During these difficult times your sleep pattern might become disturbed. This is a normal reaction.
- At times of stress the natural fight or flight response is triggered. This is associated with physiological changes which can leave you willing tense. You may be preoccupied and find it harder to switch off.
- At a time when you are likely very focused on looking after others, it’s easy to put your own needs at the bottom of the list. It’s easy to neglect some of the basic things that help sleep like ensuring you are getting good nutrition, drinking plenty of water and exercising. Engaging in self-soothing activities that might help you to unwind can feel like a luxury but they are not, they are vital to helping you persevere in difficult circumstances.
- There might be changes to your usual routine. Your home may be busier or quieter because of changes to peoples working/ living arrangements. You might be working different shift patterns.
- Ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow. Change the bedding frequently to get that comforting fresh bed feel at the end of a difficult day.
- Make sure the bedroom is a comfortable temperature and is dark enough. You might want to consider use of blackout curtains/blinds or an eye mask.
- If the house is busier than usual consider the use of ear plugs.
Attending to your daily routine…
- The home environment may be busier at the moment and usual routines disrupted. It might be helpful to discuss maintaining the household’s usual sleep/ morning routine as much as possible.
- If you are doing late / night shifts try to think ahead-what things will help you wind down? e.g. having a bath when you get in, ensuring tasks that might distract you from sleep are done before(or a list made) to put your mind at ease?
- On your days off try to keep some normal routine. Although tempting (and necessary sometimes!) pyjama days might be best saved as a treat and avoid daytime napping where possible.
- Getting daylight and light exercise are really important for promoting our bodies natural sleep cycle. With the exception of those who are shielding, it’s reasonable to access an hour of exercise outside ensuring following social distancing guidelines. Also spending time in the garden may help, or just sitting by an open window/patio door if inside to connect with nature.
- Avoid caffeine and foods high in sugar or those that make you bloat from late afternoon. Cut down smoking in the evening if you can.
Before you get into bed…
- It’s so easy to get hooked by work WhatsApp messages/ COVID related news articles. Give yourself permission to avoid these forums in the hours before bed/ on days off. It may helpful to agree with colleagues that vital information won’t be shared on these forums to help manage anxieties about disengaging.
- Writing down any worry thoughts you have before you go to bed and creating a ‘to do list’ or action plan of how you are dealing with any issues might help. This should give permission to unhook from these thoughts when they enter your mind later as you have a plan- remind yourself that.
- Avoid tasks that are very mentally effortful during the 2 hours before bed. Also avoid screens for the hour before bed (maybe read or colour in instead and immerse yourself into the world of the story or art for some escapism).
- Get into a routine by brushing your teeth and washing (even though sometimes you can’t be bothered) to help your body wind down and prepare for bed. Maybe even treat yourself to a nice hand massage before bed to help unwind. Use a nice smelling hand cream and really take notice of the smell and feel as you do this and show yourself a moment of kindness.
- Set your alarm and then put your clock on the other side of room to avoid the habit of checking this.
Getting to sleep…
- Once sleep becomes disturbed it can be easy to get hooked by frustration. Try to tell yourself that sleep is natural and will come.
- If worry thoughts show up just gently notice these and try to imagine them like leaves on a stream passing gently. There’s no need for action, that will come in waking hours and you have done as much as you can. Show yourself kindness.
- Take some slow steady breaths in and out and try to focus your attention on the physical sensation of the breath, noticing the rise and fall of your chest/ abdomen. If your mind wanders (as it inevitably will) come back to the breath. You might also mindfully pay attention to the feeling of your body against the bed sheets.
- You could try practicing some guided imagery- for at least ten minutes imagine you are on a beach, create a vivid sense of what the temperature would be, what smells you’d be able to smell, what noises would be there.
- If you still can’t sleep, try saying the word ‘the’ every 3 seconds, mouth it and do it for 5 minutes.
- Avoid clock checking.
- There is a range of Apps available – you might want to check out Calm, Sleepio or Headspace.
Recommended video clips
UK Sleep Census
By taking part in this study you will receive a personalised sleep ‘score’ and an indication of your internal bodyclock; as well as tips and resources on how to improve your own sleep.
- Royal College of Physicians (2006) Working the night shift: preparation, survival and recovery. A guide for junior doctors
- Health and Safety Executive (2006) Managing shift work Health and safety guidance
- Association of Anaesthetists Fatigue support and resources
- King’s Fund (2020) The courage of compassion: Supporting nurses and midwives to deliver high-quality care