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With stress, change and worry comes insomnia and sleep difficulties. As we are all facing this shared experience of the Covid 19 pandemic, many of us are at higher risk of losing sleep or having low quality sleep.

Getting enough sleep is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. During sleep is when our body repairs itself and our mind processes our day. When we do not get enough high-quality sleep, it affects our ability to make decisions, solve problems, cope with change as well as making it more difficult to regulate our emotions and behaviours.

If you are struggling with getting enough quality sleep, there are a few simple things which will help you get to sleep faster and to stay asleep for longer.

Meditation and mindfulness are powerful tools in learning to master our own mind. They have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and increase quality of sleep. We can feel the benefits after as little as five minutes, but twenty minutes is where we reap the most rewards. Meditation involves focusing our attention on the present while breathing mindfully. YouTube is a great free resource filled with guided meditations that are suitable for beginner and experienced meditators; there are even a few which have been specifically created for coping with the stresses and worries of Covid 19. Practicing calming breathing techniques, like meditation, helps to calm and quiet the mind and body. The square breath or 4,7,8 breathing methods are a good place to start. You can find instructional videos for these on YouTube.

Journaling about our thoughts and feelings helps to reduce stress while also helping us to process our feelings and to view our internal monologue from a different perspective. It helps us to process our emotions and to turn those thoughts that have been running around in circles into a straight line which helps us understand what we are thinking and feeling.

Exercise is such an underutilised tool for managing mental health. Although we are restricted in our movements and are not able to attend gyms or fitness classes, we can exercise from the comfort of our own homes. Many personal trainers and gyms are providing free content on their social media platforms and again YouTube is filled with home workouts for all experience levels. Exercise helps us to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression by releasing endorphins and other happy hormones. Exercising also helps to increase focus, concentration, morale and productivity, along with giving us a sense of achievement. Thirty minutes of exercise is recommended per day; this can be broken down into two fifteen-minute workouts, or something as simple as three ten-minute walks works just as well.

Feeling tired and leaning on caffeine can lead to a vicious cycle of perpetual sleeplessness. Caffeine not only keeps us awake, but it also increases the symptoms of anxiety and stress, which are leading causes of insomnia. Avoid caffeine wherever possible or reduce the amount of caffeine you drink during the day. Switch from coffee to tea or green tea or reduce the amount of caffeinated drinks you consume in a day. Reducing caffeine intake slowly will help reduce withdrawal symptoms. When reaching for that last cup of coffee in the evening remember that we feel the effects of caffeine for up to six hours after consumption.

For some, falling asleep on an empty stomach can be difficult. Having a snack or a warm drink before bed can help you sleep better. Herbal teas such as chamomile, valerian root and lavender are good for promoting relaxation and sleep.

A bedtime routine helps our brain realise it is time to sleep; simple habits like getting into pyjamas, washing face, brushing teeth, reading or colouring. Whatever your night-time routine looks like for you, the aim is to do the same things before bed each night for your brain to realise that bedtime is approaching. A sleep schedule works in the same way- keeping the same sleeping hours every day also helps to build a sleep routine that signals our brain that it is time for sleep. Napping during the day or sleeping later in the mornings may be very tempting when we cannot sleep at night. Unfortunately, when we nap, we make it more difficult to sleep throughout the night. Avoiding naps will create a sleep debt which will make sleeping at night easier. If you do need to nap, try to keep it to twenty or forty minutes as this will help you get some rest without upsetting your sleep schedule.

Taking a hot shower or bath near bedtime helps our brain realise it is time for sleep as it causes our core body temperature to rise and then drop which mimics the same cooldown our body naturally experiences at night when it's time to start getting sleepy. This works especially well when we keep our bedroom cool. Studies show that having a cool sleep environment can improve production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This hormone not only helps us to sleep better, it also protects against cognitive decline and helps to lift our mood. Turning off the lights at bedtime and spending time in darkness also increases our production of melatonin.

Reduce the amount of time spent in the bedroom that is not for sleep. If you must use your bedroom for other activities like work, set up a workspace which will help you to stay out of the bed. This will help your brain associate your bed and bedroom with sleep and help you fall asleep faster.

Limiting media consumption also helps to increase quality of sleep, especially when anxiety or worry keeps you awake. Pick one reputable resource to ensure you are getting accurate information to keep yourself up to date with the Covid 19 situation and only allow yourself to check it once or twice. If media consumption affects your sleep, try to check it early in the day rather than at night.

Reducing or eliminating screen time before bed helps our mind to relax and unwind. Bright lights and over-stimulation make it more difficult for our brains to switch off. Turning off push notifications for social media apps and muting group chats will help you feel less drawn to checking your phone. Use a blue light filter on your phone, tablet and laptop (most have them built-in as an optional setting). Blue light simulates sunlight which inhibits melatonin production and makes it more difficult for our brains to realise it is night-time.

The key thing to remember is that we are all affected in the same way by these sudden and drastic changes to our lifestyles due to the pandemic. In addition to the tips above regarding sleep, there are many resources available to mitigate the anxiety and helplessness we feel.

Be gentle with yourself, stay connected and remember we are all in this together.

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