Struggling to sleep since we went into lockdown? You’re not alone. Most of the people I’m speaking to right now and having trouble sleeping, and the issues fall into 3 categories:
- Having vivid dreams or nightmares
- Sleeping too much and still feeling exhausted
- Waking up in the early hours and not being able to get back to sleep
In this blog I’m going to explain why that is and also what you can do about it.
Why is the Coronavirus affecting Sleep?
So the way this works is that you go through your day, with your typical ups and downs, then you get a decent nights sleep where you process it all and wake up refreshed and ready to go again. Except right now, our days have a lot more ups and downs to process! We’re going through a time of great change and with that comes worry, stress and uncertainty. Our brains aren’t set up to like change – if we’re going through something we’ve not experienced before our brain has no way of knowing if we’re going to be safe. This means that when we do go to sleep, our brains have much more processing to do than normal. Here’s how it creates those problems mentioned earlier:
There are 3 stages of sleep: deep sleep, light sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep. If you were to see someone in REM sleep, you might see their eyelids flicker or their body jerk slightly and this is because REM sleep is when we dream. I often watch my dog do this, her paws twitch like she’s dreaming about running after a ball! In this part of our sleep, we’re processing all the events of the day, all the stresses and strains and making sense of them. Did you ever go to bed feeling really upset or angry with someone and in the morning wake up and realise it wasn’t such a big deal? That’s because you processed it in your sleep and made sense of it, so you woke up feeling differently about it.
Vivid dreams or nightmares – if we’re worried and scared then this plays out in our dreams, making them more frightening
Sleeping more but feeling exhausted – processing all our worries is hard work for our brains, the more worried we are the more exhausted we feel
Waking up in the early hours – most of REM sleep happens after midnight (you can see this for yourself if you have a sleep tracker). When we have a lot of worry and stress to process, our brain can snap us awake to protect itself, letting you lie there and work through your worries while awake.
So, you see, sleep problems are perfectly normal right now! That said, they’re not helpful because the less good quality sleep we get, the less time we have to process our worries and the more stressed we feel! So, what can we do about it?
My 5 point plan for better sleep
- Practice good sleep hygiene
Just like children need a good bed-time routine, so do we! We need to give our brains time to unwind before bed so a couple of hours before bed turn your phone off, dim the lights and either read or watch something relaxing. Or have a warm bath. Think bedtime stories are just for kids? Check out sleep stories on the calm app – great at helping you nod off
- Start journaling
To help your brain with all that processing, try getting your thoughts onto paper. Writing down all your thoughts, feelings and worries can help you make sense of them. There’s no right and wrong way, just grab a pen and paper and start writing. Do this at least an hour before bed so you’re not thinking about it as you try and drop off
- Avoid stimulants
Coffee drunk after lunchtime can still be in your system at bedtime, so noon is a good cut off for caffeine. And watch the alcohol – many of us are drinking more right now to take the edge off but it will wake you up during the night. Alcohol is a depressant, it actually stops you producing serotonin, that happy chemical in the brain that keeps you feeling positive
- Limit news and social media
Bombarding ourselves with news all day will only add to the feeling of overwhelm, giving us so much more to process. Try to limit the news to once or twice a day, and definitely avoid all media in the evening. Give your brain a chance to switch off
- Give yourself extra processing time
You can help your brain out by giving it extra time to process. Whenever you can switch off during the day, you’re giving your brain an REM- type boost. Any activity that focuses you on the present will do, such as mindfulness, meditation, or self-hypnosis. Again, the calm app is great for this, as is headspace. There are also lots of meditations on YouTube. If you can do this for 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day, you will see the quality of your sleep improve.
Step 5 will make the biggest difference to your sleep. To help you with this, I’m offering my relaxation download free through my website. Click on this link to access it:
The password is stepaheadhypnotherapy2018.
This 20-minute relaxation track can help you sleep better if listened to once a day. Listen anytime (except while driving or in the bath). If you listen to it before bed it will help you nod off and if you do wake up in the early hours, listening to it again will help you fall back asleep.