Let’s be real. Quarantine has messed with most people’s sleep schedules. With the dissolution of most of our day-to-day routines (and the stress of a global pandemic), it’s easy to develop poor sleep habits. Studies show that we need at least 7 hours of sleep every night, as sleep deprivation can lead to both mental and physical health problems.
Ironically, we need sleep now more than ever. We can’t do important work and keep safe if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Getting a full night’s sleep offers major benefits such as mood stabilization and boosting our immune systems. Read on for some tips to getting your sleep schedule back on track, even during these abnormal times.
Disrupted Sleep Can Manifest in Different Ways
One of the biggest challenges of combatting poor sleep is that there isn’t just one disorder – disrupted sleep can manifest in several ways. You can develop issues such as having difficulty falling asleep, to having vivid dreams and oversleeping. Most people who struggle with sleep often don’t just battle one disorder – they struggle with a range of issues that can change from one night to another.
There are a few reasons why our bodies have such a hard time getting rest. Stress and anxiety directly affect sleep. The pandemic and general happenings in the world right now can create the kind of stress that can affect your sleep. Stress affects us all differently; for some it looks like insomnia, for others it can be a need for more sleep.
The Best Time to Sleep
First things first: what’s the best time to sleep at night? We’ve already established that we need over 7 hours of sleep every night. But does this mean we can go to bed at 2am and wake up at 9am and feel just as well-rested as someone who went to bed at 11pm and woke up at 6am?
To sum it up: it depends on genetics. But in general, the earlier the better. However, many studies show that it may have more to do with consistency rather than the actual time you fall asleep. In fact, according to a Harvard sleep study, you can go to sleep whatever time you like as long as you keep to a steady schedule. If you go to bed at 2am and get up at 9am, that’s totally fine. Just as long as you consistently do the same thing.
Getting Your Sleep Back on Track
- Unplug: Try to keep your bedroom a blue light-free zone. That means keeping computers, cell phones and TVs out of the bedroom as much as possible. Blue light is known to suppress the release of melatonin, your body’s natural sleep hormone. Be sure to make a habit of minimizing your screen time right before bed.
- Cut back on caffeine: Consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime can have significant effects on sleep quality. This is due to the fact that caffeine stimulates the nervous system and alertness in your brain. As a general rule, try to cut off your caffeine intake after 4pm to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.
- Take a bath or shower before bed: This is a great way to ease muscle tension and take a timeout to relax after a long day. Our body temperature dips when sleeping, so raising it slightly with a warm bath will lead to a rapid cool-down period after that will help you to relax and prepare you for deep sleep.
- Go to bed only once you’re ready to completely pass out: Feelings of sleepiness and drowsiness are our bodies’ cues that we are ready for sleep. Take some time at the end of the day to wind down and listen to your body’s cues. It’s easy to ignore these cues when you’ve got emails to respond to or you’re busy bingeing Netflix. Once you feel sleepy, actively choose to put away what you’re doing and hop into bed.
- Reserve your bed for sleep: Keeping your bedroom a space that is solely for sleep is important. It allows our brain to make the connection that our beds are for sleep. We often use our bedrooms as a place to watch movies, snack, do work and scroll through social media. Try to limit your bedroom activities so that the space becomes a relaxing safe haven from all distractions and stressors, so that you can associate your bedroom with feeling calm.
- Turn down the temperature: Research shows that a cool bedroom makes for the best sleep. Your body temperature naturally rises and falls throughout the day and the pattern is tied to your sleep cycle. Your body temperature dips as you approach bedtime and it continues to cool until the morning. If your bedroom is too warm, it can interfere with this natural temperature cycle and make you restless. Whatever temperature makes you most comfortable will give you the best sleep, but experts say to experiment with temperatures between 16-22°C.
- Get a whiff of lavender: Lavender eases both anxiety and insomnia. It decreases the heart rate and blood pressure which helps set you up for a good night’s rest. Keep a pouch of lavender tucked under your pillow or use a diffuser with a lavender essential oil at night.
Take Your Time when Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule
When changing your sleep schedule, it will take some time. The key is to be patient with yourself and make small adjustments consistently. Make gradual changes of no more than 15 minutes per day to allow your mind and body to adjust. Start with setting a wake-up time that is realistic for you to stick to on a daily basis. People tend to think they need to go to bed and wake up early, but that may not necessarily be the best choice for you. Remember: sleep is not one-size-fits all. Find what schedule works best for you and stick to those hours.
The Final Takeaway
While there are many ways to try and get better sleep, the bottom line is to do less. It’s okay to stop stressing. Stop trying to sleep. When we put too much effort into trying to fall asleep, it backfires. Spending time in bed trying to force yourself to fall asleep can make insomnia worse. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something quiet until you naturally start to feel sleepy. The more pressure you put on yourself, the less likely you’re going to fall asleep.