Since the pandemic commenced, the number of people battling insomnia has increased enormously on a global scale. So much so that it has now been coined “coranasomnia”. Research suggests that at least 50% of insomnia cases are related to stress, anxiety or emotion. And, a recent study with over 17,000 participants found that 60% of people are ‘moderately or extremely’ distressed during COVID-19 lockdowns. So if you’re battling insomnia or 3am wake-ups during the pandemic, follow these science-based strategies and you should see improvement in your sleep.

1. Implement an evening routine that promotes good sleep hygiene.

Each step in my routine activates your parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts cortisol (the stress hormone) – the underlying cause of insomnia and midnight wake-ups.

  1. Wear blue light blocking glasses, especially if watching tv, reading or journalling.
  2. Apply lavender oil to the insides of your wrists and soles of feet or use a lavender diffuser.
  3. Take a lukewarm shower an hour before bed.
  4. Eat a dinner or light bedtime snack that contains tryptophan and whole grain carbs.
  5. Take supplements that assist in reducing anxiety and support sleep such as magnesium, fish oil, 5HTP, melatonin and herbal teas such as chamomile and passionflower.
  6. Employ deep breathing, meditation exercises or activities that promote relaxation such as journalling, reading or yoga.
  7. Prepare your bedroom environment for optimal sleep. Maintain a clean, cool and dark room that is ideally free of electronic devices (including no tv). Set bedroom temperature to 64-69 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celsius). Listen to white noise.

Head to Thrive with Ali for the extended version of my sleep routine.

2. Control your inputs.

Limit consumption of news, social media and tense conversations, especially in the evening. Ideally, limit exposure to pandemic, election and mainstream news to 30 minutes per day.

If you wake during the night, then:

1. Avoid Blue Light Exposure

Whatever you do, don’t check your phone. Your phone emits blue light which suppresses melatonin (the sleep hormone) & enhances cortisol (the stress hormone). Research shows that just 5 minutes of blue light exposure delays your circadian rhythm by 2.3 hours. What does this mean? If your circadian rhythm is delayed by 2.3 hours, it’ll take you an extra 2.3 hours to feel alert and energetic when you wake in the morning. So if you decide to read or watch tv, be sure to put on your night time blue light blocking glasses.

2. Practice Deep Breathing and/or Meditation

Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety by 60% as it induces a physiological state of deep rest. There are a number of apps available to assist with this. But if meditation isn’t your thing, don’t worry – deep breathing is just as effective. Try this exercise:-

  1. Lay down and close your eyes.
  2. Gently breathe in through your nose, with your mouth closed, for a count of six seconds. Don’t fill your lungs too full of air.
  3. Exhale for six seconds, allowing your breath to leave your body slowly and gently.
  4. Repeat for up to 10 minutes.

3. Repeat my Sleep Routine (omitting steps 4 & 5 if you did these before you went to bed).

4. Brain Dump!

Anxiety often = mind racing uncontrollably. So grab your journal and brain dump. It’s best to keep a journal specifically for this purpose and keep it beside your bed for easy access. Brain dumping is a tool often recommended by healthcare professionals to remedy anxiety because it slows your thoughts and gets everything off your mind which means you don’t become overwhelmed or consumed by your thoughts.

When journalling, ask yourself the following questions:-

  1. Am I safe right now? Look around. Are you safe in this moment? If so, acknowledge it.
  2. What is making me feel stressed/anxious? Identify the stressor and write it down. Once identified, ask yourself: Is it true? Most likely, it isn’t.
  3. How can I learn from this experience?
  4. How can it benefit me?
  5. What is the positive in this situation?
  6. What do I have in my life right now to be grateful for?

5. Sleep with a Weighted Blanket

In a recent study, 63% of people reported feeling less anxious when sleeping with a weighted blanket and 78% preferred using a weighted blanket to calm down. Weighted blankets are designed to provide a warm, gentle pressure on the user that mimics the feeling of being held (known as Deep Touch Pressure). This type of pressure has been shown to increase serotonin (happiness hormone) which is involved in the regulation of sleep. Similarly, the feeling of being held from a weighted blanket promotes the production of oxytocin (the love hormone), which can relieve pain and stress while boosting your immune system.

If after 20-30 minutes you still can’t fall asleep…

Then get out of bed and go to another room (just not your bedroom) and engage in activities that emphasize relaxation. It’s important to keep the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only and to not use it as a multi-purpose room. This ensures that your brain associates your bedroom with sleep and intimacy only, which makes falling asleep easier and distraction harder.