Anna Yam, Ph.D.
Better Sleep During COVID19 And Beyond
Whether sleep problems are new for you during the time of COVID19 or you’ve had difficulties with sleep for a while, they suck. I don’t need to tell you why they suck, you are well aware of the struggle and how poor sleep negatively impacts your life.
New or old sleep problems can look something like this:
You struggle to fall asleep, tossing and turning, feeling a rush of anxiety, it’s hard to “turn off” your mind which is full of racing thoughts and “to-do” lists and worries about the future
You toss and turn during the night, semi-waking or waking up fully, usually around 3:00am and struggling to go back to sleep
You wake up waaaay too early. Ugh.
At this point, you probably also have a host of worries related to your sleep, everything ranging from “my productivity will suffer” to “I’m going to have insomnia forever.” You may be taking sleeping pills or trying other remedies, with variable but inconsistent effects.
The good news is, behavioral sleep treatments result in better sleep. There are solid, evidence-based methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi) that take a structured approach to improving sleep. Though CBTi is usually something you do with the help of a trained behavioral medicine provider (e.g., psychologist, therapist), there are helpful things you can do today to start improving your sleep.
Better Sleep Step One - Your Regular Wake Time
Step one is to set and stick to a regular wake time.
Your wake time is what works best for you. Examine your current life situation and base your wake time on that. If it helps you to be awake by 7:00am so that you can get some exercise before your first virtual meeting, then 7:00am it is.
If your wake time doesn’t “work” for your life after a couple days, change it. There is no objectively ideal time, only what works best for you.
The key: it needs to be the same exact time every day (after a brief adjustment period).
But what if I’m not getting enough sleep and need to sleep past my wake time?
I hear you. The concerns about productivity and fatigue are common and real. Think of your wake time as a starting point. While you adjust, you can look these worries straight in the eye and tell them - “I WANT to be tired.” It’s true. If you’re tired earlier at night you will naturally go to sleep a bit earlier to get the sleep you need.
The consistent wake time is important because natural behaviors like sleep THRIVE on routine. Your body loves being in rhythm, and a consistent wake time sets the tone.
Better Sleep Step Two - Time to Worry
Worrying is important. If it weren’t you wouldn’t be doing it. Right now there is a fair amount to worry about. One big source of worry is the uncertainty of the future, broadly speaking. I’m guessing a good chunk of your worries fall into that “uncertainty” bucket.
The key is to make sure you are a focused and dedicated worrier.
Set a time and place to worry that is at least two hours before your bed-time. Carve out 20 or 30 minutes to really focus on your worries and give them your undivided attention. To make sure that you stay focused and that your worrying is productive. Write your worries down to keep track of them, and organize them into worry categories.
You want me to worry on purpose!? Isn’t that counterproductive?
Your worries and to-do lists clearly want your time and attention and they’re currently getting attention when you try to sleep. That’s not the ideal time. Give them the time of day so they can have their say. It's not like either of you is going anywhere.
Better Sleep - Next Steps
Perform steps one and two for at least two weeks and examine the outcome. If something goes off the rails or doesn’t work, write down what went wrong. Be curious about your own processes. If necessary, make adjustments to your schedule to accommodate your real life. If problems persist, reach out to a behavioral sleep specialist in your state. Look for someone trained in CBTi to nip your sleep issues in the bud.
Want information about better sleep? Check back, I will post more information in upcoming articles.
Need help improving your sleep? I offer CBTi and online therapy in California. I can also make a referral that fits your needs. Schedule a free consultation, here.