10 tips for better sleep in uncertain times
If you’re anything like me, these uncertain times are taking a toll on your peace of mind. I’ve been having trouble falling asleep. I’m waking up at weird hours—it takes forever to fall back asleep. Even when I do sleep, these days I still don’t wake up feeling rested.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to turn my brain off. And it’s exhausting. And yet a good night’s sleep is still really hard to come by.
My family and I are taking the highest of precautions to protect ourselves from the new coronavirus. But I’m still worried about our well-being. I’m worried about my friends and my family as well.
And I’m worried about you and your loved ones.
I don’t have any magic wands or secret spells to offer us blanket protection against COVID-19.
But I do want to talk about one of the few things you CAN control to help protect yourself and your family—not just against COVID-19, but against just about any contagious disease.
Getting a restful and recharging night’s sleep.
In the hopes of helping you catch a mental break, below are the 4 things the CDC recommends (plus 6 more science-backed tips that are working for me) to start sleeping better this week.
Research shows that even minor sleep deficiencies are associated with fatigue, stress, lapses in judgment, elevated blood pressure, poor blood sugar control, and inflammation.1
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates up to 100,000 car accidents and 1,550 crash-related deaths can be attributed to sleep deficiencies every year.2
And a Mayo Clinic article confirms:
Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus…. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.3
The research supporting sleep and immune support goes deeper still.
A study published in the esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association showed that adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep per night are almost 3 times more likely to develop a cold (when exposed to the rhinovirus) than those who got 8 hours.4
And those who got poor quality of sleep (92% efficiency) were 5.5 times more likely to get a cold than those with better quality of sleep (98% efficiency).5
The CDC estimates that more than 35% of all adults are sleep deprived.6
But those statistics were reported before the coronavirus pandemic infected nearly a quarter million Americans, killed more than 5,000 and changed nearly every aspect of our normal lives and routines in the United States.
So here we are. What can we do to improve our sleep habits?
One of the best ways to improve your sleep at night is to work on reducing your stress levels during the day. The CDC has these 4 suggestions7:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Adding to point number 4, there are now many ways to communicate with friends, family and loved ones, one-on-one, or in groups, using online video.
If you have access to a computer or smartphone, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, and Facebook Messenger all offer free access to online video chatting.
And once the day starts nearing its end and it’s time to get ready for bed, I offer these 6 tips to help ensure a restful and recharging night’s sleep.
Be mindful of your caffeine and alcohol consumption. The half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours. That means, 6 hours after your morning cup of coffee, your body has only processed half of the caffeine. So, if you have a cup at 8am, by 8pm a full 25% of the caffeine is still stimulating your nervous system. And, while alcohol may help you feel tired and more relaxed, it interferes with the sleep cycle and prevents the deep, recharging levels of sleep you need to stay healthy. Avoid any caffeine after lunch time. And limit alcohol to 1-2 servings no more than a few times per week.
Shut off the screens 2 hours before bedtime. That means TVs, computer screens, tablets and smartphones. Any artificial light in your home can interfere with your body’s melatonin production (that includes ambient lighting), but electronic screens are among the biggest offenders. Give your eyes and your brain time to wind down. And if your phone is near you and powered on, it still can stimulate you. I suggest remove it from your bedroom.
Create a nightly ritual that helps you feel more relaxed and triggers your mind that it’s time to get ready for rest. Try to do this every night around the same time. Read a book—preferably something light, funny, and entertaining. Drink something warm (not hot and no caffeine), like herbal tea or even some warm lemon water. Warm, soothing sensations like a shower or bath help calm your vagus nerve, which runs from your brain, down through the back of your throat and into your abdomen. Lower the lights throughout your home, but particularly in your bedroom. Meditate. Try deep breathing.
- If you notice your mind focusing on the news of the day, the to-do list of tomorrow, or anything other than sleepy thoughts, try counting down 5… 4… 3… 2… 1. The act of counting backwards interrupts your spiraling thoughts and draws focus to your prefrontal cortex. It gives you immediate control of what you think of next. If starting from 5 doesn’t work, try 10 or 20. Let your brain know that you’re now in control and you’re going to use this space to redirect your thoughts and replace them with something positive.
- As you lay in bed, envision the place you’re most excited to go when we come through this challenging chapter. Draw your focus to that place, hold on to that thought, see the colors, smell the aromas, transport yourself there—what will you eat? Drink? What will you be most excited to see and experience? Visualize and feel yourself in that very amazing place you’d like to be. And you will slowly start to drift off to sleep.
- Lastly, consider a natural, non-habit forming sleep supplement. Melatonin is a great standby to help reset your sleep cycle and remind your brain that it’s time for bed. Choose a slow release version to help keep you asleep. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It’s the reason why green tea has such a soothing, calming effect, despite the caffeine content. And it does a great job of helping to quiet the mind and turn off the “brain chatter” that keeps you up at night. An extract of an Asian flower, Apocynum venetum, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for ages. Today you can find it in a purified, standardized extract called Venetron®. In a case study, Venetron® not only helped people get deeper, more recharging sleep, but it helped reduce the number of times they woke up at night.
You can find most of these items online (I would recommend avoiding grocery stores or supplement shops right now if at all possible). Or, all of these soothing herbs and nutrients can be found in Newport Natural Health’s Sleep Solution Plus. You can order it safely online and try it risk-free for a full 90 days.
I know you’re strong and I know you’re resilient. That’s how I know you’ll come out of the other side of this challenging time as a stronger person.
In the meantime, it is my goal, as president of Newport Natural Health, to continue providing you with useful, actionable advice to help ensure you’re living your healthiest possible life.
Stay safe and stay healthy.
Last Updated: April 4, 2020