How to protect and optimise your sleep...
We have not seen a pandemic of this epic proportion in the recent history of mankind. The last one was in 1918 which was the Spanish flu. When a pandemic of this proportion occurs, or when there is any global disaster, it triggers our tendency to preserve what we have.
There is no wonder we worry about our own health and the health of our dearest. In addition, we worry about the economic situation for ourselves, our family, and the nation. These are just a few factors, but they can lead to a cascade of reactions and one of them is increased stress and the release of stress hormones like cortisol. When this occurs, it naturally leads to an increased level of alertness, or what we call a state of “Hyper Alertness”.
While hyper-alertness helps us to take the necessary measures to protect us, it is not a friendly factor for our sleep. On the other hand, prioritising sleep and getting optimal sleep will have added advantages now compared to normal times - it helps with your immunity levels, and with your physical and mental health during the lockdown.
Your approach to protect and optimise your sleep should focus on the following factors:
1. Avoid a state of hyper-alertness
Preoccupying yourself with thoughts of what is happening around you can lead to cognitive or mental arousal. But, you want to be informed at the same time. However, avoid consumption of news via TV, social media, or other sources too close to bedtime. Relying on credible sources of information will help to avoid unnecessary panic.
2. Prioritise sleep
You know by now how important sleep is for you, yet you cannot force it. Understand that sleep is a natural process, but you can nurture it by adopting good habits. It may go against what your preferences are, but prioritising sleep will pay dividends now, more than ever.
3. Have a routine
It would be unrealistic to ask you to adhere to your pre-pandemic sleep schedule since you might now have the flexibility of working from home and not commuting. You may be waking up later, but ensure you still have a structure. On the upside, at least you are not accumulating a “sleep debt”. Focus on consistency of bedtime and wake time through the week. You can gradually move to an earlier wake time when travelling to work again.
4. Know your rhythm
Productivity is an important factor to keep our stress levels down during lockdown. Everyone has a chronotype – evening, morning, or intermediate – based on your genetic coding. We call them “larks” and “owls”. This means you will have a preferred bedtime, wake time and time of optimal alertness during the day. For instance, an evening owl tends to go to bed late and wake up late and a morning lark will do the exact opposite. Pay attention to this pattern of sleepiness at night and alertness during the day. You will be able to be productive and get more done by syncing your activities with your circadian rhythm.
Are humans solar powered? Not literally, but light is a powerhouse of energy. By focusing on light exposure during the day and reducing light exposure closer to bedtime our bodies naturally prepare for the day-night cycle, keeping alert during the day and preparing for sleep at night time.
6. Be mindful about sleep
Every night brings a new opportunity to sleep, irrespective of how you slept the previous night or a whole previous decade. Tonight, is a new night, treat it as such... the force of sleep is irresistible and if you trust your body and keep your sleep-related worries at bay, sleep will embrace you.
Motty Varghese is a Sleep Physiologist and Behavioural Sleep Therapist Expert at St James' Private Clinic, Dublin.
To get in touch with Motty, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org