“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
— E. Joseph Cossman
No truer words were ever spoken, but never more so than this year. While the National Institutes of Health previously estimated about 30% of the population suffered sleep disorder difficulties, there has been an additional 37% spike in acute insomnia during the pandemic. Sleep neurologists refer to it as “COVIDsomnia” or “Coronasomnia.”
Between concerns for personal and loved ones’ health, losing income or the stress of trying to work from home while tending to your children, it’s no wonder more of us are having sleep difficulties like never before. Add to that, the isolation of quarantining has kept people from the critical emotional support of seeing (and hugging) family and friends in person, thus often leading to depression and loneliness.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
SleepFoundation.org highlights four important qualities of a good night’s sleep:
- Sleep strengthens our immune systems. Studies have found losing sleep can even render vaccines less effective.
- Sleep increases brain function; our minds just work better and we get more sleep.
- Sleep improves mood. The lack of it can make a person feel irritable, decrease energy levels and cause or worsen depression.
- Sleep is important to good mental health. The lack of it is linked with many mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What’s important to note is that 72% of short-term insomnia episodes resolve themselves with a little assistance from you. How, do you ask?
10 Tips and Tricks to Relax and Get Better Sleep
There have been dozens of sleep studies done everywhere from Stanford University to Harvard Medicine to John Hopkins, etc. All the experts agree on some key points:
- Get back into your previous routine. Set your alarm and get up like you used to. Sleeping in or napping after 3:00, or for too long, upsets your circadian rhythm making it harder to go to sleep at night. Aim to go to bed at the same time every night, as well.
- Daily exercise is a necessity for good sleep but refrain from doing it two to three hours before bed. Taking a walk around your neighborhood, getting some sunlight on your retinas during the day greatly benefits your sleep later that night.
- Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake later in the day. Both disrupt your normal sleep cycles. Did you know that it takes six hours for just half of the caffeine you ingested to exit your body? And while alcohol may seem to make you fall asleep faster, you’ll spend less time in the deeper sleep stages, affecting your concentration, memory and physical coordination.
- Don’t smoke nicotine, either regular cigarettes or with a vaporizer. Nicotine is not only a powerful stimulant, it can contribute to sleep apnea and asthma.
- Eat your heaviest meal at mid-day and have only light snacks before bedtime. It’s hard for your body to relax and refresh at night if it’s using a lot of energy digesting a big meal.
- Avoid any sort of blue-light screen (phone, laptop, monitor and TV) for at least an hour before going to bed because they interfere with your body’s natural sleep-promoting processes. There are settings on some devices where you can lower the blue light emissions.
- Develop a relaxing downtime ritual before bed. Close the blinds, brush your teeth, get into your pajamas, and put on some relaxing music. You may want to prepare some herbal, non-caffeinated tea, dim the lights and start to focus on breathing deeper. Some people benefit greatly from calf and foot massagers because they not only feel wonderful, they increase circulation in your legs and feet, as well as provide you all-over body relaxation. All these things are ways to be kind to your body to promote restful sleep.
- If you find yourself still awake after lying in bed for a half-hour, get up and go read a boring book or listen to more restful music in another room. Research has shown that by getting out of bed when you can’t sleep, you’re training your brain to associate that your bed is a restful place, not a place of struggle.
- Rule out any possible health problems with your doctor. Conditions like obstructive sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are notorious for disrupting sleep. There are excellent treatments for both of those issues!
- Consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) if your insomnia lasts more than a couple weeks. CBT can do incredible things specifically for people with sleep difficulties.