Coronavirus: mindful about sleep

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everyday life in a way that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago, bringing concerns for our physical and mental health. For many people this has had a detrimental effect on both the amount and quality of their sleep. 

Here, Amanda Grant, chief wellness officer at the CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona, shares some of the exercises she follows to aid her own mental wellbeing and sleep during times of adversity.

1. Unplug. At least 30 minutes before you wish to fall asleep, switch off all devices and screens. Our minds filter between 20,000 and 70,000 thoughts each day and have to deal with a lot of content and noise. At a time when everyday life is even more stressful and taxing than usual, give yourself the gift of quiet and stillness as part of your nightly routine.

2. Release/intend. Depending on the day you’ve had, either release what you no longer need from it or consider what you intend for the coming night’s sleep and following morning:

  • Release: If it’s been a challenging day, give yourself permission to be human and move through a forgiveness exercise. There might, for example, have been instances where you feel you could have behaved differently. You might have snapped at a loved one or made a hasty decision that exacerbated an already challenging situation. Notice what happened, offer yourself compassion and set the intention to change course in the morning. If the incident involved a family member you could write down what you’d like to share with them the next day. A good night’s rest can bring greater clarity.
  • Intend: Setting an intention for your rest (and your life) is a powerful tool that can help if you find yourself stuck in a narrative. This exercise can be particularly effective when practised sitting up in bed (with some pillows plumped up behind you) a few minutes before you plan to (hopefully) go to sleep. Allow your eyes to close and turn your gaze inward. Breathe gently and easily and either think or recite an ‘I statement’. It might be: ‘This evening, I intend to sleep through the night and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face another day.’ Dwell inside this intention for a minute or two before lying down and imagine that each inhalation and exhalation is breathing life into your thought. 

3. Breathe. Breathing to relax can be an effective way to get a much-needed deep sleep. You can listen to guided breathing – there are many examples online – or devise your own. For days that have felt particularly emotionally heavy or dense, you might try the 4-7-8 (also referred to as coherent or relaxation) breathing method, which is based on the yogic practice of pranayama. It involves inhaling for a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7 and then exhaling for 8 – it’s been shown to help promote restful sleep more rapidly. 

4. Set a sleep ritual. Although your daily schedule might have changed, try to keep some consistency in the times when you go to bed and when you wake up. Pre-sleep meditation and deep breathing exercises can help to allow the mind to find some calm. Before you rise, allow yourself to have a moment of pause where you set an intention for the day. It can be big or small, but remember no one has to set fresh goals every (or any) day, and self-compassion is an intention in itself.

5. Create a sleep-friendly environment. Set your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and exclude screens – TV, smartphone, laptop – and any other distractions. Blackout blinds and breathable linens are helpful, but if they’re not an option, a soft eye-mask and earplugs can be useful alternatives. Keep a journal by your bed and write down any items you wish to address the following day.

6. Nourish your body. Where possible, reduce stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine and try not to eat foods that put too much stress on the digestive system. Try herbal teas such as chamomile or valerian root.

7. Explore aromatherapy. A holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and wellbeing, the use of aromatic essential oils has been around for thousands of years to help manage pain, improve sleep quality and reduce stress. Lavender and roman chamomile can be inductive to better shuteye.

8. Keep stretching. A few gentle stretches, such as Child’s pose or low lunges, can help to focus attention onto the breath and body and away from the day’s stresses. They can also relieve muscle tension and ease cramps. 

‘It’s easy for the pressures of the current situation to mount, leading to nights plagued with worry and fitful sleep,’ says Amanda. ‘But we will come out of this situation. There is light at the end of the tunnel.’ 

Words: Sarah Rodrigues

If your sleep continues to be affected or you have – or develop – insomnia, it’s important to talk to a medical expert. For more information visit nhs.uk and mind.org.uk.

To find out more about the CIVANA resort, visit civanacarefree.com

Illustration via shutterstock.

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