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Of pandemic and sleepless nights

Srinagar: Neinder cha deizmeich (My sleep has gone to dogs), Neindere chane yiwaan kihin (Sleep has become elusive), Mei cha bekaraari (I am restless), Dil chu hetemete pareshaan (I am worried for no apparent reason)

When times are difficult, sleep is usually the first casualty. We lie in the bed, toss about, sigh and stretch hoping against hope that sleep will slide over the tired eyelids, and spare us a few moments from the all-consuming guilt and anxiety that throbs against our head and squeezes the racing heart. The Covid-19 pandemic has had the rare distinction of being a time when almost everyone can relate to this atmosphere of anxiety. From re-reading the newsfeed on the increasing caseload to late-night mobile phone scrolling to sweat-inducing Covid nightmares, our sleep pattern is definitely not going the way it used to.

“Sleep is a vital physiological process required for maintaining physical and mental homeostasis. It is well-established in the literature that there is a bidirectional association between sleeping behaviors and psychiatric disorders. The negative impact of sleep deprivation on mental health conditions further increases during stressful events, such as natural disasters and epidemic/pandemic conditions,” A psychiatrist at Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS) said.

During previous pandemic conditions, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) pandemic in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) pandemic in 2015, significantly high rates of stress related disorders along with insomnia and sleep disorders have been observed among individuals affected by the pandemic.

While we might not pay much attention to routines of sleep in Kashmir, and consider it an attribute of infancy and childhood, adults require a sleep routine as much as children. Good health – mental and physical is premised around the necessity of a sound sleep cycle and routine, and it is hara-kiri to ignore it.

Why adults need nighttime routines too

A recent study in Scientific Reports found that adults need consistent sleep routines to get quality sleep and achieve overall health and wellbeing just as much as children.

Bedtime routines for adults can prevent insomnia and, for many people, provide a designated time for much-needed self-care and reflection. But how will you know what is the best bedtime routine? That is a million-dollar question, and here lies the answer: 

The best bedtime routine for adults

If you don’t have a bedtime routine now’s a great time to start one. Here are seven elements of a great nighttime routine to help you transition smoothly into deep, restorative sleep every night.

Cut off on nicotine, and caffeine

Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, so they can make it more difficult to fall asleep. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends avoiding caffeine, and nicotine for at least four hours before bed. If you can, try to only have caffeinated beverages in the morning or afternoon, rather than the evening.

Have a light snack or a warm drink 

Try not to have a large meal within 2 hours of your bedtime, as digesting it can keep you awake. But don’t go to bed on an empty stomach either as your hunger could wake you up in the night.

If your stomach starts growling before bed, eat a light snack. Dieticians recommend cheese and a few grapes, an apple with peanut butter, or berries rather than desserts since sugar can keep some people awake.

Having a warm drink can also help. Many have calming and detoxifying properties, which is why they have been traditionally consumed before bed for centuries in cultures all over the world. You could brew a cup of herbal tea or make a glass of warm water with lemon. Some people also enjoy warm milk before bed. As long as it isn’t sugary, or caffeinated, you can end the day with any warm beverage you like. Just make sure you don’t drink so much liquid that you have to go to the bathroom during the night.

Lower the temperature in your bedroom

Research has shown that temperature is actually one of the most important factors in achieving quality sleep. As a result, one way to prepare yourself for sleep is by turning down the thermostat. We sleep best when we’re cool but not cold. Sleep experts recommend keeping your bedroom about 65 degrees to best align with your natural circadian rhythms.

If you live in a warm place, you might find that having a fan on during the night helps keep your bedroom more comfortable. Alternatively, you could use lighter bedding or sleep accessories with cooling properties.

Turn off electronic devices 

Avoiding screens before bed is common advice from sleep experts because the blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and laptops can ruin restful sleep. Blue light actually suppresses our body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep, and pushes back our internal clock. For thousands of years, people spent their evenings in darkness. Our bodies adapted to this schedule, which is why electronic blue light is damaging to sleep.

Blue light exposure can have long-term impacts on our health as well. Studies have found a correlation between high blue light exposure and retina damage, obesity, heart disease, and even cancer.

You should ideally avoid screens — yes, that includes your phone; stop doomscrolling — for about 2 hours before bed. If that feels unrealistic, aim for a half hour. Even small amounts of screen-free relaxation before you go to sleep will help you rest more deeply. Some sleep experts also recommend keeping your phone out of reach from your bed to limit the temptation to check it during the night.

Develop a relaxing evening ritual 

Find a calming evening activity that you enjoy doing — whether it’s yoga, journaling, reading, prayer, or spending unplugged, bonding time with family or pets — and make it a habit. By consistently building time into your evening to do this activity, your body will begin to associate it with sleep, making falling asleep easier.

Make a to-do list for tomorrow 

One of the most common reasons people struggle to fall asleep is anxiety. If you find your mind racing when trying to fall asleep, considering jotting down a to-do list. Research shows that just writing down what we need to do the next day can alleviate the cognitive impact of unfulfilled tasks, leaving us calmer, happier, and more efficient. Just make sure you write your list on paper, rather than a phone or computer, and when you’re done set it aside rather than trying to tackle any tasks before bed.

Take a warm shower or bath

Taking a warm shower or bath 1-2 hours before bed can help prepare your body for sleep. Not only does it relax your muscles, but it also lowers your core body temperature by bringing heat to the surface, which can lead to better sleep, according to University of Texas researchers.

Create a bedtime routine for better sleep

Developing a bedtime routine can soothe anxiety and make you happier. It’s also one of the easiest ways to improve sleep and achieve deeper rest. Our bodies thrive on consistency, so taking the time for an activity you enjoy each night, planning for the next day, and turning off screens is a fantastic investment in your health. Start tonight and you’ll be sleeping better in no time.