Are you having a hard time getting in enough sleep during this pandemic?

Living in the coronavirus era has brought about a number of significant changes in our lives. This includes wearing face masks whenever we’re outdoors, shelved travel plans, no social activities and a new work-from-home culture that has swept the globe. Ultimately, this means we have had to make adjustments to our daily routines and if you’re anything like me, one of the downsides of this is a disrupted sleep cycle.

My relationship with sleep has always been rocky and this goes way back to my university days. Granted, my lifestyle wasn’t exactly the best. I had many late nights due to schoolwork and my then-active social life. I tried multiple ways to combat this problem, including sleeping with the TV playing in the background; tiring myself out with evening workouts; waking up earlier; and so on. I also tried sleep aids like Zzzquil, a product that contains melatonin (which helps regulate sleep cycles) and sold in pharmacies in the US. It worked. Eventually, I didn’t need it anymore after graduating and returning to Singapore.

But since I’ve started working from home again due to the lockdown measures, the no-sleep monster has slowly crept back into my life. There were nights where I could only fall asleep sometime between 2 am to 5 am in the morning. But I’m not the only one encountering this phenomenon during this period. In fact, it’s normal to feel worried, stressed and anxious during unprecedented times like this.

“This could be related to ‘cabin fever’. Being stuck at home, and having less work, less business, less revenue, and perhaps more work stress, could produce more of the stress hormone known as Cortisol. Therefore, the result is poorer sleep quality and sleeplessness,” said Dr Kenny Pang, ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist of Asia Sleep Centre, in an e-mail interview.

Ideally, a working adult should develop regular sleep patterns, and try to sleep from 11 pm to 7 am daily, added Dr Pang. Getting about seven to eight hours of sleep each night would be perfect. “On weekends, you may get a little more sleep and wake at 8 am, this is to ‘repay’ the sleep debt,” Dr Pang said.

This time around, I decided to tackle the problem head-on and find long-term solutions that could work for me. The fundamentals are these: developing a routine and committing to it. Along with advice by Dr Pang and wellness experts from Amanpuri and Sangha Retreat, here are my tips for the best night's sleep you can have.

1. Do some relaxation exercises

Practising a bit of yoga and meditation before bed is an excellent way to calm the mind and body. Since my regular barre studio is temporarily closed, I had to find at-home workouts to try. I downloaded the Down Dog yoga app, which has various types of practices for different objectives. Go for their restorative or gentle flow options; they work best if you wish to relax your muscles before you call it a day.
Otherwise, just relax and meditate instead. “Meditation can also improve your sleep by reducing stress levels, which is the number one enemy of a good night’s sleep, and boosting your melatonin levels, the critical chemical for creating restful sleep,” said Grace Zhu, life coach at Sangha Retreat. She added that "this will ultimately work to prepare the body for better sleep as well". Try these apps to help you get started.

2. Wear a sleep mask

Blocking out light in the bedroom is a great sleep habit to keep. As Dr Pang wrote in his book, Sleep And Snoring Matters: “Keep the bedroom dark enough to facilitate sleep. Melatonin levels in the blood start to rise by about 9 to 10 pm and peaks by 1 am to 2 am. It helps to have a dark environment for sleeping.”

I recently started wearing an eye mask to bed once again (This was also a method I used back in university.) and found that it has definitely improved my sleep. My favourite is the silk eye mask by Lilysilk.

3. Put on comfortable sleepwear

Stick to a routine and prepare yourself for bed at the same time each night. One way to do that is to slip on some comfortable nightwear to introduce sleep mode. Throw on some soft, breathable PJs or even a silk pyjama set to match your eye mask and you’re all set for dreamland. I like sleeping with a silk pillowcase as well—it feels luxurious and you won’t wake up with bad hair. Remember to wash it regularly to prevent any acne breakouts.


4. Drink some tea

Yes, sipping on tea does help with sleep issues. But make sure you’re consuming tea without caffeine. I usually make a cup using Chamomile teabags by TWG or T2 as they’re the easiest to prepare. Another option is to have some herbal tea before bed.

“Herbal teas are non-addictive and can really work well when you find the right one for you,” said Kimberly Rose Kneier, immersion manager and Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist at Amanpuri’s holistic wellness centre. She also recommended herbal tea that contains the Schisandra fruit, which helps with adrenal fatigue, digestion and is great for sleep; milky oats-infused tea and suan zao ren tang, a popular Chinese herbal formula often used to treat insomnia.

5. Use scents

I’m all for the idea of using scents to boost or alter your mood for the better. Therefore, it’s especially important for me to turn my bedroom into a comforting space by using a combination of fragrance products such as candles and diffusers. You can also apply sleeping masks that include ingredients such as lavender, which has been clinically proven to slow down the nervous system, to help put you to sleep. Try Laneige’s lavender-infused Water Sleeping Mask or the Perfect Nacht Sleeping Balm, formulated with essential oils, by Bynacht. Before I rest my head, I also give my pillow a few spritzes of This Works' Deep Sleep Pillow Spray.


6. Have a balanced diet

This may be the most important tip yet it's also the most challenging to achieve because of the myriad gourmand options that we have, especially during this period where delivery options are aplenty. But Gaby Luo, a nutritionist from Sangha Retreat, offers some words of wisdom.

She shared: “It is very complicated to link diet and sleep directly together, but we know that a balanced diet is the base for a balanced hormone system, which moderates sleep quality. Insulin is one key factor that affects sleep quality. This explains why it is hard to fall asleep when you are hungry, as your insulin and blood sugar levels are both too low. I suggest having three servings of fresh vegetables and two servings of protein-rich foods for your dinner; if you are still not satisfied, add an additional portion of legumes.”

However, sleep is not solely affected by our diet, thus there is no individual food that can directly contribute to your sleep quality, she added. If you're able to narrow down your problems with sleeping, then you can enhance your diet to address those problems, resulting in better sleep quality.

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