Reasons why you might be struggling to sleep at the moment

Lockdown is having an impact on various aspects of our lives from relationships and work to exercise and cooking, but it could also be having an effect on our sleep.

Perhaps you’ve never had problems sleeping but are experiencing some at the moment, or maybe your sleep issues have escalated since the coronavirus outbreak?

We asked experts to share their thoughts on why so many people are having difficulty sleeping at the moment and, more importantly, what they can do about it.

After all, a good night’s sleep will leave you feeling better the next day – and we all need a bit more happiness at the moment.

Little sunlight

A 2018 study found people who were exposed to sunlight later in the day, naturally woke up and slept in later than those who had exposure earlier.

So, with many of us not able to get outside until we finish working from home (or not able to go out at all) it’s no wonder our sleep patterns are changing.

Personal trainer Aaron Brown explains: ‘One potential impact on sleep is not getting direct sunlight exposure early in the day as many people are not leaving the house early to get to work or going outside to shop or exercise.

‘During the day, if we are not getting direct sunlight exposure, the knock-on effect can be that our body clock (circadian rhythm) becomes misaligned with our behaviours and what we need to achieve at any given time of day. 

‘A general lack of direct sunlight during the day has been linked in the research to changes in sleep timing, sleep duration and sleep quality.’

Aaron says the way to combat this is to try to get 30-90 minutes of direct sunlight exposure outside, before noon. Even if it’s cloudy outside, the light is still enough to signal the circadian system effectively.

Lack of routine

Lockdown life has thrown a spanner in the works for all of our routines. But trying to stick to the same outline every day will help with not only sleep, but mental health, too.

Aaron adds: ‘It is important to try and stick to a consistent sleep/wake routine when isolating, especially when it can be tempting to stay up late watching TV shows or have an extra hour in bed instead of doing the morning commute.

‘Your body clock thrives on consistency and can become more and more effective at functioning optimally throughout the day and night, both from a cognitive and physical perspective.’

Having a routine, with clear cut-off times for work and leisure – as well as waking and sleeping hours – will help train the body to know when it’s going to bed.

Anxiety from the news

It’s widely known that anxiety and a decline in mental wellbeing can negatively impact sleep. And with endless headlines on coronavirus, it’s likely we are all feeling a lot more stressed.

But limiting our news intake could help to reduce this anxiety and help with sleep.

Pharmacist Sid Dajani says: ‘The constant stream of COVID headlines and the disruption to life at the moment can make us all very anxious, especially if we are working at home and living alone. 

‘Social media is great but it can then be tempting to spend too long on it making yourself ever more anxious. Try to limit yourself to watching the news once or at the most twice a day and engage on the news with any new things government is asking you to do.’

Multiple uses for our bedrooms

Business Psychologist Natalia Ramsden tells ‘Where the bedroom was once reserved for precious sleep, it has now become the site for work, play, entertainment, togetherness and solitude.’

This very dramatic change to our lifestyle is having a knock-on effect on our sleeping habits.

It’s important (if possible) to separate the rooms in the house for different functions, as this will help your brain associate a bedroom with sleeping.

Aaron says: ‘For good sleep quality, it is important to maintain the association between the bedroom as a place almost exclusively for sleep.

‘It can be tempting to sit in bed and work in the morning, or read a book or watch a Netflix series in bed during the day when you have some free time, but research has shown that this can be detrimental for sleep.

‘One method that health professionals use to manage sleep disorders is stimulus control therapy – one of the main components of stimulus control therapy is re-associating the bedroom with sleep only by avoiding all activities in the bedroom apart from sleeping.’

Aaron recommends creating a clear boundaries for working, relaxing and socialising at home and keeping the bedroom separate to these.

Little movement

Consultant psychologist Dr Elena Touroni says our bodies are used to getting a lot more exercise every day.

She explains: ‘Movement and activity influence our quality of sleep – and we’re usually much more active than one walk a day.’

Therefore trying to re-establish activity in your routine, might help to get sleep back on track.

While government advice says we can only leave the house once a day to exercise, there’s a plethora of ways we can workout in the home, such as using household objects as weights.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to move as much as you usually would, but even a small workout will help to tire your body.

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