Up all night? Tips to help get you sleeping again

If you’re struggling to fall – and stay – asleep each night, try these strategies for better rest.
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If you’re like many people who are staying at home during the COVID-19 outbreak, your new normal might mean conference calls with kids bouncing around in the background, quick scans of the internet for easy dinner recipes, and, in between, trying to squeeze in some exercise in your living room.

Another thing that might have changed? Your sleep patterns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that stress during the pandemic can result in increased fear and worry, and worsen chronic medical and mental health problems. Tack on changes in eating patterns and potential increased alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, and you’ve got the formula for difficulty sleeping.

Waking up before dawn with your mind racing is no fun. Neither is tossing and turning into the wee hours of the night. The good news: There are things you can do that may help alleviate these issues. Try these straightforward strategies that can up your chances of waking each day feeling refreshed and alert.

What’s causing your sleeplessness?

Insomnia can often be attributed to consuming caffeine too close to bedtime, answering emails right before turning off the lights, or medical conditions such as restless leg syndrome.

But these days, many people are having trouble sleeping when they never did before. That may well be due to stressors surrounding COVID-19, which can cause mental anxiety as well as physical changes like raising the body’s arousal system response, resulting in increased heart rate and blood pressure.

But even simple changes in your daily routines can play a part. Are you taking naps in the afternoon after signing off from work? Or feeling cranky and blue when you can’t get outside for some fresh air? How about checking the local news several times a day for COVID-19 updates, only to find negative news? All of these can factor into sleep issues and make it harder to stay asleep once you get into bed. This, in turn, makes you sleepier the next day, which can leave you feeling even more stressed and down

How to get better quality sleep

In addition to avoiding naps and late-evening coffee, there are other things you can try to help you fall asleep and stay that way each night.

  • Stick with calming activities before bed. Ever find yourself checking your social media feeds, then getting lost on the internet long after you planned to log off? Put your device down well before bedtime. By avoiding potentially stressful news updates in the evening, you’ll steer clear of anxious feelings that may be keeping you up.
    Instead, take the time to get organized for the next day, read a book in a cozy nook, work on a jigsaw puzzle, or soak in a hot bath. Going to sleep at the same time each night is also a good idea since bedtime consistency reinforces your body’s sleep/wake cycle.
  • Pay attention to your sleep environment. Factors such as noise, light streaming under the door or through the blinds, and room temperature can also be affecting your sleep, even if they didn’t before. Blackout shades, an eye mask, and a white-noise machine can help reduce these stimuli that can cause sleeplessness. Set the thermostat to 60–67 degrees or open the window well before bedtime so the bedroom reaches this optimal sleeping temperature. This applies to kids’ rooms, too.

Strive for better sleep as a family

If you have children, they may also be experiencing sleep issues if their normal routines have been upended. You can help them by establishing rituals that signal it’s bedtime, and by preparing their bodies and minds for sleep.

Just like you, infants may benefit from a white-noise machine, which will flood their room with a consistent, soothing hum. Many machines come with dozens of sounds, from soft rain to a babbling brook. Lullabies and a few minutes spent cuddling or rocking can also be beneficial.

You can make bedtime fun for toddlers and older kids by allowing them to choose a book or two to read before bed. It’s a good idea to put away their toys and other distractions so they aren’t tempted to get out of bed if they wake in the middle of the night. This will also signal to them that bedtime is around the corner.

Electronics and their blue-light screens are a no-no right before bed. Power down your children’s devices well before “lights out” so kids can burn off any excess energy and let their own melatonin levels adjust before their heads hit the pillow.

Eat healthy and stay active

Some of us are finding it tough to keep up with our regular exercise routines while staying at home. But making physical activity a priority reaps rewards beyond a smaller waistline.

Exercise has numerous positive effects on sleep, including stabilizing mood and decompressing the mind. Just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity is often enough to do the trick. This includes anything from strength training and active yoga to a brisk walk around the block.

You might want to avoid exercising too close to bedtime though. That’s because right after exercising, your core body temperature is higher than normal, which may inhibit sleep. The endorphins released may also keep you awake.

What you eat also plays a role in how well you sleep. You probably already know to avoid coffee before bedtime, but did you know that energy drinks and chocolate also contain caffeine? The timing of eating spicy and acidic foods like tomato sauce also matters; those eaten less than three hours before bed can cause heartburn, which can keep you awake. High-fat and high-protein foods can be harder for the body to break down, especially since your digestion falls by half when you sleep. And alcohol might help you fall asleep, but when it wears off, you might end up awake until your body adjusts and can fall back asleep again.

While this time is extremely difficult, and falling asleep may be harder than ever, it’s important to develop a routine that works for you to get the best sleep possible.

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