Now more than ever, it is particularly important that we prioritise getting good sleep.
When we sleep deeply and well, we awaken with the strength and resources to face life with courage and resilience.
But how do we protect our sleep when the current climate of fear and anxiety can affect the nervous system such that we end up living in survival mode – the Sympathetic Nervous System – which is the part of the nervous system that doesn’t allow us to sleep?
So here is some guidance on the choices we need to be making to ensure that we get a good night’s sleep:
Your bedroom as your sanctuary
Your bedroom should feel like a sanctuary. If possible, avoid working in your bedroom and if you have to designate an area for work, never work in bed. Keep your bedroom, clean, well-ventilated and free of clutter. Use scented candles and oils such as lavender and eucalyptus to create a haven of peace and calm.
This is your safe space and the place where you go to rest and rejuvenate. Ideally, leave electronics out of the bedroom and use an old fashioned clock instead of your phone for time keeping. Avoid checking the time when you wake up during the night.
Calm pre-sleep anxiety
Practice deep breathing techniques, meditation, or pre-sleep yoga for 10-20 minutes before you get into bed. Write a journal before you turn your lights out and list all of the worries, fears and anxieties that you’re feeling right now.
Follow this up with a gratitude journal listing all the things that you’re grateful for that have happened today – conversations, smiles, nice text messages – anything, no matter how small, that has made you feel uplifted and positive.
Healthy daytime routines: This is a great time to get into healthier habits
If you can get out into a garden, do so safely. Move and stay active. When we exercise we produce a chemical called adenosine which helps the sleep hormone melatonin to work more effectively.
If you can’t get out to exercise, explore online programmes that you can do at home and even in a confined space. If you have a wearable device, keep it on during the day and set yourself the challenge to do 10,000 steps even while working from home.
Stay well hydrated, eat healthily and minimise caffeine particularly after 3pm.
Avoid skipping breakfast particularly if you’re waking up with anxiety. Ensure that you include a source of protein in your breakfast – such as eggs, nuts or nut butter.
Now that most of us are working from home we can choose to eat our evening meals earlier in the day so that we allow time to digest and avoid impacting sleep quality.
Prioritise earlier nights
Avoid bingeing on Netflix and catching up TV in the evenings. The sleep before midnight is vital for optimising overall health, energy levels and mental wellbeing so the old adage of earlier to bed and early to rise is particularly relevant at the moment.
Take regular breaks
Take conscious breaks from all work, particularly screenwork and phones, at regular intervals throughout the day. Change channels mentally, physically and emotionally every hour or so.
Manage the fear response – cultivate realistic optimism
This is one of the most significant factors affecting our ability to get to sleep and stay asleep
Right now there is a collective pervasive feeling of fear and anxiety, and while we need to know what’s going on and how to keep ourselves and loved ones safe and well, we also need to stop ourselves spiralling into significant mental ill health.
We can do this by consciously choosing to notice what is good in our life – no matter how small. Avoid watching the news and browsing social media constantly. Make conscious decisions about how often you’ll look at both. Consciously choose to watch programmes and read books that uplift, inspire and make you laugh.
Taking small moments to do this regularly starts to recalibrate the nervous system switching on the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for thriving, feeling safe, optimal health and sleeping deeply.