Slate reports on guidance everyone can follow to minimize sleep disruption during times of uncertainty.
“Sleep hygiene” is a set of practices—part of the wider field of sleep medicine—that anyone can employ to get a better night’s rest. The basic tenets are probably familiar: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Go outside and get some sunlight in the mornings, and in the evening, spend an hour relaxing before bed.
But even if you adhere to these basics, it’s still possible to have trouble falling asleep, particularly when your anxiety is high. And sleep is vitally important right now, as a key part of keeping your immune system strong and generally staying healthy. So we called on some experts for their advice on how to further improve your sleep hygiene. Brandon Peters, a neurologist and sleep physician at Virginia Mason Medical Center, emphasizes that the important thing is to minimize the amount of time spent in bed not sleeping. The bedroom should ideally be a place reserved for sleep, so it’s best if you’re not eating or watching TV there. You should go to bed feeling sleepy, even if that means delaying bedtime, so that your transition to sleep can occur more quickly. Similarly, if you wake up during the night and spend more than 15–20 minutes awake, he recommends that you go into another room and do a relaxing activity.
It’s also important to identify what Charles Czeisler, the chief of the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, calls sleep stealers. Phones, tablets, and other light-emitting devices are most definitely sleep stealers: Using them before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep and can shift your circadian rhythms, causing you to be more tired in the morning when you wake up. Peters suggests that, before bedtime, you leave your phone in a different room, eliminating the possibility of notifications disrupting your sleep and removing the temptation to check your phone if you wake up in the middle of the night. If you currently rely on your phone’s alarm to wake up, an old-school alarm clock is a good investment, as it will allow you to get some distance from your phone at night.