There’s no doubt that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on sleep for many of us. For some, worries about health and finances keep us awake. For others—adults and kids alike—the blurred lines between remote work or school and our personal lives make it challenging to know when to step away from the screens and start to relax.
The problem has become so pervasive that some sleep experts have even termed it “coronasomnia.” The American Medical Association warns that left unaddressed, this stress-fueled insomnia could potentially raise the risk of depression, high blood pressure, and other concerns that linger even after the pandemic is over. But good sleep isn’t just crucial for feeling and functioning your best: It can also help improve your immune system’s response—a must as COVID-19 vaccines become more available.
It’s not surprising, then, that this year’s theme for World Sleep Day is “Regular Sleep, Healthy Future.” Using March 19 as your motivation, try these six tips for getting more “z”s—at least seven hours a night for adults—all year long.
1. Build a Strong Foundation.
It hardly sounds exciting, but then again, “sleep hygiene” isn’t meant to be. Instead, sleep hygiene refers to the habits we should all follow to set the stage for a good night’s sleep. These include using a comfortable mattress and pillow, blocking out bright light and distracting noises, and sticking to a set bedtime and wake time. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you should also try to avoid caffeine about six hours before bed and set your bedroom thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, the optimal temperature for sleep.
2. Set a Routine.
The pandemic has thrown a wrench in most people’s daily routines. If you work from home, you can keep hitting that snooze button without worrying about your commute time, for example. And that, of course, means you can stay up later, too. The downside: We crave routines and schedules to keep us on track during the day—and the same goes for bedtime.
Try to stick to the same schedule you did when you were in the office, factoring in breaks throughout the day as well as a definite time when you power down your computer and leave work behind. As bedtime approaches, usher in sleep with rituals like dimming the lights, taking a warm bath or shower, and doing some gentle stretches.
3. Move Your Office.
Sleep experts have long advised reserving the bedroom for sleep and sex only. That’s even more important these days, when your home office could be located anywhere in your house, including your bed. Remove your computer and any other equipment from your bedroom and relocate them to another part of your house.
4. Stop the Scroll.
How many times have you gotten comfortable and dimmed the lights, only to pick up your phone and begin mindlessly checking social media, watching videos, or shopping online? It’s a tempting way to try to unwind, but it has the opposite effect. In fact, this practice, too, now has its own name: “revenge bedtime procrastination.”
Whether you’re staying up late scrolling through your phone, playing video games, or watching TV, you could be doing so in an attempt to reclaim some of the downtime you’ve lost during the day. But that can backfire: Instead of relaxing, you end up feeling more stressed and getting even less precious sleep. If you can, schedule short breaks during the day instead, using that time to take a walk, do a quick workout, or read a few chapters of a good book.
5. Block Blue Light.
Blue-blocking glasses have skyrocketed in popularity as more of us engage in remote work. That’s because these nonprescription specs filter out blue light, a type of light emitted by computers, smartphones, tablets, and even televisions that can contribute to eye strain.
But blue light may have another downside: It can disrupt sleep by suppressing the body’s production of melatonin, aka the “sleep hormone.” Indeed, in one recent study, people reported sleeping longer and better when they wore blue light glasses during the day—and they were more productive at work. You can find blue-blocking glasses online at various price points.
6. Let it Out.
The pandemic has been hard for all of us, and there’s no shame in feeling like you can’t go it alone. Writing down your thoughts in a journal (or simply crafting the next day’s to-do list) is a great way to release some stress and unwind before bed. And remember that we won’t be in this situation forever: By addressing stress and shoring up good sleep now, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when the next “new normal” arrives.