This pandemic has impacted everything, so it is no surprise that it also has interrupted our sleep.
We’re worried about everyone in our lives, we’re drinking too much alcohol and coffee, and even when we are in bed, we often are not experiencing good quality sleep.
Those are just a few reasons that psychologist Michael Breus notes it makes perfect sense people are facing sleep issues. Studies have revealed insomnia and other sleep issues during the pandemic.
“We’re just not able to handle this level of stress, and of course it’s coming out in our sleep,” Breus said.
Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. And remember that is referring to quality, not just quantity. Many people might be feeling they need more sleep, even if they are getting what would have been considered a regular amount a year ago. That’s because amid pandemic stressors, people are getting light and fragmented sleep, said Breus, author of “Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health.”
The good news is, Breus says it’s the perfect time to reassess sleeping patterns and try to get better shut-eye. We already know to limit screen time before bed and to stick to a routine. Here are some more tips.
WAKE UP AT THE SAME TIME EVERY DAY
For many people, working at home has meant that Chicagoans are sleeping later and later, rolling out of bed and walking to the home office in a baseball hat and sweats. But the importance of keeping a routine and schedule is even more important now, Breus said. “We have an irregular sleep schedule going on because of the pandemic,” he said. “Now would be the perfect time to have a good sleep schedule.” Wake up at the same time even on weekends, he added.
SET A CUTOFF FOR CAFFEINE AND BOOZE
We know that caffeine and alcohol can impact sleep. Unfortunately, with many people at home throughout the day, it’s easier to keep returning to the kitchen coffee pot more and more, or start happy hour earlier and earlier. People might think alcohol helps them sleep, Breus said, but, “what it’s really doing is anesthetizing,” he said. “I usually say there’s a really big difference between going to sleep and passing out.” He suggests quitting caffeine by 2 p.m., and finishing your last drink at least three hours before bed. So think about a drink or two between 5 and 7 p.m., with plenty of water, and going to bed at 10 p.m.
GET OUT FOR EXERCISE
Exercise is consistently linked to better sleep. Try to exercise at least four hours before bed, Breus suggests. “The more you exercise, the higher your quality of sleep,” he said. “You don’t have to run a marathon.” For example, in the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 report on sleep, about 56% of people who did not exercise said they had very good or fairly good sleep; for people who vigorously exercised, 83% reported good sleep, and even 76% of light exercisers reported good sleep.
IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP SPACE
For years, Mary Pat Wallace, founder of The Luxury Bed Collection, has helped people snooze. It’s something she’s studied since she herself was a mom of small children, realizing loss of sleep was sapping her productivity. She encourages a technology-free bedroom, or cutting out electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Make sure the temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees. And for your bed, think about dressing it the same way you would dress at that temperature. She suggests a sheet, a thin blanket and comforter or duvet system. “It works just like seasonal dressing here in Chicago — the right layers will keep you comfortable,” she said. Pillow and mattress work together; check your alignment. If you sleep on your side, your spine should be in a straight line, parallel to the mattress. If you sleep on your back, you should feel supported throughout the spine’s curve, no lower-back gap.
HAVE A PLAN TO GET BACK TO SLEEP
Many people might wake up in the middle of the night and ruminate, finding it hard to get back to sleep. Have a plan so that this is not a scary or frustrating time. First, realize even being in bed can be rejuvenating, whether you sleep or not. Second, don’t look at the clock. “Everybody does,” Breus said. “They instantly do the mental math.” Instead, Breus says to flip the script to lessen pressure and remove anxiety. “Say, this is awesome. It’s 2:37 in the morning, I have to get up at 6:30, I’ve got four more hours. Who knows, maybe I’ll get some more sleep. I know if I lie here, I’m still going to get some level of rejuvenation. And let’s be honest, I’ve had no sleep before, and I’ve made it through my day.”