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Ask An Expert: How To Sleep Well In The Midst Of a Pandemic?

Sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley tells us how to get our sleep cycles back on track.

Ask An Expert: How To Sleep Well In The Midst Of a Pandemic?

Life has changed dramatically for many of us this season. Have changes to your routines–like working from home, more screen time and less social interaction–turned your sleep pattern upside down? If the answer is yes, we’re here to get your circadian rhythm back up and running well.

Your circadian rhythm, also known as your sleep/wake cycle, is basically a 24-hour internal “master clock” that runs in the background of your brain and alternates regularly between sleepiness and alertness. Sunlight is the key signal that tells our body and brain that it’s time to wake up, and the onset of darkness results in the secretion of the hormone melatonin, which tells our body that it’s time to sleep. Changes to our circadian rhythm can cause significant problems for our sleep, health and well-being.

Here are some tips from Dr. Neil Stanley, a widely-quoted sleep expert with a career spanning the Neurosciences Division of the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine to Chairman of the British Sleep Society, on how you can get the sleep that you need.

How to maintain your circadian rhythm?

The best way to get a good night’s sleep is to be awake during the day. Daytime exercise, both physical and mental, can promote good sleep. It is also essential to get adequate exposure to natural light during the day, if possible, as early as you can after waking up, because this is the primary signal to the brain that it is time to be awake.

When it comes to getting enough sleep, there are a myriad of sleep tips out there. But they all boil down to just three key points:

A quiet mind

An important thing for getting to sleep is to go to bed when you are sleepy, not when the Netflix show you are watching ends. Feeling sleepy is the result of it being the right time for you to sleep (your circadian clock) and how long you have been awake. If you’re not sleepy when you switch the light off, you will simply not be able to fall asleep.

In order to achieve a quiet mind and a relaxed body, it’s helpful to establish a regular, relaxing, bedtime routine. You need to put the cares and worries of the day to bed, before you get into bed.

A bedtime routine

A bedtime routine signals to the body that it is time for sleep. You should try to spend at least 30 minutes winding down before bed. You need to find what is right for you – whether it’s reading, listening to music, taking a bath to relax or meditation.

Fixed times

One of the other most powerful changes you can make to your sleep is to have a fixed wake-up time each day.

The body and brain crave rhythm, so if you get into the habit of waking up at the same time each day, this means that you are much more likely to wake feeling good, because your body and brain know when to be ready to start the day. If your wake time is inconsistent, then your body and brain won’t know when to get prepared, and you might wake up feeling groggy.

Sleep is as essential as a healthy diet and regular exercise are for our well-being. Our health and our lives are directed by numerous cycles and routines, some of which are social constructs and others that are nature’s rhythms. Living as far as possible in harmony with your body clock will ensure good health and good sleep.

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