Expert Tips to Sleep Better in Light of Coronavirus Anxiety

Practical advice for hitting the hay in a better state of mind right now.

As anxiety around coronavirus continuing to grow, you may be having a hard time falling asleep these days with so much on your mind, and so much fear and uncertainty in the news. To help you sleep more soundly during a difficult time, we reached out to the experts for their best advice to fall and stay asleep. Cozy up under that weighted blanket and get ready for some seriously helpful insights.

1. Stick with your routine as much as possible.

"In a crisis situation, it can be easy to let go of routine. To the extent that it's possible, try to stick with maintaining your pre-pandemic nightly bedtime and wake-times," advises Rachel O'Neill, Ph.D., LPCC-S, Therapist and Director of Clinical Effectiveness of Talkspace, a digital therapy platform in which users can send their dedicated therapists unlimited text, video, picture, audio messages, as well as live video chat. "Even if you no longer have the need to wake at a certain time (for example, if you now find yourself with a more flexible work-from-home schedule), you should still try to wake around your normal time and go to sleep around your normal bedtime. Try to avoid the urge to stay up late and sleep in and try to focus on getting about seven-to-eight hours of sleep per night."

2. But add one new nightly ritual if you don't so already: Self-care time.

With the uncertain nature of this pandemic, it's key to carve out extra time devoted to your mental health. "Think about ways to incorporate a focus on wellness into your nightly routine. This could be as simple as having a '30-minute no-screen time before bed' rule–which will allow you the opportunity to decompress a bit and have some space away from news and/or social media," suggests O'Neill. Given how hard it can be to peel yourself away from updates regarding the coronavirus situation, it might even be helpful to set a time limit on what hours you let yourself check the news during the day, or to set an alarm at a certain hour to signify the end of news consumption.

O'Neill also finds incorporating a full-body approach to relaxation particularly helpful, you can try a yoga roller or acupressure mat, or even just simple stretches directly on the floor or in bed. Mediation apps like Headspace and Ten Percent Happier—or of course checking in with a therapist on Talkspace—are all also go-to aids.

3. Try a gratitude practice.

Take pen to paper and get a daily gratitude journal going today: "A lot of us are carrying very real and legitimate fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and anger during this time of unprecedented change and stress for the entire world. Throughout the day, and especially before bed, identify one-to-two things you feel grateful for," says Lindsay Henderson, PsyD and Director, Psychological Services at AmWell, a national telehealth leader.

"This could be as simple as a reliable internet connection, toilet paper, the first spring flower buds, or an uplifting news clip you saw. In addition, name one positive thing about your day; such as ten minutes of your children sharing toys effectively, a video call with an old friend, or the fact that you were able to get some needed groceries. Writing these things down can be even more effective in boosting your mood." Worth noting: You don't necessarily need to do this right before bed, you may want to experiment with various times throughout the day and see when this pause for gratitude journaling works best for you.

One reason it may be particularly beneficial at night, though? "It can also help us rest and recharge more peacefully to know that we are contributing to our community in some way: A small donation to an important charity, ordering take out from a local restaurant, or just writing positive messages in chalk on the sidewalk with your kids," says Henderson.

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4. Wake up at approximately the same time every day and find bright light right away.

See also: Tip #1. Routine is key during times like these and maintaining a normal wakeup time is essential to your mental health. "Your wake-up time is an anchor to your day and night. Keeping a consistent wake-up time will help the other parts of your day fall into a regular routine and can help you sleep better the next night," shares Sarah Adler, PsyD, Chief Clinical Officer of Octave, holistic mental health practice that includes one-on-one therapy, goals-based coaching, group therapy, and skills-based workshops. "I recommend being in a place with bright light within a few minutes of getting up. Our brain's body clock is tuned by daylight. When the brain receives bright morning light at around the same time every day, it is a signal to keep the time-keeping part of our brain healthy."

5. Have a designated "worry time."

Think of this as a complementary practice to keeping a gratitude journal. "Anxiety tends to get worse in the evening and for many people particularly when they get into bed to go to sleep, because there are no other distractions to keep your mind off of the things that make you anxious, and this anxiety can make it very difficult to 'quiet' your mind and get to sleep," explains Dr. Katherine Green, Medical Director of the UCHealth Sleep Medicine Clinic.

"The key is to train your body and your mind to think about things and address them at an appropriate time, which is not in bed at night when you are trying to fall asleep. Get a piece of paper or journal and if there are thoughts that are racing through your head when you go to turn off the lights at night, take a moment to write them down. That gets them out of your head, and safely puts them somewhere else, to address at another time. Give yourself five or 10 minutes during the day of 'worry time'–time to look back over these thoughts, and give them the attention and time that they deserve to think through them."

Once that window is up, it's back to regularly scheduled programming and knitting on the couch watching Hallmark Christmas movies, friends.

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