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COVID and the impact on our sleep

Many people are reporting not sleeping well, or having sleep problems for the first time during lockdown - why is this?

Well, lockdown is having a huge impact on the way we live, with the pandemic forcing us to deal with a whole range of emotions, including fear and anxiety.

Whilst it's totally normal to worry at the moment, we need to find ways to manage our worries.

This is because when we are anxious our body goes into fight or flight mode, a primitive response designed to keep us safe. In this fight or flight mode we create adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones which put us on a high state of alert. And being on high alert is not conducive to helping us get to sleep or stay asleep.

So by worrying about coronavirus, we are literally keeping our minds wide awake.

How much of this is to do with disrupted routines?

Disrupted routines will definitely be adding to the problem.

For people who are not able to work at the moment, there may be the temptation to stay up later or sleep longer in the mornings. But disrupting your natural sleep cycle - your circadian rhythm - can create new sleep problems.

Also, some people are unable to go outside to exercise and get natural light at this time, which are two important regulators of sleep. Exercise acts like an antidepressant, reducing our anxiety levels, and so is really important to maintain during times of change. If you can't get outside, try and sit by a window or close to a LED light for at least 30 minutes each day.

Why are people saying they are having more lucid dreams at the moment?

We all dream - usually about 4 to 5 times a night. The reason we remember a dream is that our state of sleep we are usually in when we dream - our REM sleep - is interrupted by waking up.

Part of the reason people are remembering their dreams more now, is because their sleep is more disrupted.

The content of our dreams is a bit more complicated, but any anxiety or stress that is not dealt with during the day will play out in your dreams that night.

Four tips for sleeping better during COVID

  1. Stick to a routine. It may be tempting to change your routine, but try and maintain regular bedtimes, wake up times, meal times and exercise routines. And avoid alcohol and caffeine for 2 hours before bedtime.

  2. Don't have too much screen time before bed - especially if what you are watching makes you feel anxious. Do something relaxing instead like reading a book or listening to something calming.

  3. Also be aware that every bit of media we consume each day - every video download and every image - needs to be processed by our brains when we sleep. If we overload our brain too much with information, it just can’t process everything and that’s when we find ourselves wide awake in the early hours with our mind racing.

  4. Lastly, try and focus on some positive stories or events from your day before sleep - this will help you feel calmer and happier, which will ease you into sleep better.

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