By Chelsea Debret 13-17 minutes
Getting quality sleep is a major issue for many of us during this lockdown phase of the pandemic.
I’m not simply talking about falling and staying asleep but this is also referencing what’s going on in our heads once we are asleep. On top of the tossing and turning into the wee hours of the morning, recent polls discovered that many of us are having some strange and upsetting dreams, as well as recurring nightmares to boot!
The stress, anxiety, and fear caused by the pandemic — ushered in by social distancing, self-isolation, drastic changes in our daily life, loss of employment, to mention a few — have seeped into our subconscious and are wreaking havoc with our ability to get a good night’s rest.
While this may not seem like a huge deal, getting the proper amount of quality sleep is an integral part of a healthy body and a robust immune system.
Therefore, no matter what your daily plans in lockdown are, getting at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep should top the priorities!
The Negative Sleep-Effects of Shelter-in-Place
When it comes to trouble sleeping during this pandemic, there are a few psychological tweaks going on in our heads.
First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that our fatigue-driven sleeplessness caused by the “mental workload associated with COVID-19,” such as the unprecedented psychological stressors it has forced upon us including stress and anxiety. Plus, this trouble sleeping may also be caused by “the monotony of the situation,” which increases fatigue during the day and makes it more difficult for us to obtain quality sleep when we actually need it.
One such “unprecedented psychological state” includes phases of adjustment.
The country — and most parts of the world — are experiencing what psychologists call “phases of adjustment” as we transition from our normal life and routine into lockdown. This includes massive readjustment to accommodate the shelter-in-place guidelines — from homeschooling to working from home to new exercise routines to creating strange virtual social parameters with friends and families.
On top of these “phases of adjustment,” the change in daily routine has also made our circadian rhythm go a bit haywire.
Your circadian rhythm “is an essential internal ‘clock’ that plays a key role in regulating our sleep pattern,” by controlling “body temperature and hormones in order to make us feel alert during the day and tired a night.”
From the moment you wake up in the morning to the last cup of coffee to your commute home that evening walk or jog, dinner and then your relaxation time, these are all landmarks throughout the day that help define your circadian rhythm and signal the production of sleep hormones — such as melatonin and serotonin.
Why Should We Focus on Sleep?
The three pillars of a healthy body come down to nutrition, exercise, and sleep. In fact, some scientists even put sleep above these other two pillars in some cases.
Getting quality sleep is linked to a slew of health benefits including healthy weight management, better concentration, more productivity, increased athletic performance, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, — due to healthier glucose metabolism — decreased risk of depressive feelings, lower rates of bodily inflammation, and an improved immune system.
This last health benefits may be the most important to focus on right now.
According to research, “even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function.” The study found that “those who slept less than [seven] hours were almost [three] times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more.”
This was upheld by an analysis of 15 years of sleep-immune system research, which “accumulated surprisingly strong evidence that sleep enhances immune defense, in agreement with the popular wisdom that ‘sleep helps healing.’”
Even though you may not have a reason to go to sleep or wake at specific times during lockdown, these parameters give your body cues to begin releasing those sleepy-time hormones and obtain good-quality, adequate sleep!
10 Tips to Troubleshoot Troubled Sleep
Now you know why you need to get quality sleep.
Of course, this knowledge isn’t helpful when you’re lying awake at one in the morning staring at your bedroom ceiling.
Luckily, there are a few active steps you can take — starting from the moment you wake to the hours before you sleep — which will help train your body to grow sleep. Here are a few tips to get you started down the road to quality sleep!
1. Start a Reflective Journal
Writing has always been seen as a wonderful psychological tool to help unwind and unload the thoughts in your head to make room for clarity, reduce stress, and alleviate anxieties. Using this incredibly powerful tool in order to dump your brain for sound sleep is a great place to start. Reflective journals are a great place to privately “note down your thoughts and feelings” before bed — or anytime during the day! — plus it allows you to “review your progress and see how you adjust” to the lockdown.
2. Create a Morning Routine
Morning is oftentimes the hardest for most of us.
We’re used to an alarm getting us up, a hurried shower, picking an outfit for the day, packing a lunch, and then hopping in the car to commute to work.
Just because you may not have employment or a commute doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate a healthy morning routine!
Trying filling those extra “commute” hours with healthy habits such as cooking a solid healthy breakfast, — such as this Grilled Asparagus and Smoked Tofu Benedict, Cocoa “Zoats”, Hearty Buckwheat Waffles with Strawberries, or these Pumpkin Oatmeal Lentil Cups — exercise, meditate, or even indulge in a tranquil hobby — such as a puzzle, writing, or early morning gardening. By creating a strict morning routine, you will find it “easier to stick to a nighttime routine and therefore fall asleep at a reasonable hour.”
3. Create a Bedtime Routine
While your morning routine dictates the vibe of your day, a bedtime routine dictates the quality of your sleep!
This is especially important during lockdown as it “can help you separate your workday from your evening,” signaling your body that it’s time to begin “cooling down.” Try to turn off all screens — phone, computer, and television — at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Integrate peaceful activities such as a puzzle, reading, or relaxing yoga, meditating, or breathing exercises into this time. This also includes stopping all work at least an hour before bed!
4. Choose Late Night Snacks Wisely
Part of your bedtime routine should be a food cutoff time.
It’s recommended to not eat within at least three hours of when you will lay down. This rule is great for those suffering from heartburn, but it’s also just a great rule to follow if you’re looking to fall asleep easier. You don’t want your digestive system hard at work when you’re trying to get some shut-eye!
With that said, if your stomach is really asking for a little bit of something, choose wisely!
You’ll want to avoid alcohol, heavy metals, and sugar. Instead, focus on getting magnesium-rich foods, foods that promote serotonin and melatonin, and naturally calming agents — such as lavender and chamomile.
Here are a few late-night snack recipes to give a try: White Bean and Walnut Cookies, Banana Coconut Cashew Granola, Almond and Chamomile Panna Cotta, No-Bake Oat Bars, Peach and Chamomile Ice Pops, or this Chamomile Ginger Lemon Raw Energy Bars.
5. Make the Bedroom a Place of Tranquility
A very popular guilty pleasure is turning your comfy, big bed into an “everything” space. Some of us eat, work, and watch television in bed. While this may have worked before lockdown, when we all had the daily rigmarole to deal with, during lockdown this will wreak havoc with your brain’s ability to recognize the bedroom as a “sleep zone.”
Therefore, make sure to “remove electronic devices and make the room cool, dark, and quiet.”
Don’t eat in bed.
Don’t work in bed.
Don’t watch television, use your phone, or have your laptop in bed.
If you have to have electronic devices in the bedroom — as most of our alarms are on our phones now — make sure to set these devices to “night” mode or “airplane” mode.
6. Avoid Napping
When it comes to napping during the day, it’s important to find a happy balance. Keeping in mind that we’re all suffering from slight forms of pandemic-bred trauma, mourning, and grief, it’s okay to let your body recuperate by getting a few moments of extra shut-eye during the day. With that said, too much napping during the day will throw off your natural circadian rhythm and can interfere with the release of “sleep time” hormones such as melatonin and serotonin.
Basically, if you nap too much during the day, then you may be up all night.
7. Stop Drinking Caffeine after Noon
That cup of coffee in the morning may be the one thing getting you going during lockdown. It may also be part of a healthy, positive morning ritual.
Definitely don’t sacrifice your coffee!
With that said, caffeine — in all forms including coffee, tea, and energy drinks — does have a nasty habit of messing with the natural production, release, and flow of our sleep hormones including serotonin and melatonin.
Therefore, it’s important to cut yourself off from caffeinated beverages or products by at least 12 pm. Research has found that this cutoff time allows your body enough time to get back into the natural rhythm of those hormones by the time you need to fall asleep later that evening.
8. Get Outside!
Most cities have specific lockdown guidelines. These include leaving the house for essential trips — such as medical appointments and grocery shopping — many cities are still allowing their residents to enjoy the outdoors as long as they respect the rules of social distancing.
Take advantage of this leniency!
Getting outside not only breaks up the day and provides a great excuse for physical activity, but “exposure to both natural light and dark during this time will help us keep our circadian rhythms in balance, and make us tired.”
Try to integrate outdoors time first thing in the morning to help you wake up, as well as a nice evening stroll at twilight to signal your brain that the sun has gone down and therefore it’s time for bed!
You probably knew this one was coming! So, here it is.
Physical activity of any kind — walking, Pilates, gardening, running, weight lifting, yoga, stretching — have amazing benefits for the health of your body and your mind. This is especially prevalent when it comes to the health of your brain! In fact, it’s been found that regular exercise can actually make a brain more youthful.
This is also linked to your brain and body’s ability to fall asleep.
With that said, make sure “avoid vigorous exercise one hour before bedtime as this may reduce our sleep duration, quality, and make it more difficult to fall asleep in the first place.” Choose to integrate exercise first thing in the morning, midday, or late afternoon. If you were addicted to the gym or those butt-kicking classes, try some of these online services offering lockdown deals!
As with any supplement, it’s important to speak with your doctor before integrating it into your diet.
With that said, if you’re having trouble sleeping and nothing else is working, incorporating melatonin into your evening routine may help get your circadian rhythm back on track in a more natural way.
There are two types of melatonin: the melatonin hormone released “in the brain [which] is connected to time of day, increasing when it’s dark and decreasing when it’s light” and melatonin supplements created in a lab to mimic natural melatonin hormone. A melatonin supplement is far preferred over sleep medications due to the fact that “you are unlikely to become dependent on melatonin, have a diminished response after repeated use (habituation), or experience a hangover effect.”
After getting the thumbs up from your doctor, try a few of these vegan-friendly supplements out: SOURCE NATURALS Vegan True Melatonin for $6.29, Herbatonin Natural Plant Melatonin for $18.99, or this Natural Nutra Vegan Melatonin for $16.95.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
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