Today is International Self-Care Day. Self care is any activity that you intentionally do to take care of your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing. Said simply, it’s about taking care of yourself. Crucial to self care is the development of good sleep habits. They are the foundation to getting a good night’s sleep. And a good night’s sleep, in turn, is key to managing stress and all that comes in the course of the day. Said in COVID-19 pandemic terms, a good night’s sleep is key to all the uncertainty, unpredictability, chaos, worry and fear that comes in a day! Develop these 10 good sleep habits and enjoy facing the world after a good night’s sleep.
How much sleep do we need?
The current recommendations are:
- Ages 18-64
7-9 Hours of sleep/night
- Ages 65+
7-8 Hours of sleep/night
Quality and quantity of our sleep
Bottom line: many Canadians are not only not getting enough sleep:
- 1 in 4 adults aged 18-34
- 1 in 3 adults aged 35-64
- 1 in 4 adults aged 65-79
And the quality of sleep is also an issue. Half (50 %) of adults in Canada have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, and 1 in 3 adults, or 33% have difficulty staying awake during waking hours.
COVID-19 and sleep
The numbers above are pre COVID-19 numbers. I suspect the pandemic has been wreaking havoc on both the quality and quantity of’sleep. Anecdotally, many caregivers have reported to me that their sleeping is “out of whack” and they are not waking up feeling refreshed. What we do know is that being sedentary (sitting a lot), poor mental health and stress can all negatively affect our sleep. The pandemic has given us even more reasons to toss and turn in bed or stare at the ceiling instead of sleeping.
If you’ve found yourself tossing and turning at night since the outbreak of COVID-19, you’re not alone. Heightened stress and anxiety, as well as changes to daily schedules, have caused many to lose some much-needed shut-eye.
Struggling to cope with the uncertainties of the pandemic may contribute to acute insomnia, or, in some people, worsened chronic insomnia – which can involve extreme difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
Is your sleep deprivation showing?
We all know the difference between how we feel when we wake up after a restless night of sleep and when we get a decent night’s sleep. Quite simply, the day is harder. Our mood, our judgements, our reaction time, is all impaired with sleep deprivation. As well, insufficient sleep can have long-term consequences for health including weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.
You likely haven’t had enough sleep if:
- You feel drowsy during the day
- Within 5 minutes of laying down, you routinely fall asleep
- You have “microsleeps” which are very brief episodes of sleep when you are otherwise awake
- You feel sleepy while driving
10 good sleep habits/hygiene
- Make sleep a priority. It should be right up there with exercise and eating well. Don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done – stop doing other things so you get the sleep you need.
- Set a regular bedtime and wake up time. Keep to this schedule on the weekends as well. Your body will appreciate the routine and reward you with good sleeps.
- Practice a relaxing, bedtime ritual. Stress has a big impact on sleep, so it’s important to take time to relax before bed. Read a good book, do crosswords or Sudoku, take a bath or shower, listen to calming music or try a breathing or relaxation exercise.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping and intimacy. Don’t confuse bedtime with device time! Electronic devices can interfere with our “circadian rhythm”or natural sleep/wake cycle.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bed. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate are the main source of caffeine for most people. Some medications for colds, allergies, pain relief also contain caffeine. . It might feel like drinking alcohol helps you fall asleep faster, but alcohol often disrupts our sleep. People with alcohol problems often have chronic sleep problems.
- Regular exercise helps with sleep, but keep it earlier in the day (4 to 8 hours before bedtime) or it could be disruptive. Research shows that people who exercise regularly (30 to 60 minutes, three times a week) have deeper sleep.
- Follow the 30 minute rule. If you haven’t gotten to sleep after 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing outside the bedroom. The key is a relaxing activity and not a stimulating one (Netflix is not your friend when dealing with insomnia!) Go back to bed once you feel drowsy.
- Don’t ‘try’ to fall asleep. This often has the opposite effect. Once you create sleeping as a battle to be won, you have already lost, and are more likely to have trouble getting to sleep. You are no longer relaxing the mind, but are instead engaging the mind with thoughts that will, well, keep you anxious and awake.
- Be mindful of worry thoughts that come up when you can’t sleep. When a person can’t get to sleep, they often check the clock and begin to worry about how they are going to feel and perform the next day. Remind yourself, when you notice these thoughts, that you can still function without the best sleep. Otherwise, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, you worry that you won’t function well the next day because you didn’t have a good sleep, and what happens? You don’t function well the next day.
- Set up your sleep environment
- Reduce noise in your bedroom.
- Keep bedroom cool, roundabout 65 degrees F ( ) This makes for the best sleep.
- Limit artificial light (from phones, alarm clocks). Artificial light really messes with our body’s circadian rhythm—the body’s 24-hour sleep/wake cycle mainly because it causes the suppression of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
- A mattress with good support and comfortable bedding are both helpful. It’s worth the investment. After all, we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping.
Did you know?
- We create a “sleep debt” when we don’t get enough sleep. Like all debt, eventually it will have to be repaid. Our body will demand it. Moreover, a sleep deficit involves more than one sleepless night. It also increases each time a night is shortened and you sleep less than your body needs. Sleep mafia?
- Caffeine and other stimulants cannot overcome the effects of severe sleep deprivation.
If you have persistent trouble sleeping, or no amount of sleep makes you feel well-rested, contact a medical professional, since sleep is important for your overall health.
Do you have good sleep habits? We would love to hear from you.