Right now, sleep is probably the last thing on your mind. You’re more worried about what the future holds, how you’ll make rent, pay your bills, run your business, or keep your job. Granted, these are troubling times and the coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives upside down. However, getting adequate sleep is even more important now because of the impact that sleep has on general health and immune function. And, as you probably know, a healthy immune system is your best defense against coronavirus infection. Better quality sleep also has a positive impact on cognitive function and stress levels, improving your ability to cope with the challenges that you now face.
So, although sleep may not seem like a priority, it’s important that you take steps to sleep better during the pandemic. Here’s how you can do just that.
Maintain a Disciplined Sleep Routine
Strict bedtime isn’t just meant for kids. As adults, we stand to benefit greatly from following a disciplined daily routine, especially with sleep. During the pandemic, this is even more important as our lives have been thrown into unstructured chaos. Aside from helping restore some order, a regular sleep schedule will help to reinforce your body’s circadian rhythm, which plays an important role in the sleep cycle. To begin, make it a point to go to bed daily at roughly the same time, so that are conditioned to sleep at that time. Don’t make sudden and drastic changes to bedtime when doing so. Incremental changes work best, so try pushing your sleeping hours back or forth by 15 minutes at a time.
Adopt Your Own Sleep Rituals
Aside from a disciplined schedule, there are other behaviors and habits that can help improve sleep quality and strengthen your sleep cycle. Any activity that helps you relax and unwind will work. Meditation is one of the best ways to wind down and prepare for sleep, as it has proven benefits for stress reduction and sleep quality. You could also try listening to relaxing classical music or enjoy a hot soak in your tub a couple of hours before bedtime. Exercise is also known to be part of any healthy routine to improve sleep quality, but it’s best to work out earlier in the evening for any sleep benefits.
Although turning out the lights should be part of your sleep ritual, it’s important enough to warrant a separate mention. Artificial lighting has a significant impact on the sleep cycle, messing with your circadian rhythm. If you’re committed to getting better quality sleep, limiting exposure to bright and artificial lightings is one of the best things you can do. Make it a point to dim your lights a few hours before bedtime and use blackout curtains if possible. Because of the stimulating effect of blue light from digital screens, you should also avoid using any digital device for a few hours before bedtime.
Restrict Time in Bed
You’d think that going to bed earlier would automatically translate into more sleep, but that’s not the case. In fact, spending too much time in bed may increase the risk of insomnia, which is why sleep restriction therapy is a thing. This is why it’s best to only crawl into bed when you’re actually ready to sleep. Similarly, you shouldn’t be spending too much time in bed during the day, although this can be tempting now that you’re working from home or furloughed. Restricting your time spent in bed to the sleeping hours helps to strengthen that connection between sleep and the bed, making it easier to fall asleep quickly and enjoy better quality sleep at night.
Say No to Naps
If you live in an area that’s under lockdown, there’s a good chance that you’re struggling to cope with the slower pace of life. Whether it’s sheer boredom or daytime sleepiness that gets the better of you, it can be tempting to take long naps during the day. While there’s nothing wrong with a short power nap, which can even be rejuvenating, excessive daytime napping adversely impacts sleep quality during the night. To avoid any ambiguity, a power nap shouldn’t exceed 25 minutes.
Use a Sleep Tracker
Your sleep cycle comprises of 4 stages and you cycle through these roughly every 90 minutes. Ideally, you should wake up after REM sleep, the 4th stage, as this is when your body enters the waking process. Now, plotting your sleep cycle and analyzing sleep quality can be extremely tricky. Although many apps and wearables promise great results and some claim that they can even wake you up at just the right time, most simply fail. Instead of falling for products that are overhyped, stick with clinical grade sleep trackers to better analyze your sleep. This will help identify and measure various parameters of sleep quality, including duration, heart rate, oxygen levels, and so on. You can also consult a sleep therapist for a more detailed analysis and interpretation of sleep tracker findings.
While these are some of the simplest strategies to get better sleep during the pandemic, there’s still more that you can do. Remember, any healthy lifestyle habit that you adopt, whether exercising or eating healthy, will also positively impact sleep quality.
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