How are you finding your sleep patterns through these crazy, uncertain times?
I've spent the past couple of weeks waking up in the early hours of the morning. It's springtime here in England and the mornings are surprisingly bright and beautiful. April is typically known for it's rainfall, but even here in the cool, grey north we've had a fortnight of unbroken blue skies and sunny starts. Whilst I'm usually quite a fan of early to bed and early to rise, even I draw the line at 4am! For a while I couldn't make sense of my strange sleep pattern, it was only in talking with friends that I realised I wasn't the only one experiencing strange dreams and odd rest patterns.
Bad Dreams During Lockdown?
Lots of people are reporting crazy, vivid dreams through lockdown. Some of these are very symbolic and clearly reflect our current thoughts and anxieties - difficulty breathing, a fear of being trapped, worries about getting sick etc. Others seem completely out there and not Corona related in the slightest. So what is going on?
Science suggests that the more in-tune we are with our thoughts and feelings through waking hours, the more memorable and colourful our dreams are likely to be whilst we sleep. Our conscious coping mechanisms are all off balance through this unprecedented scenario, possibly sending our subconscious into overdrive as it tries to make sense of the situation overnight.
Strange Sleep Patterns When Stressed
Scientists have previously tried to capture data to show how national emergencies might play a role in our sleep patterns. Back in 1991 a survey was conducted using telephone questionnaires to assess the impact of the Gulf War. Whilst the survey indicated high rates of sleep disturbance, subsequent research actually monitoring sleep found little evidence to support anecdotal stories. Stress and sleep are complex beasts and difficult to tangibly monitor.
The stresses and anxieties of Coronavirus are particularly multiple and complex. Job losses, the fear of getting sick and longterm social separation from family and friends are just a few of the problems many of us face. The uncertainty and unpredictability of covid-19 and an absence of a finite timescales, only add to the relentless unease.
If you're struggling with poor sleep, here are six simple steps you can take to try and get back to an uninterrupted nights rest;
1. Set a bedtime routine
Without a job to wake up for it's easy to fall into a pattern of late nights and lie ins. Whilst thoughts of not having to get up to go to work might sound attractive in principle, our body and brain actually thrive on a set routine. Finding focus can help you to put in place a daily schedule. Whether that's regular exercise (at home or outdoors if permitted), a creative project, a commitment to learn something new or simply setting a personal goal you'd like to work towards (even something as simple as tidying a room in the house). Waking up with a purpose will motivate you to go to bed on time.
2. Avoid News Overkill Before Bed
As tempting as it might be to catch up on the latest Corona statistics, just before bed is possibly not the best time to focus on any frightening facts. If that's the last thing our conscious mind is fixated on before sleep, it's no surprise we're subjecting ourselves to vivid dreams. Staring at a television screen, laptop or phone before bed can also mess with our circadian rhythm - the natural, internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Limit screen time altogether an hour before bed or use 'sleep mode' on your smartphone to lower the blue light pollution that interferes with natural sleep patterns.
3. Soothe Stressed Skin to Stop Night-time Itching
Many of us find that stressful situations correspond with skin flares. Psoriasis, eczema and rosacea are often linked directly to stress, which can trigger inflammation causing more breakouts and itching than usual. Whilst you're out of a set routine, simple things such as remembering to stay hydrated can fall by the wayside. It's important to drink at least two litres of water each day, and if you prefer a warm drink, my Skin Purity Tea is made with a blend of soothing herbs such as chamomile to promote a better nights rest. Taking an oatmeal bath before bed can also help to calm irritated skin, here's how to make your own with simple kitchen cupboard ingredients. If you need help to break the itch / scratch cycle, my Skin Soothing Spray is made up of a natural oil blend which calms aggravated skin and prevents further irritation from airborne allergens.
4. Keep a Trouble Journal
If you find your conscious mind regularly repeating thought patterns in an attempt to process what is going on in the world, keeping a 'Trouble Journal' can help you put those thoughts into words - either to make better sense of them or to simply get them out of your head. Taking time to do this each evening can help to stop them bothering you overnight. You might find it's the same things worrying you each day or your list might change over time. Complete your journal entry by including three things you're grateful for, this will help you rest easy with positive thoughts on your mind.
5. Take a Pamper Bath
Many of us find we have some extra time to fill each evening. Now is the perfect opportunity to focus on those little acts of self-care we constantly claim we're too busy to include in our daily routine. A simple warm bath with Dead Sea salts and lavender oil can work wonders for the skin, body and mind. This simple act of self-care has been shown to soothe, settle and regulate the nervous system - helping us to get a calm, untroubled nights sleep.
6. Talk Your Worries Through
As the old saying goes 'a problem shared is a problem halved'. Talking through the stresses and anxieties you're currently experiencing with a close friend or family member can help you to better make sense of things. Sometimes we feel sensitive about burdening those around us, or prefer an independent listening ear. If you're coping with impossible levels of anxiety right now, speaking to a professional can help you build a coping strategy. For some reason, seeking help or therapy is sometimes still a strangely taboo subject in this country, but with one in six of us struggling with our mental health, seeking the support of a counsellor is such a healthy way to process emotions. The National Counselling Society can put you in touch with someone who can help and many counsellors offer Skype appointments in line with social distancing.
If you're helping someone who's struggling, make sure you take care of yourself as well. If you need to talk about how you are feeling, please call Samaritans on 116 123, or email on email@example.com, whenever you need.