A good night’s sleep is a powerful thing. It makes for a better next day and better overall health. Multiple sleep studies have confirmed that catching enough ZZZ’s is central to a healthy lifestyle.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on our national sleep pattern. The stress, uncertainly, and lack of exercise resulting from the current health crisis has cost Americans countless hours of shut-eye.
I recently interviewed Dr. Melissa Milanak, a licensed clinical psychologist, sleep researcher, and instructor in sleep and anxiety treatment at the Medical University at the College of Charleston. What we discussed was fascinating, particularly during this COVID-19 economy.
“Everyone’s used to having the occasional bad night’s sleep,” says Dr. Milanak. “What we’re seeing now, though, is that the frequency and severity of poor sleep are through the roof. And, when your sleep is off, everything else in your life is off.”
Financial anxiety seems to be at the root of our sleep problems. Layoffs and furloughs are hitting every level of companies and organizations. Individuals are worried about how they’re going to pay their bills. Small business owners fret about keeping their doors open.
So, how do we retake control of our sleep? Dr. Milanak has some suggestions.
Your Bed Should be Associated with Sleep
Hitting the sweet spot is individual to the person. Some folks need six hours of sleep, others require the oft-prescribed eight and others still need nine hours.
No matter how much sleep you need, be sure to reserve your bed for sleep (and sex). Milanak says reading, TV (I’m looking at you, Netflix bingers) and screens in bed are a no-no. We need our minds to associate our beds with rest and relaxation. It is a critical component of a rejuvenating night of sleep.
Get on A Schedule
This may take some adjusting, but Dr. Milanak believes it’s crucial for us to have a sleep routine we stick to every single night. Her advice is to schedule our bedtime based on what time we typically wake up and work backward from there based on how many hours of sleep we need.
Say you know you need seven hours of sleep and that you wake up at six most mornings. Dr. Milanak advice is to set bedtime at eleven each night – and make it a must. She says that if you find yourself in bed for more than 15 minutes without falling asleep, get up, do something boring and try to go back to sleep afterward.
The next day is also vital. Even if you weren’t able to sleep until midnight or later, don’t let yourself nap. The idea is that you want to build the muscle of sleeping during the timeframe you’ve identified that’s best for you.
Try this approach for seven days, and if you find your sleep window still isn’t enough for you, add 15 minutes to your bedtime (not your wake time). Keep that up for another seven days and reassess until you find your rhythm.
With a little dedication, you can set your unique schedule and have a more restful sleep.
Healthy Ways to Shut Off the Brain for Sleep
“For the ideal sleep environment, we want it to be dark, cool enough that you need a cover, and quiet,” says Dr. Milanak. Wind down routines can be very beneficial. Think about how much light is on your phone. Dr. Milanak says light can delay our sleep for up to an hour! Another tip is to only fall asleep in bed – not on the couch in front of the TV.
To relax for bed, Dr. Milanak suggests meditation, stretching or progressive muscle relaxation, a method of letting go of tension in your body. When your breath slows down, or your body relaxes more, it signals to your brain that it’s time for sleep.
Our bottom line is that sleep is good for your health. Dr. Milanak says that research shows that when we’re getting good sleep, our bodies are prepared for whatever challenges the day might hold. Our immune health and system health are improved. Our memory and focus are on point.
Here’s to good health, a great night’s sleep, and better mornings.