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How to safeguard your sleep during COVID-19

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Liz Crump

Apr 24, 2020

Over the last few weeks, our world has changed significantly. Life and business as we know it has been flipped on its head. For many, that means life has slowed down and for others, it’s never been more chaotic. 

With such unprecedented change coming on so quickly, it’s understandable that the importance of sleep is flying off the radar. But sleep is critical to our physical health and immunity – it’s also a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health, helping combat stress and anxiety.

We spoke with Delphi Ellis, a qualified counsellor and wellbeing trainer, who’s appeared on BBC Radio, ITV’s This Morning and Loose Women, about the steps you can take to safeguard your sleep during this time. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do?

I’m a qualified counsellor and wellbeing trainer, working in the community promoting what I call ‘mental health maintenance.’ This focuses on helping you find ways to take care of yourself, and as I call it ‘get your sparkle back’, especially if you’re going through a difficult time. 

I started my therapeutic career around 20 years ago supporting the bereaved, where I worked mainly with those whose loved ones died unexpectedly, including those bereaved by murder and suicide. 

I also work with people experiencing stress, anxiety and depression, and teach mindfulness as a way to help people rest and relax. I have a special interest in sleep and dreams, and have appeared as the ‘Dream Expert’ for BBC Radio, ITV’s This Morning and Loose Women.

Why is sleep so important for our wellbeing?

We’ve been exploring sleep scientifically over the last century, but you’ll know yourself if you’ve had a rough night’s sleep and how you feel the next day.  

Lack of sleep can cause us to feel edgy and irritable, but it can also affect our memory and ability to concentrate. So if you’ve been forgetful or clumsy, lack of sleep may be the reason why. 

We also know that sleep plays a part in restoring our health and wellbeing, so getting a good night’s sleep boosts your immune system. 

How does nutrition and exercise impact a good night’s sleep?

What we eat can have an impact on our mood, and this in itself can have a knock on effect on how we sleep. The majority (around 70%+) of the mood hormone serotonin is produced in our gut, so when some people say “we are what we eat”, they aren’t far wrong.  

Hot tip: You can notice whether what you eat is affecting your mood and sleep by keeping a food diary. Write down what you eat and then how you feel half an hour and two hours later.  

Equally, how well we sleep also affects our appetite. So if you’re hungrier than normal right now, one reason could be because you’ve not been sleeping well. Keeping regular meal times can help with this, as can not eating too late in the evening, and avoiding anything sugary or caffeinated in the hours before bed.  

Exercise has many health benefits, not least of all it feels good to be moving our bodies during a time when our movement has been restricted. If you’re going to exercise, do it before you eat (rather than just after), and preferably in the morning, as opposed to nearer bedtime.  

Some research suggests that if you can get sunlight between the hours of 8am and midday (so if you have a daily walk) this may actually help improve your sleep at night.

What tips would you offer business owners and their teams that are finding it hard to get a good night’s sleep right now?

I think routine is key. Your body is like a clock that responds to daylight (and lack of it) and your environment, with interconnecting parts that are responding to each other. This is why eating regularly is so important, because what and when you eat can have an impact on everything else.  

Going to bed at the same time every night (when you’re sleepy) can help, and set your alarm for a reasonable time to start your day the following morning.  

Have a separate space at home if you can for where you work, or clearly defined boundaries for when the work day starts and finishes where that’s possible. Ideally, don’t let your workspace be your bedroom – your bedroom needs to be a place of sanctuary where you can retreat.

Winding down before bedtime is also important, especially if you’ve had a busy, difficult or worrying day. Make sure you put your phone away at least an hour before bed, switch off the telly and maybe read (nothing work related), have a warm bath, or listen to some calming music. This works well for children too, so if you’re home-schooling as well as working, establishing a routine which includes ‘quiet time’ for the whole family could help.

Mindfulness has been proven to help improve your sleep, and you can bring mindfulness into your leadership as well as your work routine. You don’t have to sit and meditate to be mindful, you can start with taking some quiet time over your morning cuppa to just sit and ‘be’; this can help set the tone for your day.  

Reach out to teammates or leaders who can support you, if there’s something on your mind that’s keeping you awake at night. Sometimes it’s not always what we do during the day that causes us a poor night’s sleep, but thinking about our circumstances once we’ve got into bed. Remember Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123.

We’ve heard about people having vivid dreams at the moment. Could you explain why that might be?

According to the Lyon Neuroscience Centre, dream recall is currently up 35%. Research suggests the dream you have just had before waking is the longest one of the night, so if you’ve been sleeping in a little longer (because you’re not having to commute) and are less rushed in the mornings, it makes sense you’ll be remembering the dream you had just before you woke up.  

Stress and the restrictions of isolation can also impact what we’re dreaming about. Keeping a dream diary can be useful for helping you to monitor your dream content and explore the messages they may contain. Having a relaxing routine before bedtime, including meditation, may also help you have more pleasant dreams.

Are there any online resources you’d recommend to help improve sleep?

There is a great book by Dr Guy Meadows that I recommend called The Sleep Book which is currently available as an audio download. Although Guy’s book was published long before the COVID-19 outbreak, it was written for people who find their circumstances (rather than their habits) are what is keeping them awake.

You could also look at apps such as Calm and Headspace that many people find helpful for getting a better night’s sleep. Some of the content is free, but then there’s a subscription after that.

How can we hear more about the work you do?

You can check out my website and I have a weekly newsletter called Monday Mojo™; it suggests a ‘feel-good intention’ for the week, and includes a ‘well-being corner’ aimed at helping people through this difficult time. You can subscribe here and you’ll get free access to the Sparkle Repair Kit, a small but mighty guide with top tips to help you sparkle.

Visit our dedicated site for more resources, inspirational stories and webinars to help you navigate through this time. 

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