Some of you may be experiencing one more sleep challenge with COVID 19 on your mind.  Do more than washing your hands and staying away from crowds.  Get a good night’s sleep!

The research on the impact of sleep on your immune system is clear. If you don’t get enough sleep or the quality of your sleep is poor, you are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Beyond that, poor sleep can impact your recovery time.  Our bodies need sleep in order to fight infectious diseases like COVID 19. 

Maybe you tell yourself it’s not that important that you’re not getting much sleep.  Or you see it as some sort of mental and physical toughness that you don’t need as much sleep as other people.   Maybe you have given up on being able to make it any better.  COVID 19 may be one more thing on the long list of things disrupting your sleep.

Way before COVID 19, I experienced my own sleep challenges at the onset of menopause.  I’ve had an early to bed routine for years and never set an alarm, because there was virtually no chance that I would oversleep.  I would drift off to sleep peacefully and based on my fitbit sleep tracking feedback, I was often in a deep sleep soon after my head hit the pillow.  A few hours later, I would wake up overheated and drenched in sweat.  Then a curve ball hit me when my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and his over-night sugar lows and highs sounded an alarm, needing my immediate “awake and alert” attention.  This often disrupted my sleep a few days per week.  Coming down from a cortisol rush was a whole new sleep challenge and I started to wonder if I would ever feel rested again.

Maybe you’ve had your own curve balls and sleep disruptions that make this your story too.  Whether it’s lying awake worrying about a loved one, work or other responsibilities or medical challenges, sleeplessness is an epidemic challenge – the CDC reported that 1 in 3 people aren’t getting enough sleep.  Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  In addition to our immune systems, we know how important sleep is for renewal, focus and productivity, but also how elusive it can be when we need it most. 

From my own experimentation with sleep, I’ve learned a few things that have been helpful.  Rather than feeling at the effect of the situation, what can you do on those sleepless nights to minimize the impact and awaken feeling refreshed and rested?  Here are a few things that may help.

  1. Find a sleep meditation to listen to.  Yoga Nidra can be a very soothing solution to help you fall back to sleep if you wake up during the night.  Insight Timer, 10% Happier and Calm are a few apps you might find useful.  Listen to a few guided meditations when you are awake to see what you find most relaxing, rather than waiting to explore in the middle of the night.  I’m personally a huge fan of Jennifer Piercy, who you can listen to for free on Insight Timer.  You can keep your phone by you on silent with some earbuds so you don’t have to get out of bed and also don’t disturb your sleeping partner, if there’s someone lying next to you.  If you take time to meditate during the day, it can help you to stay calm and more easily fall back to sleep at night.
  2. Tell yourself a more empowered sleep story.  First, notice the story you’re telling yourself.  Maybe when you’re lying awake, you ruminate about how your chronic sleep disruptions will leave you feeling drained the next day.  Rather than adding anticipatory stress to the challenge, focus on what you can do that will leave you feeling more rested. Monks only need 3-4 hours of sleep because of the time they spend meditating.  So, back to #1 above – meditation can be a powerful sleep substitute even if you don’t always fall back asleep.
  3. Treat yourself with self-compassion.  Drawing on Kristin Neff and Chris Germer’s book Mindful Self-Compassion, you might try this approach.  First, notice the thoughts and emotions that you’re having. Rather than over-identifying with them, simple note it and name it, and let it go.  For example, “worrying”, “irritated” or “obsessing about my schedule.”   Then, recognize that you are not a sleep failure, many people struggle with sleep, just like you.  Really take that in; it’s part of being human to struggle.  Finally, be kind to yourself.  One simple strategy is to offer physical comfort like holding your hand over your heart, rubbing your belly or *my personal favorite*, putting your hand softly on your cheek.  Accompany this with warm, acknowledging thoughts toward yourself, like “I’m so sorry you’re having a hard night.  You have had so much on your mind, it’s no wonder you’ve struggled.”  This is my number one go-to strategy because it works so well for me.  I can wake up at 3 am, take this approach and “suddenly” it’s 6:30 and I never realized I had dozed off.
  4. Cool down your room.  The best temperature for sleep seems to be around 65 degrees.  Menopausal women, you might like it several degrees cooler.  There are a number of products on the market that can cool your bed, like the Ooler, Chilipad, and BedJet.  Maybe for some this is a worthwhile investment in your health.

Stay curious and committed to sleeping well and keep experimenting with solutions…your health and well-being is worth it!