Charlotte Bronte once said, “A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow,” and there is no doubt that 2020’s Covid stresses left everyone with a restless pillow or two. According to the Director of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine at Phelps Hospital/Northwell Health, Steven A. Thau, we were “not a country of good sleepers even before the pandemic.” A culture of working harder, later and longer can contribute to poor or ineffective sleep. “Much like a computer, the body too needs time to shut off so it can restart effectively,” says Thau.
What are the benefits of high-quality sleep? Thau lists the following:
- Sleep allows the brain to save information and convert memories from short-term to long-term.
- Sleep gives our body a chance to repair and heal itself, giving organs like the heart and joints and muscles the break they need.
- Sleep is also the period of time when children grow.
“Sleep is not a time of nothingness,” Thau warns. “Quality sleep is critical for the mind and body to avoid burn out.”
One indicator that you may not be receiving enough quality sleep throughout the night is experiencing the afternoon crash, usually between 1 and 3 pm. Thau suggests avoiding naps if possible, or else capping them at 20 or 30 minutes. “Napping for too long sends a confusing message to the brain which leads to the ‘second wind’, at a time when people should be winding down.”
Here are some simple techniques to improve the quality of our sleep:
- Start the day off with exercise and walk in the afternoon to ward off the three pm lull.
- Set reminders throughout the day to get up and get moving.
- Restore calm and relaxation at night and avoid adrenaline-causing activities like watching the news, at least one hour before bedtime.
- Tune into natural rhythms and take deep abdominal breathes to decrease adrenaline to lowest possible level so your body can fall asleep.
- Avoid screen-time completely before bed. The light from your device can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm (your internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle). And while Thau says switching your screen to night shift is an option, consideration of the intensity of light is needed. “It’s not just the source of the light,” he says, “but the distance in which we have it from our eyes. Lighting disrupts signals that promote sleep.”
- Reconsider the use of sleep apps. While they may be helpful at first, they could cause reliance on a device and disrupt your natural sleep rhythms.
“If sleep becomes purposeful and efficient ,” claims Thau, “it’s time well-spent.”
Additional resources for sleep disorders can be found at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Sleep Foundation.