Could tackling sleep wellness be the key to avoiding more serious health issues post-pandemic?
Catching 40 winks is easier said than done these days. With mounting evidence that the pandemic has disrupted people’s sleep patterns — thanks to screen fatigue, sedentariness and anxiety — a good night’s sleep is now less simple than laying your head on a pillow and closing your eyes.
Research from King’s College London revealed that sleep quality for two-thirds of Britons has deteriorated since the first lockdown. According to Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s, this shows just how unsettling the pandemic and lockdown measures have been for a large proportion of us. “[The Covid-19 crisis] is affecting people very differently depending on their circumstances, and that includes the most fundamental aspects of life, such as sleep.”
Meanwhile, a global study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealed that those suffering from insomnia post-pandemic were experiencing higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those who’d experienced it pre-pandemic, or not at all.
Sleep wellness is important
Many accept sleep struggles as our ‘new normal’, but sleep deprivation shouldn’t be taken lightly. Beyond its obvious effects on energy levels, mood and attention spans, more serious ramifications include a weakened immune system, higher risk of heart problems, diabetes, strokes and even possibly dementia. It’s why the so-called sleep economy, with all manner of sleep-aiding products and services, has gradually been proliferating both physical and virtual retail spaces over the past five years — with the global sleeping aids market tipped to be worth $120 billion (£100 billion) by 2030.
Experts are now addressing sleep as a specific element of wellbeing. Travel company Inspire Group gave staff two hours off each day to rest in September 2022, while Gympass is offering a sleep tracker to employees. Sleep consultants like Charli Davies offer tailored programmes that include deep-dives into someone’s lifestyle to understand where changes could be made to influence their sleep.
She recommends drinking more water and getting more sunlight, as well as keeping a journal to note down thoughts and feelings that can seem all-consuming in the middle of the night. But steer clear of meticulous tracking through apps, she warns, which can fuel the overthinking that disrupts sleep in the first place.
“You might wake up and think you slept well, but your tracker says you only got 10 minutes of deep sleep. Even if you feel refreshed, it can make you believe you hardly slept,” says Davies, who runs parental support organisation Do It Like a Mother, while helping clients struggling with sleep via her platform, Snuzzze.
Time to ditch the eight-hour rule?
Dr Katharina Lederle, founder of women’s specialist sleep consultancy Somnia and consultant sleep therapist with the Sleep School, thinks it’s time to ditch the eight-hour rule and the pressure to sleep well that people put on themselves. She says it’s important to reframe expectations around sleep, finding mechanisms to let go of thoughts that arise at night, and allow yourself to move on more readily from a poor night’s sleep, rather than dwelling on it.
“Allowing sleep to be a bit more fluid or flexible is OK. The key is to give yourself the opportunity to get sufficient sleep. Then if your body doesn’t take it, look with curiosity — not anxiety — at what’s going on,” says Dr Lederle.
Finding the sleep pattern that’s best for you can be tricky, but don’t despair; tomorrow night, you’ll get it right.