If you’re finding your sleep is more interrupted than usual in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, you might be stressed. Sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo shares just how much stress and anxiety can contribute to waking up in the middle of the night and what you can do about it.
Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our new editorial series Sleep Well Wednesdays. Check back each week and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.
We live in uncertain times. A global pandemic, social distancing, and an uncertain job market can have a huge impact on our mental health. In fact, a new UK survey found that out of 17,452 individuals, 60 percent are moderately to extremely anxious during COVID19.
This can manifest in a variety of ways, but if you’re finding you’re waking up in the middle of the night more often than usual, good old stress and anxiety could be to blame. Don’t despair though, there are things you can do about it and many of them are simple adjustments.
Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone and is perhaps most known for fueling our fight-or-flight response. Back when humans were hunter-gatherers, cortisol would kick into gear when experiencing danger, giving the body a boost of energy (aka adrenaline) needed to escape predators.
But it also plays an important role in managing our sleep pattern. Studies of our circadian rhythm–that’s your body’s biological 24-hour clock–have shown cortisol levels naturally begin to increase between 2 and 3am.
The problem is that if you’re stressed or anxious, your cortisol levels are already above-average, and so, if you’re waking up halfway through the night, it’s a signal that your levels of cortisol are too high.
What can you do about it?
Avoid blue light
As much as possible, especially when it’s getting close to bedtime. Research indicates it enhances your levels of cortisol and therefore makes it more difficult to get to sleep.
This can be achieved in a few ways:
- Throughout the day, wear digital readers (blue light blockers for daytime), especially if, like most of us, you’re frequently looking at screens.
- In the evening, 100 percent blue light blocking glasses are the way to go, and if you absolutely need to look at your smartphone or laptop, see if it has a ‘nighttime’ setting which will reduce the amount of blue light emitted by the device and instead give the screen a yellowish tinge. Many of these can be put on automatic timers so you can set and forget.
Improve gut health
Emerging evidence notes the bidirectional link between your microbiome and sleep, indicating that improved gut health supports sleep and lessens fatigue. Another recent study found lacking sleep itself contributes to a significant drop in beneficial bacteria, perpetuating your sleeping problems.
So eat a diet rich in variety and look to incorporate foods with good bacteria and cultures in them, such as plain yoghurt, sourdough (which, incidentally, a lot of people have made during lockdown), or fermented products like kimchi or sauerkraut. Kombucha could also work.
The depression of your central nervous system, a natural consequence of alcohol as it is a sedative, means that once it wears off, you have an exaggerated rise in awakening hormones cortisol.
Clinically termed the ‘rebound effect’; this is exactly why you wake at 3am after a boozy night, even if you don’t usually.