Experiencing insomnia during the pandemic? Stress dreams? Keep reading...
There’s nothing quite like a dark, quiet bedroom to send a stressed-out mind down a rabbit hole of worry, and the coronavirus is giving us all a new set of possible concerns to feast upon.
As your head hits the pillow, or maybe when you stir at 3 am, you start to wonder: does that little sore throat mean you’re doomed? What if that guy who stood too close at the supermarket had the virus? Can your mother or grandmother — or you — survive this?
It goes on and on, and pretty soon you’re worried that you’ll never get to sleep, and you’ll feel horrible the next day. Plus, you know that you need sleep for a strong immune system, so staying awake could make you sick. This kind of thinking is a recipe for insomnia.
"Stress and anxiety make up more than 40% of the sleep issues that people experience," says Lucy Wolfe, Ireland's leading sleep consultant. "Unwanted thoughts and feelings flood your mind increasing your adrenaline encouraging a fight and flight mode that makes going and/or returning to sleep very challenging. The more you try not to worry or think about certain things, the harder you try to go to sleep."
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This is why, more than ever, it’s important to establish or maintain good sleep habits. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The extreme stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic naturally is leading to a lot of sleepless nights. Thankfully, there are plenty of simple things you can do to help you not only sleep longer but sleep better and reduce the amount of time you toss and turn.
Below, Lucy Wolfe breaks down the 10 essential things to do before bed that will help you get restful sleep during a pandemic.
BREATHING AWARENESS EXERCISES
Step one: Lie down on your back with your arms relaxed by your sides. Take a few seconds to get comfortable.
Step two: Bring your awareness to your breathing. Can you feel your breath coming in and going out? There’s no right way to breathe. Just relax and breathe normally.
Step three: Try to imagine the air is coming from far away, and you blow it out to a distant place. You might also say the words ‘in’ and ‘out’ in your mind to match your breathing. Or perhaps think of the word ‘relax’ on each out-breath.
Step four: Concentrate on your chest rising and falling – can you feel it? Can you taste or smell the air as you breathe in? Is it cool or warm? Your mind will probably start to wander at some point, and thoughts may arise. Don’t worry if you have thoughts. Acknowledge them, and then gently bring your focus back to your breathing.
Step five: As you continue breathing, feel your body gently sink into your mattress little by little. You can do this breathing exercise any time you feel the need to during the day. Just 5 minutes can help, but you might like to build up to 20 minutes overtime.
If that doesn't help you fall asleep, Wolfe suggests focusing on your body rather than your breathing. Or better yet, "combining these two exercises can even make it even easier to fall asleep – try doing one followed by the other," advises Wolfe. "Don’t focus on time or the amount of sleep just focus on being present and on your breathing as outlined."
BODY SCAN EXERCISES
Step one: Lie down and get yourself comfortable. Imagine your mind leaving your head, and travelling through your body to one of your feet. How does your foot feel? Is it relaxed, tense or sore? Is it hot or cold? Don’t make any judgments on how it feels – simply scan and observe how you feel.
Step two: Imagine your toe and foot muscles tightening, and relaxing again. Then take your mind up to your calf, knee and thigh. Stop in each body part to repeat the scanning, muscle tensing and relaxing. Repeat the exercise with your other leg.
Step three: Move to a hand and work your way up both arms. Scan, tense and relax your back, stomach, chest, shoulders and face. You can either imagine your muscles tensing and relaxing, or physically tense and relax them – do what feels best. You’ll know it’s starting to work when your limbs begin to feel heavy and you’re happy to sink comfortably into your mattress.
Top tip: You might find your mind wanders at times. Acknowledge any thoughts that arise in a positive way, but bring your mind gently back to the exercise.
if all else fails
"Keeping a journal or simply writing your worries down by day has shown to be a helpful tool to stop the unwanted behaviours when your brain is trying to switch off," says Wolfe. "Incidentally, keeping a sleep diary also can help you identify vulnerable areas too."
Main image by @jessalizzi on Instagram