Are you having trouble sleeping? You’re definitely not alone. COVID-19 is wrecking our sleep with COVID-somnia! It’s very real and very widespread, affecting adults and kids alike. Sleep is such a critical element when it comes to good overall health. Unfortunately, consistent lack of sleep for both adults and children can put our safety at risk, affect our mental health, and it can weaken our immune system. Here’s what you need to know to help get a better night’s sleep.
Problem 1: Stress
Find the right calming activity for you that can help you bring your stress levels down can be the key to sweeter dreams. Perhaps that’s meditating, or going for a daily walk. It’s important to stay active as it’s not only a great way to build our drive to sleep, but it’s also a great way to get in some fresh air and walk off any anxiety. All family members should be focusing on at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
It’s also important to allow yourself to have a “Personal Pause” throughout the day. The reason why stress and anxiety can affect our sleep so much is that our days are so busy and so distracted we don’t allow ourselves time to work through any problems we may be having or stresses that we feel. Give yourself a moment throughout the day – for perhaps a minute or two – where you go into a quiet corner and work through what you need to. Stress! Think the thoughts that may keep you up at night. We’re human, it’s impossible not to have those thoughts. But allow them to flow in and flow out, write out your stressful to-do lists, put a plan in action during the day so that when you lay down to go to sleep and there aren’t anymore life distractions every bad thought you have doesn’t come flowing in.
Problem 2: Waking up at Night
Each cycle of sleep is around 90-minutes, and throughout that cycle we transition through different stages of sleep. As we transition, we have brief periods of waking and normally we don’t even realize we are waking up. The 3am sleep stage transition can be one that wakes us fully and shifts us out of that deep sleep because at that point we are finishing up our stages of deep sleep, typically after the first 4 or 4.5 hours of sleep, and starting longer periods of lighter sleep, also known as REM sleep. There is a higher chance during these lighter sleep periods that we may wake up.
What this means is that the 3am waking is common and typically not an issue provided you are falling back to sleep relatively easily. It doesn’t mean that you have a sleep problem or insomnia if you notice that you wake up briefly at a similar time every night.
What if your mind starts to race and you can’t go back to sleep? A busy mind elevates heart rate and blood pressure, and triggers a fight-or-flight response. If you find that your mind starts racing at this time practice some calming activities like mindful breathing and mindful thought. Use an app to help guide you through it if need be. If these wakings continue and these activities aren’t working you may need to shift the consolidated amount of sleep you are getting and redistribute it throughout the night.
The issue could be that you are waking up because you have had enough sleep. Let’s say you personally only need 6 or 7 hours and you are heading to bed at 9:30 pm. That means your body is going to start waking up at 3:30 or 4:30 am. You are in fact spending too much time in bed and we need to push that bedtime out later. You want to make sure that you aren’t going to bed too early. It’s best to go to bed when your body is giving you those sleepy cues. This will help you fall asleep easier and perhaps shift your consolidated sleep time and push through that 3am waking to then wake up at a more reasonable time.
Problem 3: Difficulty Falling Asleep
We’ve all had this one at some point or another. If you’re a toss-and-turner, here’s how to condition yourself to sleep.
Using Stimulus Control Therapy, a form of CBT-I, can be really effective for some insomniacs. This is where you work towards strengthening the association between your bed and sleep. We want to strengthen the cues for your bed and sleep and weaken the cues and activities that can be sleep busters.
We should be sleeping 85% of the time that we are in bed to keep a strong sleep and bed association. So, sleep and sex are the only two activities we include in the bedroom. What we don’t want to be doing is lying awake unable to fall back to sleep and turn on the TV or reach for your phone, start clock watching, and spending a lot of time awake in bed worrying about not sleeping. So, wait 10 or 15 minutes and if you can’t fall asleep, it’s okay to get out of bed and go in another room to do a quite activity until you feel sleepy enough to try to go back to bed. Stay away from bright lights, and avoid bright screens that are close to your face, so no phones or computers. If you want to watch a show on TV that’s okay but preferred activities would be to read in low light, or practice a calming activity like a puzzle or word search. The rule of thumb is to do this until you feel sleepy enough to try to get back into bed again.
If you wake up a few times throughout the night you may want to try and stay in bed for some of those times but it’s important that any time you are struggling to fall back to sleep you practice the stimulus control in order to weaken the association of being awake in bed. This may mean a night or even nights of getting up and down, and up and down, but with time things will get better and you will be able to sleep more soundly in bed.
Problem 4: Snoring Partner
This is definitely a huge sleep buster. To fix this, you can turn to sleep tools like ear plugs and sound spas. We are also finding more and more couples sleeping in separate bedrooms, not because they are on their way to divorce, but because they want to get a good night of sleep.
A recent survey conducted through Ryerson’s Sleep and Depression Laboratory showed that 30-40 percent of couples sleep in different beds due to better quality sleep. A National Association of Home Builders survey in 2015 predicted that 60 per cent of upscale homes in the U.S. would in future be planned with two master bedrooms.
What’s important is that if your partner is snoring frequently it’s best to have them speak to their doctors. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a very common sleep disorder in adults where sleep is disrupted by pauses in breath. Sleep apnea is the leading cause in adult daytime exhaustion and sleepiness and can also affect children. It doesn’t discriminate. Generally, the individual doesn’t realize this is happening throughout the night and it’s normally the person sleeping beside them that makes them aware of it. Sleep apnea can cause serious life threatening consequences like high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain, diabetes and stroke. It can also cause day-to-day issues like memory problems, depression. A diagnosis can only be made through a professional sleep study, typically done in a sleep clinic and your family doctor must refer you.
Some signs of sleep apnea include:
- loud snoring followed by a breathless pause (snorting/gasping)
- restless movements
- high blood pressure
- morning headaches
- problems with memory and concentration
- extreme tiredness or sleepiness (from the frequent interruption of sleep)
We hope these tips help you get some better rest. Sweet dreams!
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