Happy New Day everyone!
How’d you feel when you woke this morning? Rested and eager to jump out of bed? Feeling a bit groggy and in need of just a few more zzzz’s? Or feeling exhausted, like you hadn’t slept a wink all night?
Getting a good sleep is difficult for many of us at the best of times. Whether it’s falling asleep quickly, staying asleep through the night, or managing to get that full 8 hours in without waking too early, many people struggle with feeling rested in the morning. Sometimes the reason for poor sleep is pretty obvious. Common sleep stealers include worrying, cell phones ringing, feeding babies at night, daylight savings time changes, hormones, noisy neighbours, leg cramps (darn, I hate those!!). But, sometimes there seems to be no rhyme nor reason why one night we fall asleep easily and stay asleep soundly, and on other nights sleep evades us for hours and/or we wake numerous times per night.
When we have a good sleep, we don’t pay much attention to it. But, have a bad sleep for a few weeks – maybe even nights! – in a row, and you can’t really think about much else. Sleep deserves our attention and care because without sleep, we can’t do much. It affects our immunity, our memory and focus, our ability to stay rational and calm, and our sex drive. Chronic, poor sleep can contribute to the development of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, to name a few.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, sleep has become particularly challenging for many folks. There are a variety of reasons for which sleep has been more elusive over the past 9 months:
Changees in Sleep schedule: if you’ve lost a job or are working at home, you may not need to get up at a certain time anymore. Perhaps you are going to bed later, and sleeping in later than usual? Or vice versa? Or napping during the day and finding it hard to fall asleep at night?
Increased Tech time: with all the constant news coverage, increasing infection rates, and evolving safety protocols, many of us have been spending more time watching t.v. and/or checking emails/texts on our smart phones. Perhaps, with the cooler weather keeping us indoors, we’ve turned to bingeing on Netflix/Crave to keep us busy and entertained. This increased tech time can interfere with our body’s normal transition to sleep time, by suppressing the body’s production of melatonin, stimulating vs. relaxing the brain, and possibly causing worry/anxiety about world events.
Increased Worry/Anxiety: the constant barrage of bad news on t.v. and news feeds, job loss, social isolation, and uncertainty about the future has created an unprecedented amount of anxiety and fear in people. Constant thinking, problem-solving and/or catastrophizing will affect a person’s ability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. When the fight or flight mechanism is engaged, the body will not sleep. It’s meant to survive in the face of danger, not rest.
Less natural light and fresh air: When we stay indoors more during the quarantine, we don’t get the same amount or type of exercise and/or fresh air that we are accustomed to and require for our healthy natural rhythms. With the closure of so many community activities and the cooler fall weather, we don’t have as many choices for natural light and fresh air some days.
Working from home: For those of us who have never worked from home before, this transition can be difficult. If we aren’t strategic in placing boundaries about when and where we work in our homes, we can end up working a little all the time. Having a home office with no clear boundaries about the beginning and the ending of the work day can affect our sleep because we don’t ever “punch out”.
Figuring out how to get a good sleep is a difficult endeavor. What works for one person may not work for another. Sleep is very individual.
But we can start with a few basic ideas:
1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule: even when you don’t need to get up early or go to bed early, set a schedule and stick to it as much as possible. I’ve heard that going to bed early is better than sleeping late to get your total of 8ish hours of sleep. And, if possible, forego that nap.
2. Develop a comfortable bedtime routine: consider including some “slow down” activities in your routine such as: turning down the lights, having a hot bath, reading a book (the more boring, the better for sleep!), listening to relaxing music, having a cup of hot chamomile tea, practicing a mindfulness, and avoiding screen time and physical exertion/exercise in the evenings. Keeping this routine consistent will eventually teach your mind and body the cues that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
3. Consider ways to manage your worry/stress before bedtime: many of us struggle with worrying thoughts that just seem to go wild when we are in our beds awaiting sleep with nothing else to distract. Consider an activity that will help your mind let go of these thoughts/feelings, such as: journalling, mindfulness (“letting go”, “sorting into boxes”, or progressive muscle relaxation are good ones!), deep breathing and positive self-statements. If you work from home, create good, healthy boundaries like silencing your work phone at the end of the workday, refusing to check emails after a certain time, and closing the door to your workspace to signal the separate between work and personal time. Having self-compassion for times when boundaries are broken and stress increases, keep moving toward the goal of good work-life balance and stress management.
4. Get some natural light, fresh air, and exercise: You might have to get creative with this one!, but finding ways to exercise your body, spend time in the sunlight and fresh air, can be super beneficial to sleep length and quality. I’ve found that a 10 minute walk around my block has helped with stress, body aches, and brain fog. And the days when I manage to take a 1-2 hour hike often end in an amazing sleep!
5. Try not to worry about sleeplessness: I find that insomnia anxiety creates more insomnia and anxiety. When you do find yourself unable to get to sleep or stay asleep, rather than staring at the clock, try to be in the moment and avoid catastrophizing. I’ve heard (and practiced) to only try and get to sleep for a short while. If sleep evades me, I get up and do something different: have a cup of hot milk or tea, read a magazine I’ve been meaning to get to, or listen to a mindfulness. Let go of worries and imaginations about how tired and unfunctional you will be tomorrow (that’s fortune telling, and a cognitive distortion). And try again to sleep when you are ready.
These strategies may or may not work for you. Different people have different difficulties with sleep and require different strategies/remedies. Don’t forget to talk to your doctor about whether insomnia might be a medical issue for you. Other services, such as chiropractic, acupuncture, or massage may also be helpful. If applicable, check your CASS benefit package to see what coverage is available to you. Reach out to our EFAP provider, Homewood Health, for mental health support regarding anxiety and/or depression.
Wishing you all sweet sleep this week,
Assess your Sleep Quality:
CASS EFAP Employee and Family Assistance service access: 1-800-663-1142
TTY for the hearing or speech impaired: 1-888-384-1152
For more information, please visit: https://homewoodhealth.com