation to watch the news or use social media a few hours before bed. Perhaps check-in on any news developments in the morning instead.
4. Eat well and exercise
Studies have shown that regular exercise and being active during the day can help you sleep better by relieving any worry or anxiety you have. Exercise regularly but avoid doing it too late in the evening. You may feel over energised and have trouble falling asleep. Take a look at our home workouts to inspire you.
Maintaining a healthy diet is also linked with good sleep. Avoid eating large meals late at night, as these can cause indigestion and affect your sleep. Try and have a light dinner earlier in the evening, and drink enough water during the day.
5. Be careful with naps
If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep and are feeling tired, you may be tempted to take a nap 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
Steer clear of caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee and energy drinks, from midday onwards. Or switch to decaf versions or caffeine-free herbal teas.
While it can be tempting to drink more alcohol during lockdown, it can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep. While alcohol may help you fall sleep faster, it can disrupt your sleep later on in the night.
7. Don’t take recreational drugs
Avoid taking recreational drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy, as they are stimulants, and will make it harder for you to sleep. They can also cause a wide range of other health problems, including anxiety and depression. If you’re struggling with any form of addiction, always seek help and support.
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. Dim the lights and remove electronical devices that emit blue light from your bedroom before bed. This will help you to relax and get ready for sleep.
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:
- having a bath
- dimming the lights and putting on some relaxing music
- reading a book
- mindfulness relaxation
- breathing techniques
There are lots of meditation and mindfulness apps available to download.
10. Write down your thoughts
If you’re struggling to fall asleep or wake up frequently during the night, try writing down what’s making you worried. This can help stop thoughts building up inside your head. It can also help you to organise your thoughts.
Keep a notepad and pen beside your bed and use it before you go to sleep, or if you wake up during the night. You may find this helps you get back to sleep. It might also be helpful to look at Bupa’s interactive worry tree for guidance on how to work through worries.
If you still can’t sleep after 20 minutes, don’t lie there thinking about it. Get up and do something relaxing, like reading a book or listening to music.
When to contact your GP
If these sleep tips don’t work and it’s not clear what’s causing your tiredness or sleep difficulties, get in touch with your GP. They can check that your sleeplessness isn’t due to a psychological, physical or sleep condition.
If you haven’t been sleeping for some time, research has shown that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very helpful. Your GP may recommend this.
Remember, your GP is there for you for all sorts of reasons – not just for coronavirus-related concerns, or physical illness. 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.