Is the anxiety or disruption of the COVID-19 situation making it hard to sleep?
We face a double world crisis: a health crisis and an economic crisis. And in addition to the major events of the world, we’re also facing disruption in our everyday lives. Some people are at the front lines, dealing with COVID-19. Others—like me—are safe at home with our families.
Because of everything that’s going on, many people are having trouble sleeping. I know I am. Some people can’t fall asleep, some people wake up with racing thoughts and can’t get back to sleep.
At any time, good sleep is crucial. Even since I wrote my book The Happiness Project, I’ve become more and more convinced of the importance of sleep. Lack of sleep has broad health consequences, such as raising our risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity, and it also has a profound effect on our happiness and energy level. And of particular importance these days, good sleep helps our immune system work effectively.
In these challenging times, we need restful, restorative sleep more than ever—but it’s hard to get it. Here are some tips to consider.
9 tips if you have trouble falling asleep:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. The regularity helps your body power down. While these days, you may think, “Well, I don’t have to be up at any particular time, so why worry about my bedtime or wake-up time?” our bodies do better with a routine.
- Set an alarm. If you have trouble getting yourself moving toward the bedroom, set a go-to-bed alarm on your phone to remind you to turn off the TV or the computer and head to bed.
- Listen to sleep-inducing podcast. My favorite is Sleep with Me. (When I first heard about it, I though it was hilarious that this podcast even exists, but now I’m a fan.) I often re-listen to old episodes of one of my favorite podcasts, Binge Mode; I don’t worry about missing anything, because I’ve heard it all before, and it keeps my mind occupied in a very peaceful way.
- Get ready for bed well before you plan to turn off the light. I realized that sometimes, paradoxically, I felt too tired to get ready for bed, so I just stayed up later. Now I try to wash my face, put on my pajamas, and brush my teeth well before I plan to turn off the light.
- Cool off. Keep your bedroom chilly. Sometimes, when I’m feeling hot and having a hard time sleeping, I slather lotion all over my body. That cools me down and helps me fall asleep. On the other hand…
- If your feet are cold, put on socks. I fall asleep much faster when my feet aren’t cold.
- Get morning light. Research shows that getting sunlight helps to set our circadian rhythms.
- Exercise. People who exercise have an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Re-think your nap. For some people—like my father—naps are restorative and don’t interfere with a good night’s sleep. But if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, and you’re napping during the day, consider skipping the nap. Or at least take your nap before 5 p.m.
4 tips if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep:
- Make a list of the things that are worrying you. By writing down your concerns, you help your brain let go of them.
- Hide the clock. Nothing’s worse than getting more and more stressed out by thinking of how much sleep you’re missing.
- Get out of bed and do some light puttering for twenty minutes. No watching TV or checking emails—nothing that would wake up your brain—and keep the lights low. This particular strategy works very well for me. I usually spend the time tidying up, and after twenty minutes, I can get back into bed and fall asleep. Bonus: the apartment looks good when I wake up again.
- Stretch. This really helps me—it makes me feel more comfortable in my body.
And of course, don’t forget to follow the obvious rules that you already know:
- Don’t drink caffeine after 3:00 p.m.
- Don’t look at screens before bed.
- Don’t check the news or email before bed.
- Skip the alcohol—it may help you fall asleep, but it actually interferes with restorative sleep.
An added benefit of going to sleep on time? You’re less likely to indulge in late-night snacking, which is a huge temptation for many people.
Have you found it harder to get a good night’s sleep these days? What tips or strategies have helped you get restful sleep?
Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue and change for a long time. While everyone across the globe is affected, it’s hitting people differently in different places. Countries are experiencing it at different times, and within the United States, states are being hit at different times. The crisis affects individuals very differently, too; people’s fears and challenges vary dramatically. Wherever we are, we’re all so grateful for the healthcare workers and all the essential workers who are doing such important work, so courageously, during this time.
I’m writing from my own experience, at this moment, in New York City.