One fun side effect of quarantine is a sleep schedule that slowly, seemingly on its own, creeps off axis, until suddenly it’s 3 am and you decide now is a good time to listen to all your favourite songs from high school. What makes it weirder is that, for a lot of us, we are still getting up in the morning and clocking in for a workday. I, for one, am not sleeping until noon to make up for my late nights. So why is this insomnia happening, and what can we do about it?
I’m someone who deals with a precarious sleep schedule on a good day; some nights, for no reason at all, I’ll be wide awake until 5 am, only finally passing out once the sun comes up. Is it caused by anxiety? A lack of exercise? Too much caffeine? Any answer is plausible, and it’s never obvious. But being locked inside for the past few months, I’ve been much more confident attributing these sleepless flare-ups to the low-grade anxiety that thrums through us at every point in the day. Just because we might not actively feel the anxiety (although, sometimes, we do) doesn’t mean it’s not always there. You might notice it manifesting in weird, unsettling dreams, which appears to be a common trend right now (mine have tended to be about being locked out of my apartment, my car being towed, being late for work because the Starbucks barista had to cook a whole chicken for me…). There is also the strange sense that time is both speeding by and not moving at all—another scientifically documented byproduct of quarantine. Without distinct markers for the passage of days, our brains have trouble differentiating them. Since all our days look the same, it just feels like one looooong day. Next thing you know, a whole month has gone by.
Because of this, the best thing to do for yourself is create a routine. This is something I struggle with a lot; normally I’m too busy to worry about a routine (besides, like, going to work) and I’m tired enough by the end of the day that I can usually hit the pillow with ease. Without anything forcing structure on me, I’m like a bag in the wind. Routine lets your mind and body know what it should be doing when, including when it should be winding down for sleep. I’m sure you’ve heard the usual “no blue light before bed” rule, but it’s true! Give yourself at least half an hour without screens before bed. The blue light from screens confuses your brain into thinking it’s daytime. So as much as I would love to continue my binge watch of The Magicians at 2 am, I know that’s not the right move. It’s honestly all about fooling your brain.
Another way to fool it? Don’t work in bed! “But it’s so comfortable!” I hear you yell. It is, and that’s the problem. Working from bed blurs the lines between work and sleep; your brain starts to associate bed with being productive, which is the opposite of what should be happening. Say it’s gotten late, and you’re still tossing and turning. A good thing to do is to pick up a book. A better thing to do is to bring that book into another room and read it there. Sit on the couch and read until you feel sleepy, and then head back to bed. Again, make sure your brain knows that bed = sleep.
For an extra jump-start to sleepiness, meditative practices are always useful. It might take a while to successfully shut your racing mind up, especially if it’s being fueled by anxiety, but it’s really worth a try. Insomnia is an ugly cycle that self-perpetuates: you’re stressed so you can’t sleep, then you’re stressed because you can’t sleep, and soon all you can think about is how you’re not sleeping, like Chandler explains in that one Friends scene. Hoopla has plenty of insomnia help guides, many of which single out meditation (or mindfulness) as a sleep aid. To take your mind off stressful thoughts, an easy starting practice is to lay on your back and tense your muscles one by one, starting from the top of your head down to your toes. Scrunch your muscles, hold them for a few seconds, and then relax, moving onto another body part. Throughout this, the most important thing is to breathe, deeply and purposefully (you should feel your chest and stomach fill with air on the inhale).
And of course, some good practices during the day: don’t overdo the caffeine or alcohol, especially close to bed, and if you can, try to fit in a workout! Or at least, some sort of physical activity. It’s especially unmotivating to get up and move when our whole day is structured around our couches, but there are actually some great workouts you can do right from home! Check out our video featuring our favourite workout apps, or head back over to Hoopla and browse their home workout collection. Or, just put on some music and dance, go for a walk….it’s all good! As long as you’re working off some of that pent–up anxiety, you’re doing well.
Do you have any sleep tips? Anything that works particularly well for you? Or just any weird dreams you’d like to share? Drop them in the comments!