How to Sleep When Everything is Weird

In case your social media feeds, news apps, and coworkers haven’t reminded you in a few minutes—things are weird right now. What the world is experiencing is unprecedented, and in the face of uncertainty there’s one thing that’s almost guaranteed to suffer: your sleep.

It can feel impossible to shut your brain off at night. Or balance your nighttime sleep with your depression naps. Or get back to sleep when yet another thing you should have figured out pre-quarantine pops into your head.

Here are our best tips for trying to keep your sleep in order during a turbulent period.

What to do when you can’t fall asleep

This one is probably one of our most common problems right now—it’s hard to wind down and drift off when there’s so much information coming at us all day long. There are a few things you can do before bed to help ease your anxiety, shake the day off, and prep your body for restorative sleep.

Meditation

There are a ton of free guided meditations on YouTube, like this one, that are specifically meant to help you sleep. If you aren’t into guided meditations, slowing your brain down and mindfully observing your own thoughts without action, or judgment, can help you settle in for the night. Practice taking in a full breath for four seconds, holding it for seven, and slowly releasing it for eight seconds.

Stretching

While you might want to avoid working out too hard before bed, taking some time to slowly stretch out can relax your body for bed. These yoga poses can help take some tension out of your muscles and relax your mind, too.

Set a cut-off time

You’ve seen it a thousand times, but this is yet another reminder that setting a cut-off time for screens and electronics can go far in helping you sleep. The more light you take in directly before bed, the harder it is for your body to know that it’s night time, and your hormonal responses to natural light dimming are interrupted. 

What to do when you can’t get back to sleep

If you aren’t struggling getting to sleep, but you are waking up in the middle of the night or early morning and can’t seem to get back to a drowsy place, try these tips. 

Whatever you do, don't reach for your phone

Waking up and grabbing your phone can not only suck your attention in for hours, wasting whatever you had left of the night, but it disrupts your sleep pattern entirely. Light tells the body it’s go time, so the more you stare at your phone, the less inclined your subconscious will be to return to sleep

Try a new trick

There’s an old “military trick” that goes around when you need to get precious sleep in reliably—whether or not it’s a real training tactic, we’re not sure, but it seems to work. Close your eyes, and tense each muscle in your body as hard as you can starting from your face and moving down to your toes. Squeeze hard and then release. After you’ve fully relaxed all of your body, close your eyes, and picture yourself lying in a canoe on a peaceful lake, or wrapped snugly in a black velvet hammock. If that doesn’t do the trick, chant “don’t think” to yourself over and over again. Supposedly this will have you out in two minutes flat. 

Rethink your bedtime

If it’s easy to fall asleep, but impossible to stay asleep, it could mean you need to make adjustments to your bedtime. A lot of us are now working from home, and although it may not seem like a major change, it’s probably affecting your schedule more than you realize. Think about it: since you don’t have to leave the house, you’re saving some time in the mornings, and perhaps spending less time choosing your outfit or making sure your hair isn’t doing the weird thing it always does, so shifting your routine forward might help you rest better. Over the next few days, gradually push forward your bedtime and your morning alarm by 15 minutes each day.

So, if you normally call it at 10:30pm and wake up at 6:30am, try 10:45pm tonight and 6:45am tomorrow morning. Then 11:00pm the next night and 7:00am the following morning and go from there. This gradual reset can help you balance out an internal clock that’s been knocked off course.

What to do during the day to promote better sleep

Your day affects your night, so planning ahead for better rest can be a game changer.

Set a bedtime

There’s a reason parents enforce a bedtime for kids: we thrive when we stick to a routine. But a bedtime only works if you stick to it, so the key here is consistency. Keeping a consistent sleep- and wake-time throughout the week—yes, that includes weekends—will have you feeling consistently well-rested.

Lay off the coffee

This one’s a no-brainer, but caffeine late in the day is a tough habit to kick. And, not sure who needs to hear this, but… decaf is not the same as caffeine-free. We get it, coffee is great as you’re drinking it, but it stops being great when you’re wide awake at 2:00am. Cut the coffee (and all other caffeinated beverages) off at least six hours before bedtime. Hey, sleep is pretty great, too.

Get a workout in

It’s no secret that, when you live an active life, all your internal functions operate more efficiently. Even as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day can significantly improve the quality of your sleep, as it reduces stress levels and tires you out. But if your workout is too close to bedtime, your mind might be getting mixed signals and could wire you instead of tire you. Figure out what time of day you prefer to work out and, again, stick to the routine. 

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Shelly Weaver-Cather
Shelly Weaver-Cather

Shelly Weaver is part of the Content Team at Tuft & Needle, leading the writing and editing of our blog. Not quite a Phoenix native, (They take that sort of thing super seriously.) Shelly has spent most of her life in the Phoenix Metro area and has no plans of leaving anytime soon. She made the unexpected jump out of wedding photography and onto T&N’s team in 2016, and found a passion for the people that keep the lights on. She still finds herself shooting in her free time, though these days there are less bridal portraits and more masterpieces of her first child, Duke, a lab-pit mix with an unparalleled love for both T&N mattress hogging and couch destroying.

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