By Stephanie Osfield – www.smh.com.au
Welcome to Live Well, a regular series exploring questions on personal health, fitness and nutrition. As we navigate our new lives at home, Live Well seeks to offer practical tips and expert advice for a smarter, more empowered life.
It’s 8am and you should be checking your emails or fast tracking a shower. Instead, you’re in bed in your pyjamas, hitting the snooze button. Again. Since lockdown, you’ve been pulling off eight hours of nightly shut-eye thanks to no commuting. So why is your energy flat-lining and your sleep quality so under par?
“During the pandemic, many Australians have been reporting strange dreams and trouble falling and staying asleep most likely due to stress and major lifestyle changes,” says Professor Dorothy Bruck, Chair of the Sleep Foundation.
To boost your slumber quality and get your swerve back, address the following sleep saboteurs.
Fluid work schedules
You might think catching up on emails in the evening will save you pain the next day, but late-night telecommuting actually slashes levels of melatonin (the ‘sleep hormone’). “Melatonin is like a vampire – it doesn’t like bright light,” says Bruck. “So when it drops due to screen use, it’s much harder to fall and stay asleep.”
Avoid screens an hour before bed. “Texting before bed can prompt wakefulness in light-sensitive people,” says Professor Siobhan Banks, sleep expert and co-director of the Behaviour-Brain-Body Research Centre at the University of South Australia. Free apps like f.lux reduce blue light, shifting to warmer, more melatonin-friendly screen tones. Switch off the lights in favour of lamps once the sun goes down, and invert your computer colours by turning the screen black and the print white.
A thrilling TV diet
With no need to set an early alarm, we’re bingeing longer on Nordic noir and crime series (Killing Eve, anyone?). “TV thrillers can leave you too hyper-aroused to fall asleep,” says Bruck.
Rise and retire at the same time. “This improves sleep quality by keeping your body clock and hormones in sync with light and dark,” says Bruck. And try to mix up your viewing with a few comedies, such as High Fidelity or Schitt’s Creek. Research from Loma Linda University shows that laughter boosts immunity and lowers stress hormones and blood pressure.
One glass too many
Seventy per cent of Aussies are drinking more alcohol since lockdown began according to a poll by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. As you might’ve guessed, too much alcohol isn’t great for sleep. “It raises body temperature and causes dehydration, leading to both insomnia and night wakings,” warns Banks.
Set a happy hour. Enjoy a glass of wine then close your ‘home bar’ to avoid constant top-ups or a toddy before bed. Aim for several alcohol-free days each week.
The more lonely we feel, the more micro-awakenings we have during sleep, shows research from the University of Chicago. Scientists think this is because we’re hard-wired to feel safe and protected in the company of our tribes.
Keep up connections. Don’t get lax about regular Zooming, texting and talking with family and friends. Now that restrictions have eased, make sure you’re making plans. And don’t forget to cuddle up. Hugs increase levels of oxytocin, which can reduce fear, according to a study by the University of Bonn.
Fear about the safety of our loved ones and jobs has caused a spike in our anxiety levels since lockdown, according to Monash University. “This anxiety can raise stress hormones and body temperature, increasing alertness and causing fragmented sleep,” says Banks.
Wind down. You know the drill – sip on camomile tea, meditate, do a yoga flow, play ambient music. Kick back. A warm bath is also highly recommended. “This shunts blood from your body’s core to the periphery and drops your temperature in readiness for sleep,” says Banks. “If your feet are cold, wearing socks before bed can have a similar sleep-enhancing effect.”
Sleep issues can be a sign of depression or anxiety. If you need support, call: Lifeline on 13 11 14 or The Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service: 1800 512 348.