Five hacks to help you sleep better during a global pandemic

If you’ve been tossing and turning more than usual, sleep specialist Colleen Carney has some tips.
Published May 22, 2020 8:40 a.m. EST
Last Updated May 25, 2020 11:37 a.m. EST
When seeking remedies for a long and peaceful night’s rest, a global pandemic and all the unknowns that come with it likely wouldn’t make the list. If you’ve been tossing and turning more than usual lately, you're not alone. This is due to increased stress, due to lack of routine which some people don’t do well with. If we’re completely unregulated, we will worsen the problem, sleep consultant Colleen Carney says. And then, of course, our essential workers are suffering from different problems – long hours and shifts and being under considerable stress. They have much less time to sleep and when they do, it isn’t the deep restorative sleep that they need.If you're one of the unlucky ones who needs to improve your sleep, Colleen shares her tips below and in the video clip above.


Not moving around enough, not getting enough outdoor light and not having a schedule are all circadian clock health factors, and they're challenging to get under control right now. A big mistake people are making right now is not setting an alarm, but it's important to do so. Also, while we do have to be careful about when we go out, it's important to still get light exposure. People are understandably staying inside while physical distancing, but where possible, try to get outside even if it's just for a short amount of time. [video_embed id='1918025']The difference between being fatigued and being tired[/video_embed]


Decreased socializing is also having a negative impact on our sleep schedules. People who are physical distancing are not socializing, and there need to be some accommodation of socialization, Colleen says. We need to get creative. Schedule video calls, play online games, write letters. Emotional health is the same as sleep health, and we need to prioritize it. Some parents are heavily monitoring screen time, but Colleen says screens are some of the main ways kids are connecting to each other.


Sometimes it seems like clockwork. As soon as your head hits the pillow, your mind starts racing. If your noisy mind is specially COVID-19-related, think about how you're monitoring that information. Are you consistently on the news cycle? If so, set a time limit for that. Shut it off some time in the afternoon to start preparing your mind for bedtime. If you’re somebody whose thoughts are following you to bed, and if it’s problem-solving related, engage in problem solving in the evening when you’re at your problem-solving best. Get a list, write out pros and cons, schedule things to take care of.If your racing thoughts are worry-related, or more emotional in nature, there’s a number of studies that show that journaling in the evening, uncensored about our deepest fears, thoughts, issues for about 20 minutes is good preparation for sleeping later that night. Another important point is not to go to bed before you’re actually sleepy. That’s a big thing. We’re seeing increases of time in bed for some people right now, and people are getting into bed when they’re not physiologically ready for sleep. Remember that your mind is running and active because you’re awake, not the other way around. A noisy mind is a consequence of being awake for a lot of people, not the cause. [video_embed id='1903214']This is the best temperature for sleep, experts say[/video_embed]


There is such thing as too little time in bed, and there’s such a thing as too much time in bed and over- prioritizing rest. Both are associated with health problems. The idea that spending lots of time in bed is a good thing just isn’t true. Spending increased time in bed takes away from deep sleep drive, so you’ll end up getting a lighter sleep. Prioritize an adequate amount of time in bed for sleep (e.g., about a half an hour more than the amount of sleep you can typically produce on average, under ideal conditions). If you’re curious on what the right amount of time in bed is for you, keep a diary for a week. Look to see whats the average amount of sleep you can produce. Keep in mind that this is the average amount of sleep you can produce, not the average amount of sleep that you actually get. If you are not prioritizing sleep and only spend five hours in bed but could sleep much longer, this is not how much time you should stay in bed. Let’s say that you notice your average sleep is eight hours – this suggests you are an eight-hour sleeper. For the week after that, don’t spend more than 8.5 hours in bed.


For those of us whose work schedules have shifted now that we’re always home, is there a danger in altering our internal sleep clocks if we let ourselves sleep longer than usual?This is a great question, Colleen says, and the answer is no. We know that not following your proper circadian preference, what your physiology dictates, introduces health consequences. But there isn’t a lot we can do about that because our western society is inflexible when it comes to shifting work hours or school hours. A night owl who continuously gets up early – this simply isn’t good for them. So now we have a situation where we have months of reprieve – so go ahead and follow that. It’s good for your health.This is a big mistake Colleen is seeing with parents. They’re thinking, "I can’t let him sleep in because when he does go back, it’ll be such a shock". NO. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified shift work as a probable carcinogen – that’s how damaging it is to not follow our biological rhythm. So the idea that we would finally get some reprieve for teenagers – let them sleep in, let them stay up late. Will it be big shock going back to the normal schedule? Yes. But it’s going to feel terrible no matter what. If you’re really concerned about the transition, you can just make the shift more gradually.[video_embed id='1931420']BEFORE YOU GO: How to fix your sleep routine while in self-isolation[/video_embed]