And actually get a good night's rest.
by Emily Cieslak Sep 7, 2020
It’s no secret if your schedule has changed since the stay-at-home orders were enacted in March to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Whether you’re back to your daily commute or still work from home, you may have noticed something off with your sleep regimen.
It could be because your body looks for patterns, says Michael Grandner, Ph.D., MTR, CBSM, FAASM, director of the sleep and health research program and an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, and sleeping too much or too little can throw off your sleep-wake rhythm.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Sleeping more than that may increase the risk of health problems like headaches, obesity, and back pain, while sleeping less can result in sleep debt aka the need to catch up on lost hours, weight gain, and memory impairment.
To offset negative feels, it’s critical to create a routine, says Dr. Grandner. If you’re still not commuting, this doesn’t mean you have to wake up at 6 a.m. every day like you did when you weren’t WFH—rather, use this time to form a sleep regimen that works with your current schedule.
Whether you’re struggling to fall asleep before sunrise or waking up constantly from vivid dreams (yes, weird coronavirus dreams are a thing—more on that later), we got you. It’s time to say “byeeeeee” to your fucked sleep schedule.
Create a set time to go to bed and wake up.
WFH might mean you don’t have anywhere you physically need to be, but it’s not an excuse to sleep until late afternoon just because you can. Instead, learn the ideal time your body wakes up and gets tired, says Dr. Grandner. This can be achieved by noting what times your mind and body begin to slow, followed by when you naturally wake up. Once you’ve discovered what works best, set your bed and awake times accordingly, and practice them daily.
Place limitations on naps.
Napping throughout the day can be tempting if you still WFH but conking out at the wrong time of day or for too long can make it difficult to fall asleep come nighttime. If you’re going to make time to snooze, the NSF suggests you grab a pillow between 1 and 3 p.m., when your body’s natural energy starts to dip. You also want to set an alarm to wake you up after 20 minutes. Napping for longer will allow your body to enter a deeper sleep state, which could give you that groggy feeling once you wake up.
Master the art of winding down.
If you notice your thoughts begin to race once you lie down, a wind down period before bed can better prepare your mind and body for sleep, says Dr. Grandner. He suggests at least 30 minutes to an hour every night to decompress or express yourself.
This could mean taking a warm bath, reading a book, or writing in a journal, says Philip Gehrman, Ph.D., CBSM, an associate professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, who has studied insomnia and the link between mental health and sleep for about 25 years. As long as you engage in a low-energy activity that can help you relax, your thoughts and feelings are less likely to keep you awake.
Put the phone away.
You’ve probably heard you should limit screen time before hitting the sheets thanks to your device’s blue light aka what’s responsible for suppressing sleep-inducing melatonin—and yeah, while that might be ideal, it’s not always the most realistic. Kudos to you if you can store away your phone, tablet, or laptop at least an hour before sleep (a docking station outside of your bedroom is preferred).
If not, Dr. Gehrman suggests turning on your device’s night mode (you can schedule a time for your phone to automatically switch over) or lowering its brightness to decrease the amount of blue light you’re exposed to before bed. Once your device switches to night mode, use it as a signal that it’s time to end activities that are too distracting or stressful (like checking your work email) and prepare for sleep.
If your device doubles as your alarm clock, he also suggests switching it on airplane or Do Not Disturb mode so you're less likely to be disrupted mid-sleep, then placing it across the room so you’re less tempted to check it from bed.
Keep news to a minimum.
It might feel like it’s more important than ever to stay up-to-date with each new coronavirus discovery, yet research shows that repeated media exposure to a crisis can lead to increased anxiety and overactive responses like stockpiling essentials, as well as long-term health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The biggest source of stress right now is uncertainty,” says Dr. Gehrman. “The people on the news don’t have all the answers either, so the more you watch, the more uncertain you become.” He suggests seeking news from a couple of trusted sources and designating a portion of your day to catch up, then move on. And definitely limit news to at least an hour before bed!
If you can’t sleep, get out of bed.
“There are a million things that cause insomnia, but there is one main cause of chronic insomnia: conditioned arousal,” says Dr. Grandner. “If you stay in bed when you can’t fall asleep, your brain learns this is where you toss and turn.”
Instead, give yourself about 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you still can’t seem to snooze after that, get out of bed and engage in a low-energy activity, like reading a book or eating a light snack, to reset and relax, says Dr. Grandner. Just don’t constantly check the time, adds Dr. Gehrman. Calculating how long you’ve been awake and how many hours are left until morning can cause anxiety and stress, which can keep you from falling asleep, per the NSF.
Separate sleep from work.
Your bed might seem like the best WFH space ever—especially if you live in a studio apartment where your options are limited—but it’s important to separate where you sleep from where you work, so you don’t learn to associate the two, says Dr. Grandner.
If working outside of your bed isn’t a possibility, simply make your new office space seem like two different places during the day and at night. This is where your creativity comes into play. Try covering your sheets with a different tapestry or blanket during the day, says Dr. Gehrman. And avoid lying down while working, adds Dr. Grandner. Instead, try sitting at the foot of your bed or in a position similar to how you’d work in your office.
Switch up your sleep space.
A cool, dark room leads to better quality sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you prefer a warmer space during the day, consider lowering the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit come night. If light and sound are possible culprits behind your sleep troubles, now might be the time to finally try blackout curtains, an eye mask, and ear plugs. Take advantage of the extra time at home and amazing online sales to clean up your bedroom and make it the sleep sanctuary you’ve always wanted.
Schedule time to workout.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just 30 minutes of exercise a day can improve your overall quality of sleep, from shortening the time it takes for you to fall asleep to increasing the amount of deep sleep you get. If you’re not sure where to start, Dr. Grandner suggests taking a walk. Natural sunlight can help reenergize you and create a sense of day versus night if you’ve been stuck indoors, he says.
From midday cocktails to nighttime Zoom socials, it seems like every hour at home is happy hour, and it’s not all speculation. Alcoholic beverage sales increased by 55 percent in the third week of March compared to the same time last year, according to Nielsen. If you’ve been imbibing a bit more than usual, it could be a factor in your sleep troubles.
“Alcohol can make [you] fall asleep faster, [but] the sleep you do get is usually more shallow and prone to awakenings,” says Dr. Grandner. Research shows that people who consume two or more drinks a day are two to three times more likely to experience periodic leg movements that disrupt sleep. Sleepwalking and snoring are also possible, even if you’ve never experienced either. If you feel like sipping, keep it to no more than one drink per day for women and two for men, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
And as far as those weird dreams go? They’re likely a combo of stress and anxiety, says Dr. Gehrman. “When we are under stress, we don’t sleep as deeply, so we are more likely to remember our dreams.” While you may not be able to control what you dream about, you can take charge of routines and habits that impact your sleep, which can ultimately lead to a good night’s rest.