Cover Photo: Fitbit

Here's how you can take back control of your sleep schedule and daily routines despite the chaos of the pandemic

It’s no secret that Covid-19 has overturned all our lives and that the toll of that on our physical and mental health has been significant. 

As a matter of fact, in a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) this month, it found that in 2020, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a whopping 25 per cent with unprecedented stress cited as the biggest cause. 

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Of course, with an increase in stress comes many issues, the most significant being a disruption to our sleep. In a global sleep survey conducted by health technology company Philips in 2021, it found that 40 per cent of Singaporeans said that Covid-19 is negatively impacting their ability to sleep well, while only 21 per cent feel well-rested most mornings. 

True enough, with ever-changing restrictions and having to pivot between working from home and the office frequently with split teams, it’s no wonder why more of us are struggling to form a consistent routine and to ensure that were rested. 

“A lack of a consistent daily routine can eventually lead to sleeping problems,” explained Dr Conor Heneghan, the Lead Sleep Research Scientist at Fitbit. “Setting a consistent routine, which includes a regular sleep schedule, is one of the most important things to ensure quality sleep so you can enjoy the subsequent benefits,” he continued.

So the question now is, what can we do about it? After all, it’s one thing to admit that the pandemic is causing major sleep problems in our population and another to actually do something to solve the issue.

If you are struggling, keep reading to find out Dr Heneghan’s Covid-19 specific tips to managing your sleep routine amid the stress.

Your activity and diet play a significant role

When the pandemic first began, many people were excited by the novelty of working from home, particularly because it allowed us to cook meals, work out and get our personal tasks done while also working. 

Three years later though and many of us are burnt out and overworked to the point where we struggle to factor regular exercise and healthy meals into our routines simply because we are too busy working or just too tired. 

However, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your sleep.

“Studies have shown that moving during the day can support better sleep quality and minimise anxiety too,” Dr Heneghan shared.

This can then lead to better sleep and more energy throughout the day which is why it is well worth your time to analyse your schedule and to factor exercise into it. If you are struggling to find the time or energy after work, try waking up earlier to work out or slotting a quick sweat session in during your lunch break. 

“Avoid vigorous activity too close to bedtime though, especially less than one hour before trying to sleep,” cautioned Dr Heneghan. Exercising too late at night can give you too much energy and adrenaline which can work against you and make it even harder to sleep.

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While tiring your body out during a workout to improve your sleep may seem obvious, you also need to factor your diet into your sleep plan. 

“A balanced diet is another factor in overall wellness, including sleep, but by the same token, poor sleep can also impact your appetite and body weight because it affects your appetite-regulating hormones, leading to more cravings, often for higher-calorie foods,” explained Dr Heneghan.

While it may not be feasible for you to cook a full meal every day, you can try simple solutions like ordering healthier food or making healthy sandwiches and wraps which can be prepped in advance and typically require minimal effort. 

You should also watch your alcohol intake because having alcohol too close to bedtime tends to have a negative effect on your sleep. 

“Alcohol might make you fall asleep a little faster, but you’re more likely to get restless throughout the night because it can disrupt your REM sleep, a restorative stage when you’re deep in your dreams. If REM is interrupted, it’s common to feel drowsy the next day,” said Dr Heneghan.

Go to bed when it’s time to go to bed

Being consistent and intentional is really the first step to getting control of your sleep because when you don’t have a plan, you are more likely to find yourself struggling to sleep at an appropriate time daily. 

One tip from Dr Heneghan that he applies in his own life is to have a consistent 30-minute bedtime wind-down routine that can include activities like light reading, meditation, listening to music or journaling.

This will help get your mind in the right headspace to be relaxed and sleep. 

“When work overlaps with home, subtle habits that people may not realise can impact sleep including staying exposed to bright lights until very close to bedtime or engaging in over-stimulating mental content such as difficult work emails,” Dr Heneghan said. This is why it is so important to create a ritual and habit to set aside time for winding down, particularly during the pandemic. 

Another important aspect is the ambience of your bedroom. Dr Heneghan recommends keeping the room as dark as possible and to ensure that your room is neither too cold nor hot. You can also invest in a sleep spray to make your room even cosier and to help you relax.

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“The best thing you can do for your body, regardless of your stress levels or to-do list that evening, is to go to bed when it’s time for bed so you maintain your established sleep schedule and feel ready to take on the day the next morning,” said Dr Heneghan pointedly.

Saying that, sleeping early is only one part of creating a healthy sleeping routine. You also need to ensure that you are waking up at a consistent time every day (yes, even at the weekends).

“While you may be tempted to sleep in on the weekends, in general, your body responds best to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Therefore, if manageable, try not to make too large of a difference between your weekday and weekend schedules,“ Dr Heneghan said. 

Stop snoozing

This is going to be a radical suggestion, but if you want to feel more rested when you wake up, you’re going to have to stop hitting the snooze button. 

According to Dr Heneghan, it’s common to assume that pressing the snooze button multiple times will give you more sleep. However, it could be doing even more damage.

“Many people set multiple alarms in the morning because they still feel tired when they wake up and think that snoozing their alarm will give them extra minutes of sleep back,” he explained. “While this is fairly common, this inconsistency of sleeping and waking can be disruptive to your sleep cycle. It’s important to remember that you won’t gain much back when snoozing for a few minutes.”

If you struggle with this, try leaving your alarm or phone on a table further away from your bed so that you are forced to get up when it goes off. 

Sleep, especially when we are dealing with a global pandemic, can be really stressful. However, acknowledging the collective struggle and then taking steps to address it can be really helpful and can propel us in the right direction to solving our increasing mental health and burnout related issues.  

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