The list of benefits related to getting enough sleep is long. Whether it’s cognitive benefits like memory retention and ideation, physical benefits like muscle recovery, or emotional benefits like boosting your mood, we all know what it’s like to wake up from a really good sleep.
One of the least funny ironies is that we require a good night’s sleep to stay healthy, but sleep is often hard to come by when we’re not feeling our best. Given the far-reaching consequences of COVID-19—including infections and deaths, social isolation and job losses—it’s normal to feel anxious. It’s also normal to find it hard to fall and stay asleep.
Here are five tips to help you get the sleep you need to seize the day.
Good sleep hygiene
Most of us pay a lot of attention to physical and dental hygiene, but sleep hygiene might be a new term for some. One aspect of sleep hygiene involves using your bed only for sleeping. If you live in a small space, the bed can become a defacto office chair or couch to watch a movie. But reserving your bed exclusively for sleep can help condition your brain to get sleepy once you lie down.
If you don’t feel sleepy right away, allow yourself 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you can’t, get up and do something relaxing and minimally stimulating like listening to music or reading, and then go lie down again. Eventually, your body will begin to understand that your bed is for sleeping and nothing else. Well, there is one other thing your bed is for—and it too can help you fall asleep.
Sex and sleep
Before getting into the positive effects of sex on sleep, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that is contracted by coming into contact with liquid droplets expelled by someone infected by the virus. The New York City Health Department has relesed its guidelines on safe sex during the COVID-19 Pandemic. These and other health authority guidelines should be consulted before engaging in sexual activity with a partner.
If you can have safe sex, it might be one of your best bets for a deep sleep. Orgasms help to release a hormone called prolactin, which helps in relaxation. A study found that vaginal intercouse releases 400% more prolactin than masturbation alone. Meaning that safe sex with an intimate partner can help you feel more relaxed and ready to fall asleep. And while sexual intercourse releases more prolactin than masturbation, other studies have shown that participants reported a similar sense of feeling relaxed after masturbation.
Too much screen time and sleep
Devices like phones, tablets and laptops all too often make their way into the bedroom. But the blue light emitted by electronics can have a negative effect on your body’s natural release of hormones that help you fall and stay asleep. One of these primary hormones, melatonin, is normally released at specific times of the day. This natural cycle is known as your “circadian rhythm” and can be disrupted by blue light, as your brain believes it to be daytime when it is in fact time to sleep.
Competing research has suggested that blue light may not be as detrimental as previously believed. Nevertheless, part of good sleep hygiene is to train your body to see your bed as a place for sleep (and sex). So best practice is to leave your devices at the bedroom door. We could all use a little less screen time anyway.
Good sleep routines
COVID-19 has thrown most of our schedules for a loop. But just because the “office” is now your living room doesn’t mean you can’t create a healthy routine. Two important aspects of this new routine should include going to bed and waking up at the same time each day—even weekends. Set yourself a bedtime that will allow for at least seven hours of sleep; and set an alarm to get yourself going in the morning no matter how much is on your to-do list for the day. Once you’re up, get dressed as if you were going to the office. This can help create a sense of normality in your day.
Good eating and good sleeping
Eating a wide-variety of nutritious foods throughout the day can be key in having a good night’s sleep. A 2016 study showed that those who slept 5-6 hours per day consumed a smaller variety of foods than those who slept for 8 or more. Another study found those who slept less than 7 hours per day had diets with food lacking in protein, carbohydrates, fibre and fat compared to those who slept for 8 hours of more.
In addition to consuming foods full of nutrients like vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts, avoiding alcohol and coffee can also help to increase sleep. Alcohol, when abused, has been shown to disrupt the body’s normal equilibrium. And caffeine serves to stimulate the central nervous system, negatively impacting sleep quality and anxiety in the process.