Not sleeping well? Here’s how to get a good night’s sleep

Sleep is just as important to our health as good nutrition and exercise. How well we sleep is closely connected with our stress levels. If we’re under stress, our sleep can suffer.

How pandemic anxiety affects our sleep

Living through a pandemic has changed our routines, blurred the boundaries between work and home and, for many, increased our overall anxiety.

You might be reading and watching lots of news about the pandemic and worrying about it, - and your sleep could suffer as a result. You might even be having more vivid dreams.

Research has shown that more of us are sleeping badly since the pandemic, says Dr Moira Junge, a health psychologist and board member of the Sleep Health Foundation.

A study led by Dr Junge and Dr Melinda Jackson from Monash University surveyed 2,555 people in 63 countries about their sleep patterns since the pandemic started.

The study found that nearly half of those surveyed had experienced poor sleep, compared to 25 per cent before the pandemic began. Stress over money and work, less exercise and sunlight, and more time spent on mobile devices before bed were all affecting their sleep.

How to get better sleep

Getting enough good quality sleep can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to help. Here are 10 tips from sleep experts to get a better night’s sleep.

  1. Unwind: Make time to do things that relax you, especially in the hour before bed. This might include reading or listening to music.

  2. Avoid screens before bed: In the hour before going to sleep, step away from your phone, computer and emails, so your mind can unwind.
  3. Connect: If you’re feeling more anxious, talking to someone you trust can help ease your worries. Even if you live by yourself, try to keep up social connections in whichever way you can.

  4. Write it down: It can help to get the worries out of your mind and on to paper. Write down anything you’re worried about before you go to bed.

  5. Be mindful: You don’t need to be an expert at meditation to practice mindfulness. Try the Smiling Mind app for short mindfulness activities, which can help you relax.

  6. Take care of yourself: Get some exercise, eat nutritious food, and don’t drink too much alcohol. Try to do something you enjoy and that makes you laugh every day.
  7. Take short naps if needed: If you’re exhausted during the day, take a short, 20-minute nap no later than 3pm. It can help you get through the evening, and you won’t be so overtired that you can’t sleep at night.
  8. Avoid caffeine after lunch: Try not to drink coffee or tea in the late afternoon or evening. If you’re sensitive to caffeine it can interfere with your sleep.

  9. Keep a routine. Go to bed at roughly the same time each night – as long as you feel ready for sleep - and get up at the same time each morning.
  10. If you can’t sleep, get up: If you can’t get off to sleep, or wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, it’s best to get out of bed. Do something relaxing and in low light away from the bedroom, and then go back to bed when you feel ready to fall asleep.

Read more tips from the Sleep Health Foundation about getting enough sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic, how to stop chronic insomnia from developing, and more about the effects of caffeine on sleep.

Dr Moira Junge is a health psychologist and board member of the Sleep Health Foundation.

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