After a year of lockdown, it’s natural to have concerns about how you’ll return to ‘real’ life. The idea that social contact will harm us and others has been burned into our psyche. Flipping the switch on that mindset won’t happen overnight.
While you may feel compelled to propel yourself back into action, Tielle Sleep Specialist, Dr Kat Lederle, recommends taking things at your own pace, especially if you’re planning a return to office life.
“Coronavirus has changed our daily routines and habits. While initially these will have created uncertainty and anxiety, lifestyle changes such as the absence of a daily commute and rise in remote working has led many to adopt new sleep-wake cycles that potentially work more intuitively with our natural body clock.
Our bodies are full of clocks that send signals at set times to keep our bodies working their best. For each of us there’s a perfect time to get up, eat or work. All these mini clocks are regulated by a master clock called the suprachiasmatic nuclei that keeps the body in tune with the 24-hour cycle of light and dark outside. Disrupting this clock will leave you feeling sluggish and sleepy to say the least.”
While we can all use alarm clocks and apps to dictate a sleep-wake cycle, Dr Kat says: “It’s best to follow a sleep schedule that fits your natural rhythm if you want the best night’s sleep. Understanding your chronotype – how your inner master clock syncs with the external world - can help you develop a routine that improves your sleep and subsequently, all aspects of your waking life.
As workplaces begin to open back up, many will be feeling anxious about having to adapt to new routines. If you’ve found a sleep pattern that works for you, now could be a good time to ask your employer for flexitime, rather than forcing your master clock to change. If you’re a ‘lark’ or morning person, you may be better starting your working day early. If you’re an ‘owl’ or evening person, you may prefer to start and end late. Having that flexibility could make a big difference to the quality of your work and life.”
Dr Kat also advises against jobs that don’t fit your chronotype. A ‘lark’ is never going to be cut out for night shifts! Likewise, an ‘owl’ won’t enjoy leaping out of bed at 5am.
If you do have to change into an earlier sleep-wake routine, Dr Kat recommends you start adjusting a few days in advance, as it can take time to reset your sleep. “While it’s light that tells your brain whether it’s night time or daytime, biologically it takes longer for that message to reach every cell. If you need to train your brain to wake earlier, ease yourself into the routine a few days beforehand by dimming the lights and slowing down earlier than normal before bedtime. Likewise, when you get up, pull open the curtains and let the light flood in as soon as you can.”
Dr Kat’s top tips for the best night’s sleep
- Identify your personal sleep window: How much sleep do you need and when do you sleep best? Stick to these times weekday and weekend to sleep better and more effectively recharge your energy.
- Spend time outdoors: Natural daylight helps your body clock know it is daytime and later when it is dark, it knows to promote sleep. It also boosts your mood.
- Do something you enjoy: Find some ‘me time’ during the day or evening to do something that helps you relax and switch off from work. Quality of time is more important than quantity.
- Me mindful of how much coffee you drink, cutting back if necessary, especially in the afternoon. Avoiding alcohol several hours before bedtime can also minimise sleep disruption.
You can read more about the best food for a good night’s sleep in Eat your way to a good night’s sleep with nutritionist, Libby Limon.
Dr Kat Lederle
Sleep specialist and chronobiologist, Dr Kat Lederle, translates scientific findings and proven therapeutic techniques into practical solutions for people with sleep problems. Kat is Tielle’s Sleep Specialist, the Founder of Somnia and author of Sleep Sense: Improve your Sleep, Improve your Health.