Opinion: 'Are you sleeping any better yet?'
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How are you sleeping? Better, I hope.
Early last summer, I wrote about the disruption many of us were experiencing with our slumber because of anxiety about the virus. Well, that was a long time ago. Since then, most people reading this column have been double vaccinated, and we are now embarking on a gradual return to more normal living.
So, I was quite surprised when talking to a woman I know – someone who is struggling with an illness which may, very sadly, kill her – to learn that her consultant had dismissed her complaints about insomnia as a pandemic problem.
"We all sleep badly now," he said.
But actually, that’s not true. I’ve asked around among friends, family, clients and colleagues, and the picture emerging from these conversations is that for many of us, sleep patterns are beginning to revert to what they were before the coronavirus struck.
And actually, this is what you would expect.
Generally, dependable sleep deserts us when we are more anxious than usual, or we feel threatened. Normally, it might be to do with a bullying boss. Or about our fears that we are not coping with work. Or when a relationship seems to be failing and we worry that we’re going to end up alone. And, as so many readers will know, reliable sleep flies out of the window for young mums, and also for carers of severely ill partners, because in both cases nature does its best to ensure they are constantly vigilant.
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So, there are always going to be people with complex situations which interfere with their sleep, but the good news is that there are reasons for optimism in those of us whose insomnia was induced by the pandemic.
There are a number of factors here. Obviously, the virus is no longer new, and we have grown accustomed to it. Vaccination has changed the level of threat; we know we can still catch it even if we are double vaxxed, but we also know that we’re unlikely to get it badly or to die from it. Additionally, we’re adjusting to the notion that we must learn to live with it. Covid-19 is the new influenza. And I don’t suppose many people have lost sleep over the possibility of succumbing to flu.
So, our mindset has altered, and this is probably why many of us are sleeping better.
But what if you’re not? What if, despite everything, your nights continue to be restless and unsatisfying. If this is the case, maybe you should review where you may be going wrong.
Here are some thoughts to help you.
Try to get thirty minutes of exercise most days.
Don’t watch complicated and frightening television programmes before bedtime; try a comedy or some music for the last half hour of the day.
Do what your granny used to do; finish the evening with a warm, milky drink and a hot bath.
Try not to nap in the day no matter how tired you are; better to save your tiredness for night-time.
Try not to panic if you wake early. Many of us went through months of simply never sleeping enough. And we got into the habit of believing that once we were awake there was no hope of more sleep. And of course, the more we thought that way, the more it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. But many individuals who experienced this phenomenon have found they’ve been able to alter it recently. A woman friend told me she has a new routine when she wakes too early. She goes to the loo, then returns to her bed, rearranges her pillows and puts on the radio but keeps the volume low. Then she closes her eyes and breathes deeply and does her best to relax. She says that she’s been able to fall asleep again on several occasions, for as much as an hour at a time.
Don’t regard decaffeinated beverages, or peppermint, fruit or camomile teas as wimpish or unmanly. I know lots of men who swear that caffeine doesn’t affect them and who routinely indulge in a strong coffee at the end of a late evening meal. But I also happen to know that several of them have periods of disturbed sleep. If this sounds like you, why not give the alternatives a try once in a while, and see if they make a difference?
Make sure your room is as dark as possible. If need be, invest in black out blinds or curtains.
There is no guarantee for any of us that we will sleep soundly all the time, and we shouldn’t get upset if we have a couple of nights here and there when it doesn’t go well. But most of us can improve our chances of a better night, by making simple changes. And we should do that, because few things in life cheer us up more than good quality, restorative slumber.
As ever, the Bard of Avon hit the nail on the head. He called sleep the ‘chief nourisher in life’s feast’. And who would argue with that?