Sleepless in Seattle (or wherever you may be)
Coronavirus has us sleeping like sh*t. Here’s what has helped us snooze a bit more soundly.
During times of relative calm and quiet (aka, not in the midst of a global pandemic), a bit of stress or anxiety can easily disrupt the sleep habits of even even the most stalwart of snoozers. This is super common and perfectly normal—and there’s even an evolutionary reason for it. Back in the day (we’re talking like 50,000 years ago), figuring out how to stay safe in response to a threat often meant the difference between surviving, or being eaten by some sort of giant cat (sorry, been watching too much Tiger King). This is your typical “fight or flight” response.
And while running from or fighting COVID-19 isn’t really an option (in the traditional sense), our brain still perceives it as a threat, triggering fear and anxiety over what can be done to stay safe (one could also make the argument that the directive for beating this thing—isolating and staying put—is at complete odds with what the primitive part of our brain wants us to do, but I digress). Again, perfectly normal and super common.
In a surprise to no one, nowhere, these increased feelings of anxiousness often lead to insomnia and other sleep problems (trouble falling asleep, waking in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, difficulty falling back asleep, etc.). The real cruelty lies in the cycle this can cause—our anxiousness causes us to lose sleep and then the less sleep we get, the stronger our anxiety can become.
As a company that works a lot in the world of sleep (and science), we have done a fair bit of research into how we can set ourselves up for sleep success—for both adults as well as kiddos. So we wanted to share some of our favorite, evidence-based tips and tricks in the hopes it helps, even a little, to help you get some better sleep.
Prep your bedroom for optimal sleep:
- Keep it cool (this is especially true if you’re expecting, as pregnant folks are notoriously hot). Hot people sleep like garbage. So, turn the heat down. Open a window. If you (or your partner) are worried it’ll get too cold, add an extra blanket to the foot of your bed to use if needed.
- Keep it dark. Use black out curtains/shades or invest in a lovely sleep mask. Say no to night lights. And if you can get rid of visible alarm clocks, do it.
- Keep it quiet. Oftentimes we are cued to wake by sounds we don’t even consciously hear. Treat yourself to a white noise machine or download a free white noise app for your phone.
- Keep it boring. Bedrooms should be boring. No TV. No phone. No tablet. No video games. Just you. Sleeping.
- Keep it device-free. We know we just said this, but it bears repeating. Did you know devices like phones and tablets put out a blue-toned light? They do. And that triggers your brain to think it’s daytime and that you need to be awake and alert. We know in these times this can be hard, especially if you’re feeling the need to be constantly informed all.of.the.time with updates. Aim to be device-free an hour or so before bed—and if that’s not realistic, start with 15-20 minutes, then build from there. But do your best to avoid looking at your devices after bedtime.
Make a night-waking plan…in the daytime
If you’re awake for more than about 15 minutes at bedtime (or in the middle of the night), it’s time to get up and do something. Don’t just lie there, flopping around ruminating (or spiraling) on the state of the world. Instead, get up, leave your bedroom, and do something low-key and passive until you feel tired again. The goal is not entertainment nor note-worthy—you want to be just distracted enough to reset your mind (not so engaged that you stay up to see how the show turns out). Low-key activities include:
- Watching TV. Choose a boring show (try Antiques Roadshow) that won’t get you all riled-up. Do not, under any circumstances, turn on any news channels. If you’re a weirdo who finds scary movies relaxing, then fine. If you’re a normal human, you might want to avoid those.
- Listening to a podcast or radio. Again, pick something that won’t get you worked up, or that you want to stay up and listen to for hours. “Stuff You Missed in History Class” is good (if they have one about the 1918 Flu, maybe skip that one). “The Ringer” has a bunch of kick-ass podcasts about sports and pop culture that are great options, too.
- A note about reading. Researchers suggest that you shouldn’t read to sleep because it takes too much mental energy. That said, if you grew up reading to sleep, it might be a natural nighttime solution.
Clear your mind
Many of us wake up with racing thoughts that just won’t leave us alone in the middle of the night. Again, especially these days, this is totally normal. And this isn’t to say these thoughts aren’t worth having, it’s just best to try to keep them at bay (at least when trying to sleep). The key is to get them out of your head, which you can do in a few different ways:
- Write them down. Keep paper and pencil next to the bed. Write down the thoughts that are trapped in your mind.
- Repeat a meaningless phrase or word to yourself. It’s tough for thoughts to intrude when your brain is already doing something else. Something like, “The ocean is blue.” Sounds strange, but it works like a charm.
- Consider a mediation app. I know, I know, we mentioned avoiding devices when trying to sleep, and that is still 100% true. The trick is to not engage with the device—if you can use it to calm and quiet your mind, definitely use it. Headspace is a good choice (and backed by science!) and is offering free meditations specifically designed to help address the feelings of stress and overwhelm we’re dealing with nowadays.