How to Stick to Your Sleep Routine While Self-Isolating
The days of social distancing and self-isolation continue as we fight to stop the spread of coronavirus, and the result is often an odd sense of our days blending together. The pillars of our routines—going to work, seeing a friend, heading to the gym, grabbing coffee at a local café—have been replaced by spending 24 hours in the same place with the same people. When it feels like you don't have a sense of time, your body can get confused. Therapist Janie McGlasson asked her Instagram followers what they felt most anxious about, and she says, "Almost all of them said that their sleep is off since the implementation of stay at home orders."
Amid the pandemic, many people have said disrupted sleep patterns is a problem they're grappling with, and that's because it is so hard to make sense of this unprecedented time. "If what is happening in our waking life is more than we can process," says McGlasson, "our sleep life will often be impacted." So, how can we get better at sticking to our sleep routines during isolation? Experts share practical advice here.
Limit News Intake
"Do not look at the news before bed. Period," says McGlasson. "It can wait until the morning, or you can ask your friends to [alert you] if there's something you absolutely need to know." But obsessively staying updated will do more harm than good—especially in this reality, and especially when your brain is trying to relax. "There is currently a constant stream of bad news coming in and, while it is good to be informed, it is not helpful if you're hypervigilant to the extent that you can't sleep, and therefore won't function at 100 [percent]."
Make a List
While McGlasson recommends certain nighttime activities to help you relax (warm showers or baths, an evening meditation with an app like Headspace, breathing exercises, specific yoga sequences, talking to a friend), what's most important is that you have structure. "I believe that having a toolbox of actions or resources that you can pull from when you're having difficulty sleeping is important," she says. "When you've identified the most helpful strategies in your 'toolbox,' make them into a nightly routine," and write them into a list. McGlasson says your list could look something like this: 9 p.m: Phone goes to sleep for the evening, take a warm shower, do your skincare routine. 9:45 p.m.: Drink a warm lemon water, set out clothes for the morning. 10 p.m.: Get in bed and start a sleep meditation."
Avoid Your Phone and Dim the Lights
Therapist Farah Harris, LCPC, typically suggests that you stop looking at your phone 30 minutes before you'd like to get into bed. "Many of us have a habit of scrolling on our phones right up to the very moment when our eyelids close—which does not give our brains proper time to wind down." Similar to why you should not read the news before bed, Harris says that the subject matter you see while scrolling on social media or the internet can disrupt your calm if the material is "negative or distressful." Harris also says, "If possible, try [to not have] a television in your bedroom. Having one [in your room] reminds your brain that there is a distraction and that the bedroom is multi-purposeful; not just for sleep."
Because of how influential technology and screens are on our lives, "our bodies have adjusted to artificial lighting, which tricks our brain into staying up way past sundown," says Harris. She suggests dimming the lights about an hour or so before bed to "help your body prepare for sleep." Even more effective: Dim your home's lighting at the same time every night. "You'll begin training your brain for proper rest," Harris explains.
Be Flexible in Finding a New Routine
"Many people will look at quarantine as a complete break from their normal," says McGlasson. "Many of us are eating, sleeping, working, and exercising differently than we ever have. That's okay. Find what is healthy for you and do more of that—even if it's different from what you did pre-quarantine."
"Allow yourself flexibility and grace regarding your sleep routines," Harris agrees. "But if your timing for going to bed has changed, still maintain your bedtime habits. Although we are in a state of isolation and things may feel 'off,' this is not permanent. Therefore, it is important to stay as true to your normal as possible."