- Maintain a consistent bed and wake time, 7 days per week.
- Get bright light during the daytime, and limit light exposure during the evening by dimming lights (especially from devices!).
- Don’t try to sleep if you can’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes —instead, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing until you feel sleepy.
3 Key Points
The pandemic is a double-whammy challenge to good sleep: increased stress and indoor isolation can both negatively impact sleep. So how can you protect and promote your sleep during this time? Below, we outline how to keep your body clock running on time and ways you can practice sleep-positive behaviors.
Keep Your Body Clock Running On Time
Our body clock is one of the main systems that controls sleep, mood, and immune health. We have to set our body clock every day to keep it running on time. It can be more challenging to set our clock when we are isolating ourselves indoors during a pandemic.
Light is one of the strongest signals to our body clock. To support regularity in your body clock, wake around the same time every morning. As soon as you can after you wake for the day, aim to get at least 30 minutes of bright light. Open your window shades, or go outdoors if at all possible. Do not wear sunglasses in the morning so your eyes get the full benefit of sunlight. You can also use a light box (cet.org/light-therapy), or light glasses (re-timer.com), for 30 minutes in the morning. Otherwise, turn on as many bright, overhead lights as you can. Remain in bright (natural or artificial) light as much as possible throughout the daytime, before sunset.
In the evening, strive for dim light starting 1-2 hours before your desired bedtime. Dim overhead lights and dim electronic devices to their lowest usable setting. Turn on blue-blocking settings on devices (e.g., f.lux, Night Shift). Engage in only quiet activities during this time.
Other ways to help keep your body clock running on time include timing your meals so that you eat around the same time each day, especially breakfast; planning your first social interaction so that it happens around the same time each morning; and exercising at the same time each day. Morning outdoor exercise has the added benefit of natural light exposure.
Strategies to Support Sleep Health
Stress can lead to sleep disruption and insomnia. Practicing sleep-positive behaviors can help protect our sleep against the negative effects of stress.
To help get your mind and body ready for sleep, give yourself an hour to wind-down before your bedtime. During your wind-down time, avoid watching or reading the news. Do quiet activities in dim light—such as reading, doing a relaxation/meditation exercise, watching a relaxing television show, or listening to music.
If you are having trouble falling asleep or returning to sleep after you wake at night, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing, in dim light, until you feel sleepy, then return to bed to sleep. Do not “try” to sleep if you are feeling awake—we can’t force sleep to happen. Do not lie in bed trying to sleep or engaging in wakeful activities if you can’t sleep.
Keep a consistent wake time and bedtime—don’t stay up too late or go to bed too early. Pay attention to sleepiness signals around your usual bedtime to decide when to go to bed, such as feeling less alert, heavy eyelids, slowing down of thoughts. However, do NOT try to sleep at your usual bedtime if you are feeling very awake, anxious, or otherwise upset. Delay your bedtime in these instances and engage in soothing or quiet activities until you feel sleepy.
Be mindful of substances that can interfere with sleep—do not use caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime and avoid using alcohol for sleep. Avoid large meals within 3 hours of bed.
Pay attention to your sleep environment: make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool at night. White noise from a fan or white noise machine can block out environmental noise. Although it may be tempting to work in bed, or watch TV from your bed, saving the bed and bedroom for sleep and sexual activity keeps the bed as a strong signal for sleep. If your bedroom is the only place where you can work, avoid working in bed.
Do not take naps if you have trouble sleeping at night. If you’re a good sleeper who takes daytime naps, nap the right way—limit naps to 30 minutes or less, and time the nap to be about 6 hours after your wake time, ideally taken at around the same time each day.