We’re living under crazy circumstances right now. With so much uncertainty in the air and our day to day lives flipped on their heads, it can be hard to do anything normally—including sleeping. Whether you’re up late worrying about the public health crisis, struggling with where your next paycheck is coming from in the midst of an economic shutdown, or struggling to maintain a normal schedule while working from home, you’re not alone if you’re facing a shifted sleep schedule. You may be at a loss when it comes to sleeping well when you’re stressed, so I turned to an expert for tips on improving your sleep even during these uncertain times.
Destiny Rattanapichetkul, LMFT, is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating anxiety and bipolar disorders. Here are her dos and don’ts for sleeping well, especially during a global crisis.
1. Maintain a regular schedule. I know I’m not the only one guilty of sleeping later than usual lately, particularly on weekdays, but this isn’t conducive to maintaining a healthy sleep pattern. “Have a regular wake time,” Rattanapichetkul encourages, “since this will help to create a regular sleep schedule.”
2. Practice good sleep hygiene. Some tips include, “avoid drinking caffeine too late in the day” and “reduce stimulating activity right before bed such as checking emails, or watching an interesting Netflix documentary or YouTube video that has you wondering what will happen next.” If you do prefer to watch TV before bed, Rattanapichetkul suggests that you “opt for some mindless sitcoms you’ve seen many times before.” These are more likely to help you relax and take your mind off of outside stressors.
3. Get your sweat on. “Get physical. Moving throughout the day will exude your energy and before you know it, you’re ready for bed,” she says. Need workout inspo? We’ve got you covered.
4. Practice mindfulness. If you find yourself lying in bed at night with terrifying statistics and headlines swirling around your head, pause and try to center yourself. According to Rattanapichetkul, “mindfulness is that act of being in the present moment without judgment.” She encourages us to try focusing on the present with simple statements like “I am having trouble sleeping.” This way, we can focus solely on the situation at hand.
1. Don’t catastrophize. Rattanapichetkul explains that “catastrophizing is the act of anticipating the worst possible outcome.” For example, this can look like “anticipation of contacting COVID-19, becoming very ill and dying.” Although this isn’t impossible, “we have to acknowledge what we have control over and what we do not in that moment,” she says.
Instead, “set up worry time,” she suggests. “Setting up a time for you to worry will allow you to think logically about what you have control over and what you do not.” In order to not let this interfere with your sleep “make sure to set your worry time up separate from your sleep time.”
2. Don’t try to push away all feelings of anxiety during this time. “Anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing to experience,” Rattanapichetkul says. “The purpose of anxiety is to protect and motivate us. It helps us to anticipate a problem and motivate us to do something about it.”
3. Don’t try to problem solve late at night. But while anxiety is a useful tool for anticipating problems and getting ahead of them, “the last thing we need is to do something while we’re trying to sleep,” Rattanapichetkul says. While there are prudent measures you can be taking at this time, do you really need to panic buy more toilet paper in the middle of the night? “Ultimately, we need to tell our bodies not to do anything, just relax and rest.” So late at night, “remember to stay away from anything that will trigger our minds and bodies to problem solve,” she encourages.