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Sleep problems during COVID-19? Here are 5 ways to sleep better, according to experts.

Maybe your sleep was precarious before the pandemic, or maybe you slept like the proverbial baby. But with the current state of health uncertainty, economic fallout, and anxiety induced by the COVID-19 pandemic—you're sleep has likely taking a turn for the worse, like it has for most of our nation.

The Harvard Gazette reported that sleep is the latest coronavirus casualty. Disrupted daily routines, worries about health and money, less time outdoors, sleep riddled with anxiety dreams, and minds that are unable to turn off have resulted in a nation of insomniacs. 

In fact, The Better Sleep Council reports that social media posts about sleep and health skyrocketed 1.3 times higher in March of 2020 than the same month in 2019, an 11 percent increase.

Plus, 41 percent of Americans reported stress in January 2020 compared to 53 percent in March 2020, due to COVID-19-related concerns. And experts suspect the numbers have grown during the shutdown. 

Worse, poor sleep results in more daytime fatigue, short term memory problems, and a weaker immune system. Consider an immune health test if you’re concerned about your immunity.

So just how can you get off this sleep disruptor merry-go-round Below, you'll find 5 therapist-approved ways to beat back insomnia during these strange sleep times.

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a treatment for chronic sleep problems based on a structured program that helps you identify and replace thoughts and behaviors surrounding sleep. A therapist works with you to come up with new habits that can promote good sleep and break bad patterns. CBT-I can get to the root of your sleep issue by helping you eliminate thoughts and worries that keep you up at night. 

Want to try a CBT-I-based sleep tip?

“If you have developed a sleep problem, you may be lying in bed 'trying to sleep' or convincing yourself that 'at least I’m resting' as you stare at the ceiling," says Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine. “However, this habit often leads to a problem. It begins to associate your bed with frustration and wakefulness rather than with relaxation and sleep.”

CBT-I teaches you not to go to bed until you are very drowsy, and to keep a basket by your bedside with relaxing things to do until you can drop off to sleep. “My bedside basket has books, magazines, crossword puzzles, and a drawing pad and so on,” she says. If you are awake at night for more than a few minutes, use your bedside basket to quiet your mind again. If you’re not back to sleep after 30 minutes, it's best to get up and go to a quiet, relaxing part of your home, returning to bed only when you’re truly drowsy again.

2. Thunder slumber

You’ve heard of white noise. Now there’s thunder slumber.

A growing population has found listening to nature recordings, like the pitter-patter of rainfall on a roof, is calming. Rain promotes a cozy, dark, shelter-like atmosphere that some people find soothing.

That's likely because the sound of rain is a white noise with a steady rhythm that some consider a lullaby. The sound of rain can also lull you into slumber. Research shows it creates alpha waves, which are brain waves that can clear your mind and prepare you for sleep. 

Here's a fun fact: If you think of rain as peaceful and tranquil, you’re considered a pluviophile. You may want to try an app like rainymood or a sound machine with nature sounds like rain, plus or minus thunder, to help get you the sleep you need.

3. Invent a calm space

Jennifer Barbera, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Ontario, Canada, suggests working on developing neural connections to a ‘calm place,’ which can help with relaxation. In order to do this, focus on slowing down your breath and envisioning a long white hallway.

“Picture walking slowly down that hallway towards a doorway that leads to a calm relaxing place,” Barbera says.

This is a place that if you could be anywhere, this is where you’d choose. Slowly notice what you see there, what you hear there, what it feels like (e.g., temperature, breeze, warmth, sun, etc.). Is there a smell? How does it make you feel to be there? Where do you feel it in your body? What word goes with this calm space?

“Then focus on memorizing all those details, as much as you can, almost like you are trying to lock it into the back of your mind,” says Barbera.

Practice envisioning this same calm place over time and you’ll be able to access a relaxed state anytime you need help sleeping.

4. Shower method 

“One of my favorite sleep aids is the shower method,” says LeNaya Smith Crawford, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist and registered play therapist in Atlanta. 

Letting warm water, on medium to high pressure, run on the back of your neck in the shower for at least five minutes allows your nervous system to calm down allowing you to sleep better. A systematic meta-analysis study found that a ten minute warm water shower 1-2 hours before sleep shortened time to sleep onset and improved sleep quality.

Don’t start too close to bedtime because you won’t want to heat yourself up right before sleep when your body is naturally cooling itself in preparation for slumber. Time your shower so you’re finished at least 1-2 hours before slipping under the sheets. And temperature matters. Stick with 104-107 degree Fahrenheit water.

5. Practice gratitude and note your impact

End the day with not only writing 1-3 things that you are grateful for but also one way that you have made a positive impact on something or someone that day, suggests Michelle Pargman, Ed.S., LMHC, licensed mental health counselor in Jacksonville, Fla.

It can be something small, such as having made the barista laugh when you got coffee that morning, or something larger—like you met your deadline at work and your boss was thrilled with the project.

“Putting this in practice may add a sense of contentment, accomplishment, and the positive benefits that come along with gratitude, including a positive and peaceful outlook,” Pargman says.

This can carry over to sleep where, instead of worrying about tasks left undone or the state of the country, you focus instead about the ways you’re making a difference—and all the little things you have to be grateful for.

Get the help you need

While the above approaches to getting a good night's sleep are time-tested solutions prescribed by experts, not every sleep disorder can be solved with calm noises and positive thinking. You may be experiencing health issues that make sleeping extremely difficult or even impossible, regardless of the self-care you painstakingly follow.

If you would like to speak with one of our board-certified physicians who specializes in sleep disorders, schedule a consult today.

Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson is a freelance health and finance content marketing writer and ghostwriter who has a decade of both journalism and content writing chops.