Sleep can be hard to come by, particularly in times such as these.
Falling asleep, staying asleep for a full night of rest, and just finding the time to get even a portion of the requisite 7-9 hours of sleep is challenging, to say the least. Right now, in the wake of Covid-19, we all have a lot on our minds and our plates, and I imagine that is a gross understatement, when it comes to you, as a healthcare professional. During this time, when you find yourself simultaneously holding the health, fears, and anxieties of your patients, elderly parents, children, spouses, friends, and communities (not to mention yourself), sleep comes at a premium, and it's often the first thing that is compromised
when we are under pressure.
At the same time, I want to remind you that sleep is absolutely, 100%, worth the investment, now more than ever. Studies show that during sleep our body makes the cytokines that target infection and inflammation- effectively creating an immune response. So, it stands to reason, that without at least the quality, if not quantity, of sleep that our bodies need, our immunity wanes and we are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus and slower to recover. And, of course, sleep also provides the much needed rest for our weary bodies and minds; while improving memory and brain function, emotional well-being, physical performance, stress reduction, quality of life, and physical safety. Essentially, sleep sets you up so that you will be more fit and ready to face the challenges of each day.
So, with that being said, here are a few quick tips for increasing the quality and quantity of your sleep. Tuck them into your resilience toolbox so you have them at the ready:
1. The Sleep Breath: As you settle in for sleep, begin to notice your breath. At the bottom of your exhale, hold your breath until your body naturally inhales. Repeat.
This practice slows down your heart rate while increasing oxygen in the bloodstream, taps into your parasympathetic nervous system, and quiets the mind. It is a simple practice that you can use when you can't fall asleep or if you find yourself waking in the middle of the night. (How to Breathe, by Ashley Neese)
2. The Frequency Following Response: As you lie down and prepare for sleep, simply relax and focus on your breath for 30 seconds. Then, begin to gently tap on your legs with your hands (as if on a bongo drum) to the speed of a ticking stopwatch. As you tap, breathe in for a count of 4, then out for a count of 4. After 3-4 of these deep breaths, keep the breaths going and begin to slow down the speed of your tapping...slow it down, down, down. Continue for 3 minutes. (How To Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep | Jim Donovan | TEDxYoungstown, YouTube)
3. Naps: If and when you simply do not get the quality or quantity of sleep you need, there is good evidence that you can offset the negative effects of sleep deprivation with naps. Ideally, take two naps, morning and afternoon, for less than 30 minutes each. Or, alternatively, grab a 20 minute nap over the lunch hour. (Benefits of napping and an extended duration of recovery sleep on alertness and immune cells after acute sleep restriction. Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Jan;25(1):16-24)
“Even a soul submerged in sleep
is hard at work and helps
make something of the world.”