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A study from the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Centre for Population Change at Southampton University has found that the number of Brits suffering sleep loss caused by worrying rose from one in six to one in four as a direct result of the pandemic, so it’s no wonder we are all exhausted during the day. Express.co.uk chatted to the in-house Sleep Expert at Emma, Dr Verena Senn, to find out how to get a great night’s sleep during lockdown.
Why can’t I sleep?
According to Dr Senn, the number one reason we’re all feeling so tired during the day is because of poor sleep quality.
Interrupted sleep or lack of sleep is probably caused by loneliness and lack of social interaction.
Dr Senn explained being lonely can “lead to higher levels of stress” and this then triggers a spike in the hormone cortisol.
The sleep expert said: “Cortisol is known for being part of our fight-or-flight response, keeping us alert and ready whilst high levels are in our systems.”
So with cortisol spiking, this can create trouble for those wanting to fall asleep and can also “increase the likelihood of having an interrupted sleep.”
Dr Senn also revealed loneliness can contribute to feeling stressed, or anxious explaining: “We’re also beginning to understand that the brain and body perceive loneliness and social isolation as a serious threat, similar to how our bodies react to any harmful external factor.
“It seems that loneliness puts us on high alert, which interferes with our bodies ability to wind down and relax.”
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How to sleep
The solution to a sleepless night caused by loneliness is to up your levels of social interaction.
Dr Senn said: “Make sure you take time out each day for some form of social interaction. Those living alone should look to meet people at least once a week, as well as carving time out for those important calls.
“Yes, Zoom fatigue is real, but so too is the danger of a lack of social interaction and humans’ brains are literally wired to connect.”
She also added there are some brilliant UK initiatives and organisations to help support those who are suffering with loneliness, including Tackling Youth Loneliness, Campaign to End Loneliness, WaveLength and The CO-OP Foundation’s Belong. The NHS also provides a portal complete with resources to help anyone suffering from loneliness, social isolation and those currently shielding.”
There are a number of other things you can do to improve your sleep quality.
Dr Senn said it is important to de-stress in the evening to ensure we start the next day fresh and break the cycle.
If you’re finding it difficult to sleep, you shouldn’t get worked up about it.
Dr Senn explained: “If you cannot get to sleep at night due to stress, try not to fret over it too much. Doing so will only increase your stress levels, increase your cortisol and activate your sympathetic nervous system, continuing that never-ending cycle. Just know that you will drift off eventually.”
Don’t lay there with your eyes clenched shut if you’re wide awake, try and distract yourself in order to doze off.
Dr Senn said: “If you feel you’re too focused on getting to sleep, take yourself out of your room and read a book, but make sure you keep the light dim and it’s a physical copy, otherwise blue light emitted from your e-reader will suppress the production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
“Also, you don’t want to read anything too gripping, but enough to take your mind off of things.”
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You don’t have to read something, you could always just listen to something mildly distracting.
Dr Senn said: “This varies from person to person, but it could be low white noise, an audiobook read by a soothing voice or even some relaxing music.
“For many, something that they have listened to many times before is enough to distract their focus from their thoughts, but not too thrilling to keep them wide-awake.
“But no matter what, take stock in the fact that you will eventually drift off, ready for whatever the world has to throw at you.”
Whether you’re an avid meditator or hate the idea of it, you should give it a go if you’re really struggling to sleep.
Dr Senn said: “Guided meditation has been proven to help positively impact sleep issues, lowering the heart rate by activating the parasympathetic nervous system – the counterpart of our fight or flight response – and is an age-old technique to help relax the mind and body.
“Of course, meditation isn’t a fix-all, rapid solution; you can’t meditate minutes before bed and expect to doze off.”
No matter how cold it is outside, never let your home overheat before bedtime.
Dr Senn explained: “As tempting as it may be to sleep in a snug warm room, it’s actually counterintuitive.
“Cooling our bodies down at the end of the day is a key part of winding our bodies down for sleep. Our body core temperature fluctuates throughout the day, peaking in the afternoon and through the early morning hours.
“The optimal bedroom temperature is around 15.5-19°C, so keep that thermostat down or off. I’d suggest setting a timer to heat up your home for when you wake up; helping you not only sleep better, but also saving money on your energy bills.”
What you eat can determine how well you sleep, and there are a few foods that will help you fall asleep more quickly.
Dr Senn said: “It may sound odd at first, but there are foods which can actually lull you into a deeper, more restful sleep: among these are eggs, kiwis and nuts.
“That’s because these protein-rich foods contain a small amount of an amazing amino acid known as tryptophan.
“Tryptophan is a precursor of other important molecules in your body, including melatonin- the sleep-inducing hormone.
“By helping your body to produce more melatonin, tryptophan can help you better regulate your circadian rhythm (our internal clock), helping you in dozing off into a well-needed rest.
“If that wasn’t enough, foods rich in tryptophan can also help your body regulate its core temperature; an important factor considering our temperature needs to drop roughly 1-2C to enjoy a good night’s sleep.
“A few kiwis or a handful of peanuts in the evening will help your body produce melatonin; but make sure you don’t eat too close to bedtime as the later you eat, the harder it is on your body to digest!”
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