So, it’s week 7 of the UK lockdown and many of us are now in some semblance of a routine. However, whether you’re a keyworker or a home-worker, we all feel that our routines have changed dramatically. One impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been on the disruption to our sleep. According to the latest statistics, though we’re now sleeping longer each night, our sleep is more disrupted.

Why has the coronavirus pandemic affected our sleep?

Sleeping longer is due to most of us no longer having to do the school-run or commute. This extra hour or so means we are able to have a slower morning and be more relaxed with our alarm clock.

However, whilst sleeping longer is a good thing, the quality of our sleep has dropped due to the mental impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Anxiety and stress

At the moment, we’re being bombarded with news articles, announcements and social media posts about the chaos a pandemic brings. We’ve all been touched by what the frontline staff are experiencing, the loss many families are suffering and the economic unknown. Closer to home, we’re worried about the health and wellbeing of our loved ones. We can’t visit our relatives and for those who are shielding it's not only an anxious time but also a lonely time.

Because of this, our anxiety and stress levels have increased. The result of this is that we are in a constant state of arousal (i.e. excitement or alertness) due to the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are secreted in times of stress to allow your body to “fight or flight”.

With our brains in a heightened state of alertness due to these hormones, we’re more likely to experience insomnia and disrupted sleep. Unfortunately, anxiety and insomnia are often cyclical so the more anxious you get about not being able to sleep, the more stress hormones are secreted, resulting in it being harder to fall sleep.

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Activity and natural daylight

Another way the pandemic is affecting us is the restrictions in place on our movement outside. We’re currently allowed to leave our homes to exercise once a day and to go to the supermarket for essential shopping. However, for those of us shielding, the government advice is to not leave your house at all and ask friends or family to do your shopping for you.

So how does this affect our sleep?

Natural light from being outside is essential to regulating our circadian rhythm. Even on a cloudy day, getting outside can help regulate your day-night cycle, enabling us to fall asleep more easily come night time.

With many of us leaving the house less, or not able to leave the house at all, our circadian rhythm takes a hit. This means our natural sleep routine gets thrown off balance leading to temporary insomnia or sleep disruptions.

Alcohol and sleep

A study has found the number of people drinking during lockdown has increased. Many of us are drinking each evening when pre-lockdown we wouldn't. 

It can be tempting to think that a wee dram before bed will help send you off to the land of nod. And alcohol can indeed make you sleepy due to the production of adenosine, the sleep-inducing chemical in the brain. However, this wears off very quickly meaning you wake up before you’re fully refreshed.

Alcohol also dehydrates you leading to an increased heart rate during your sleep. It blocks REM sleep, known as restorative sleep, meaning you wake up feeling groggy and tired. And probably grumpy too.

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How to sleep better during the COVID-19 pandemic

Getting a good night’s sleep is important not only for your mental health but also for your physical health. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to health problems over the years so it’s important to seek professional help where necessary.

Bring back the routine – it might be tempting to stay up late and roll out of bed 5 minutes before your 9am conference call, but maintaining a routine is key for your day-night body clock. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Even weekends!

Intentional relaxation – implement a “wind-down” routine before bed where you mentally start preparing for sleep. This should include lower lighting and turning off screens. Try some deep breathing or mindfulness before bed to help lower your heart rate.

Reduce the news – if watching the latest coronavirus news is making you anxious try switching it off or reducing the number of times you check it. Some news outlets have “Good News” feeds which can provide some more uplifting reads.

Increase your activity – a daily walk outside, indoor yoga or a HIIT session at home (if you’re feeling brave) can help.

Get more daylight – if you have outdoor space, spending some time in the morning basking in natural daylight can help restore your natural circadian rhythm. If you haven’t got outdoor space, try sitting next to a window each morning.

Book a GP appointment

As always, if problems with sleep or anxiety are affecting your day-to-day life you should book an appointment with a GP for further diagnosis and support.

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