The pandemic has wreaked havoc with our sleep. You know this already but research confirms it. A King’s College study found nearly two-thirds of people said they’d been sleeping worse in lockdown, while another from Southampton University showed the number of people suffering from worry-related sleep problems has risen from one in six to one in four amid the pandemic.
It’s no surprise really, WFH has our routines in disarray, daily step counts have plummeted, many say they’re drinking more and anxiety about a dreaded second wave persists. Add a heatwave into the mix and a good night’s kip is a pipe dream.
So, it’s time to get your circadian rhythm back in check as we make our way, bleary-eyed, back to the office and into some semblance of a routine. Hey, at least there’s air conditioning there. No more rolling out of bed and up to your makeshift desk, there are commutes to be made and morning lattes to fritter away money on.
If you’re one of the many struggling with shut-eye, forget counting sheep and try one of these alternative methods to get you back on track.
Slide into sleep
There are many advocates of a bedtime yoga practice to quiet a racing mind, but yoga nidra, a form of sleep meditation, takes things a step further – and some say a 45-minute session is the equivalent to three hours of sleep.
The entirely floor-based practice involves lying in savasana (corpse pose) with blankets around you to keep you warm and comfortable while an instructor guides you through states of consciousness — moments between waking and sleeping — to promote a feeling of profound relaxation. “Think of your nervous system as a 10-storey building, with the top floor being the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, and the ground floor being the ‘relaxation’ response,” says triyoga teacher Leela Miller. “Many of us have been living on the top floor, stressed and anxious from the weirdness of lockdown and its aftermath.” A regular, even daily, yoga nidra practice will help to bring you closer to the ground floor, “so you don’t have to ‘fall asleep,’ you just slide into sleep.”
Not ready to hit up the studio yet? No problem, YouTube is full of short online yoga nidras to suit every mood.
Breathe your way to snooze
Many of us have been regularly reaching for the 6pm vinos after a hard old day of WFH, which, let’s face it, can frighteningly easily turn into a bottle. Swap your nightly tipple for an evening breathwork session to unwind before bed. “We can use the breath as a mindfulness tool to ‘trick’ the body into feeling relaxed when we’re feeling restless after a busy day,” says Kat Farrants, founder of Movement for Modern Life. Taking deep breaths slows the heart rate and decreases the brain’s stress response, helping you to switch to “rest and digest” — or aforementioned “ground floor” mode — in no time at all.
With this in mind, the online platform has launched a 10-day conscious breathing challenge for anyone struggling with issues like anxiety and insomnia post-pandemic, or simply a sweltering bedroom. Each session in the challenge focuses on different breathwork patterns and techniques to explore how they affect you physically and emotionally. The aim of the game is to teach you to “consciously relax” and control anxiety with the breath, which in turn can help to improve sleep, Farrants says.
Tune into the waves
In need of a slumber-inducing podcast? Forget bedtime stories and white noise, people have long banged on about the lulling powers of Radio 4’s late-night shipping forecast to help them drift off. For those unfamiliar, it’s a broadcast of maritime weather conditions and gale warnings for seafarers around the British Isles. Plug into the The Sleeping Forecast, a BBC Mindful Mix spin-off, for a winning combination of soothing classical piano interspersed with Neil Nunes’ deep voice reading: “Jersey…West by south, eight … three, rising slowly,” for all the snoozy vibes. It takes you on a journey of familiar places like Dover, Viking and Biscay without you really having a clue what’s going on — mindfulness at its best. Once you’re hooked, delve into Calm’s sleep archive for recordings delivered by former presenter Peter Jefferson, aka “the voice of the Shipping Forecast”.
Try your hand at sophrology
You’ve heard of mindfulness and meditation but sophrology is a lesser-known stress management technique which is used to treat people with insomnia at some sleep clinics and hospitals across Europe. Developed in the 1960s by neuropsychiatrist Professor Alfonso Caycedo, the method combines various relaxation exercises, which involve light body movement — like tensing and then releasing — visualisation and breathing techniques.
London-based sophrologist Dominique Antiglio, author of The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, says the technique can help you get to the root cause of what’s keeping you up. “Sophrology addresses the emotional issues that keep you from sleeping well, leaving you feeling less burdened. It also brings you into the ultra-relaxed ‘alpha brain wave’ state where your brain and body are totally at peace.” Entering this state just before bed will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep, she says.
Antiglio usually meets her clients in person at her Be Sophro clinic but has been offering virtual classes via Zoom, Skype and Instagram since the pandemic hit. The idea is that once you’ve had a few sessions — she recommends five or six to feel comfortable with the method — you pick the exercises that most resonate with you to bring a sense of calm all by yourself.
The wellness set has been abuzz about CBD — or cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive chemical found in cannabis plants — for some time now, but can it actually improve your sleep? Dr Dani Gordon, author of The CBD Bible, who specialises in sleep and fatigue issues, warns against considering it “a sleeping pill that will instantly knock you out before bed” — most “run of the mill” insomnia or sleeping problems can’t be solved this way, she says. But many people do claim it helps with sleep inhibitors such as anxiety, chronic pain and stress.
Use CBD products to create a bedtime ritual to wind down. First, start by reducing your caffeine intake and screen time before bed to break down the “toxic stress cycle” that can lead to sleep problems, Dr Gordon suggests. Then introduce oils or drops as part of your daily wellbeing routine, “take it to help with stress reduction and anxiety throughout the day and in the evening alongside sleepy herbals like passionflower and skullcap or before you do a relaxation practice.” Try taking a soak in Dr Ed’s CBD-infused Calm bath salts (£24.99) with lavender, bergamot and rosewood. Alternatively hold a couple of Disciple’s Miracle Drops 250mg (£30) under your tongue. Or if you prefer to use topically, use a jade roller to gently glide over face, to chill out and settle before bed.
How much is enough? Everyone’s endocannabinoid system (which uses the CBD) is unique, meaning we will all react differently to different strengths.
It also depends on the product and how well absorbed it is. “Take the ‘start low go slow approach’ and start with, say, 10mg or 15mg of CBD and go up from there.”