Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become more crucial than ever to get quality sleep. Even now, as many companies around the globe reopen for business, our days are filled with change and uncertainty, and sleep is there to comfort us. It centers us, offering an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on life every day. Sleep clears our minds for new ways of thinking.
In the midst of the challenges we’re all facing, sometimes going to sleep is the only thing we want to do! And that’s positive. It’s nature’s way of telling us to rest well and be well. The science on the subject is clear, showing unequivocally that sleep is vital to our well-being. It improves our ability to focus and sharpens our cognitive functions. It helps us stay calm and steady within, no matter what is going on outside us. Sleep is also a natural immunity booster, which is essential right now. Studies strongly suggest “that insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality, or irregular day-to-day timing of sleep may adversely affect immunity,” says Dr. Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Chicago who chairs the Sleep Number Scientific Advisory Board.
At Sleep Number, a survey (of the general population) with 1,000 participants conducted in April found that 55% of those polled were feeling more stressed than usual, while 58% of said they were getting less sleep than usual.
On the other hand, the data from Sleep Number 360® Smart Bed sleepers told a different story. While they also report feeling stressed, they are prioritizing quality sleep to help them cope. In fact, Sleep Number bed owners have gained between six to 17 minutes of restful sleep per night compared to this time last year, highlighting the desire to focus on sleep as an immunity booster during the pandemic. Research has shown those extra minutes can make a significant difference to our health, well-being, and our productivity — while also improving our ability to fight off a virus. An extra 15 minutes of quality sleep per night leads to 100 additional hours per year, which is meaningful.
Additionally, Sleep Number bed owners are showing more consistent sleep patterns since the start of the pandemic. According to our SleepIQ data, there is less of a discrepancy between weekday sleep/wake patterns versus weekend patterns (17 minutes now compared to 23 minutes prior to the pandemic). Science has shown that when sleep patterns are consistent, sleep quality improves overall. We’re thrilled that Sleep Number owners take these facts to heart and are experiencing the benefits.
It is exciting for us at Sleep Number to be able to provide higher quality sleep with our smart beds. Society understands the importance of sleep to their overall well-being, and now people are beginning to realize that what they sleep on matters. Prioritizing sleep is something everyone can do, and the payoff is tremendous, particularly during times of crisis.
Sleep is the foundation of both our physical well-being and mental resilience. At a time when our collective anxiety levels are at an all-time high, sleep plays a major role in reducing stress. When we’re asleep, our brains prune themselves of anxious thoughts, a process that can lower stress. Getting the right kind of zzz’s offers us much-needed advantages as we navigate this crisis. It supports us in becoming kinder and more thoughtful. Sleep stabilizes us, enabling us to be decisive and clear, so we can be more balanced in our reactions to our co-workers, our family members, and even the news. In short, being well-rested helps us to show up as the best version of ourselves.
We can’t always control our circumstances, however, we can make behavior changes and decisions to improve our sleep. What you do during the day impacts your night of sleep. Personally, I make sure I exercise, eat well, and have no caffeine after noon, which keeps my heart and breathing rate low and results in higher quality sleep. I also try to spend time in nature every day — it is the source of my serenity.
Here are my simple steps for sleeping well and creating helpful bedtime rituals during the pandemic and beyond.
Switch off devices an hour before you go to bed
Eliminate screen time (or at least reduce it) an hour before bedtime. It’s important because the blue light emitted from our gadgets suppresses melatonin production, which is essential for sleep. And don’t forget that the content we’re inundated with in the news can be unsettling and increase stress. While you’re limiting your news consumption before bed, try reading instead, or listening to relaxing music, as part of your wind-down routine.
Establish a regular nighttime and morning routine
One of the most meaningful steps you can take is to establish a consistent sleep routine. Science shows that routine helps give your brain a message that it’s time to sleep. So as much as possible, try to wake up and go to bed around the same time every day — including weekends. That said, giving yourself about an hour’s range is helpful; you’re more likely to be successful if you’re not excessively rigid about sleep and wake times. And in the morning, sit by a window or go for a walk to take in some natural light. Morning daylight exposure provides additional energy for your day.
Avoid caffeine after noon
Our research at Sleep Number has shown that people who don’t drink caffeine after noon benefit from 13 more restful minutes of sleep a night. Studies have found that caffeine enters the bloodstream rapidly — and stays there for longer than you might expect. Even if you’re able to fall asleep easily, caffeine can interrupt brain signals that promote sleep quality. If going without your afternoon or evening coffee fix is hard for you, dial back your caffeine intake gradually. You could start by setting a 3 p.m. cutoff, for example.
Get some movement every day
Along with sleeping well, consistent exercise works wonders for our mental and physical health. Try to fit in some kind of workout routine for at least 20 minutes a day. It could simply be a walk, a short run, or even some stretches or strengthening exercises at home. The important thing is to make sure you move! Research shows that by exercising regularly, you’ll benefit from seven more minutes of restful sleep a night. As Dr. Van Cauter says: “If you have more activity in the daytime, particularly physical activity, it will help you sleep despite anxiety.” Personally, I used to like to exercise (often with weights, or cardio on the treadmill) as soon as I got up. With the increased intensity since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I moved my workout to the end of my workday. I found this helped me transition to a calmer evening.
Set yourself up for comfort
What you sleep on matters, and having the right bed is important. Make sure it is comfortable and supportive for your individual needs. You should look forward to bed, knowing it will give you the deep, restorative sleep you need. At Sleep Number, our 360® Smart Beds effortlessly adjust throughout the night, sensing every movement to keep individuals (and couples) comfortable for their highest quality of sleep. We are obsessed with individuality!
It may sound trivial, but research shows that people who make their beds are more rested than those who don’t do this simple task. A bed that’s been made is much more inviting. It makes the room feel serene and calm; it’s like a mental pathway or bridge to a good night’s sleep.
It’s also very important to have the right pillow to support your head, neck, and spinal alignment. If you haven’t been fitted for a pillow, go to a Sleep Number store and do so. It is a complimentary service and a great opportunity to better understand how to support your body for the best night’s sleep. You should also love your sheets, comforter, and pajamas! Invest in quality, as all of these components will set you up for a wonderful and peaceful experience in your own sleep sanctuary. Quality sleep is life-changing.
Express your gratitude
Everyone who’s familiar with my personal approach to life knows that I am a big believer in the power of gratitude. It can’t be underestimated. Studies have found that people who express gratitude tend to be more fulfilled. I begin and close my day by reflecting on what I am grateful for in my life, like my family, my health, and my work. When I open my eyes in the morning to see the promise of the sunrise, I feel hope, peace, and gratitude. The skyline is magical and feels like a gift every morning. And equally, I am thankful when I look up into the sky every night, at the stars, planets, and the moon. There’s a sense of wonder and curiosity, evoking all the possibilities of life, and stories yet to be told. It’s calming to think that life has more to offer beyond our present circumstances. Those reflections help me drift off to sleep and prepare for the future.
Practicing mindfulness — prayer, meditation, or breathing exercises — can help you relax and fall asleep. It can also help you fall back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night. Many people struggle with worrying, and right now there are so many additional concerns about health, finances, jobs, and racial injustice. Amidst so much uncertainty, mindfulness helps us to be present for the life we do have today, right now — the only reality that we are certain of.
This article first appeared on Thrive Global.