How to get to sleep when your brain won’t switch off

In these strange times, it’s all too easy to let overthinking keep you up at night

Stress and anxiety are common mental health concerns in the UK, but with the coronavirus pandemic still dominating the news and disrupting our daily lives, it feels like nationwide stress levels have never been higher.

And this can have a detrimental effect on how you sleep. When we’re worried about the uncertainty surrounding us, we can find it much more difficult to fall and stay asleep, creating a vicious cycle of more fatigue, more worry and less sleep.

But if this sounds familiar to you, know that you aren’t powerless. There are plenty of simple changes you can make to your day to help you nod off with ease. Here are the dos and don’ts of winding down effectively come bedtime.

Do: Get natural light early in the day

Your body clock is key to a healthy sleep patten, and light is the key to a healthy body clock. The release of vital hormones like serotonin and melatonin is directly related to how much natural light you get throughout the day, so it’s important to expose yourself to natural light early in the day in order to boost your energy levels and help you feel more awake.

Of course, adhering to a routine can be more difficult during lockdown, but even stepping out of your front door or standing by a window can help to boost your serotonin release and make you feel more positive and more awake, which in turn will help you feel more ready for bed by evening.

But don’t: Expose yourself to light in the evening

Similarly, you should avoid bright lights later in the day when your body should be winding down, and this includes the lights from screens. Scrolling through your phone or tablet just before bed can disrupt your body’s release of melatonin, which lets your body know it’s time for sleep.

Set yourself a screen curfew and instead try engaging in some meditation or reading in the hour before you go to bed as an effective way to wind down.

Do: Set yourself a bedtime schedule

The other thing your body clock relies on is a clear routine, so setting yourself a sleep schedule is really helpful when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. You should aim to go to bed and wake up at around the same time every day, including the weekend. Ideally, this period of sleep should last between seven and nine hours, in line with our National Sleep Guidelines.

But don’t: Use your bed throughout the day

When you’re housebound, it can be tempting to use your bed as everything from a place to snack and watch shows to a home office. However, this can mess with your brain’s ability to associate your bedroom with sleep.

Try to use your bedroom exclusively for sleep. That way, even entering the space in the evening will tell your body it’s time to start unwinding.

Do: Get moving

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and part of that is because it can help you enjoy more satisfying sleep. Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel more positive and energised, and can help you feel more prepared for the day ahead.

In fact, a study published in The journal of the American Medical Association found that daily exercise not only helped people fall asleep faster but also gave them, on average, an additional 41 minutes of quality sleep.

But don’t: Exercise too close to bedtime

However, avoid saving your exercise for the evening. Exercise increases both your hormone levels and your heartrate, both of which can be detrimental to sleep in the short-term. Aim to exercise at least four hours before bedtime to give your body the chance to calm down from its post-workout buzz.

Discover more about the science of sleep and how to protect your health and wellbeing during this difficult time by exploring the rest of our blog today.