Arguably, the conversation around mental health has never been more nuances or more important. September 9 marked R U OK? Day in Australia, and as such we wanted to cast a particular spotlight on the issues that are affecting our current experience and why it's important to check in on the people around you, and yourselves. And not just on this one day.
We've shared out list of mental health resources, offered a look into pandemic fatigue and shared some insights from our friends at The Indigo Project and Pinterest. Now, here, we look at one of the often neglected pillars of mental wellbeing - sleep. While entirely necessary for overall public health, it's undeniable that the lockdowns experienced across all parts of Australia have been mentally challenging - and these have often had an impact on our ability to sleep. In fact, lockdown insomnia is a common and prevailing issue many have been dealing with.
With this in mind, we reached out to Australia’s leading sleep expert, Olivia Arezzolo for some answers around what's causing our lockdown insomnia and what we can do about it. Below, she delves into the impacts of a bad night's sleep and the self care tips that can help.
What is insomnia?
Frankly speaking, it’s the chronic inability to sleep properly, whether that manifests in being unable to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep deeply.
Is there any one cause?
Definitely not! Sleep is multifactorial - we need to consider psychology, physiology, nutrition, and sleep hygiene at minimum. Right now, stress, anxiety, and blue light are the biggest factors driving insomnia statistics up.
Is there a reason that some of us may be experiencing insomnia during lockdown?
Yes - largely due to stress. Anxiety is the self reported leading cause of sleeplessness, which has increased through lockdown. Further to that, we are more reliant on tech, and have fewer barriers to using it in the evening - e.g. in the past we may have gone out to socialise, now, in the evening, we are more likely to watch tv. As blue light suppresses your sleepy hormone (melatonin), which usually helps us fall and stay asleep, this spells disaster for our shut eye routine.
What are the impacts of a bad night's sleep in the short term but also the long term?
After one night of insufficient sleep, the stress hormone cortisol rises by 37% - this leaves us feeling anxious and wired. The longer we are sleep deprived, the more elevated our cortisol becomes, and eventually, we burn out and have a constant feeling of being ‘switched on’. Growth hormone is compromised too - 70% of which is typically produced in slow wave sleep. This promotes muscle recovery and collagen synthesis - which is the exact reason after insufficient sleep, you ‘look’ and feel tired: dull, lifeless skin and fine lines start to appear; and your energy dwindles. Beta amyloid too - a neurotoxin which contributes to brain fog and memory loss - increases by 5% after one night of insufficient sleep. Thus - mentally, emotionally, physically - sleep is key.
Is there anything we can do to improve our ability to sleep?
Absolutely. I recommend my signature bedtime routine.
Block out blue light 2 hours before bed: An academic paper found regular room light, from dusk to dawn suppressed melatonin by 71%. Less melatonin = you find it harder to fall and stay asleep.
Introduce aromatherapy, particularly lavender. A clinical trial found lavender improved sleep quality by 45%, and reduced anxiety by up to 59%.
Set a goodnight phone alarm 60 minute before bed, initiating a time when you are to disconnect from all tech. I recommend labelling the alarm “SLEEP BETTER”.
Have a shower and practice a nightly skincare routine: the drop in core body temperature as you emerge from a steamy shower into a cooler bathroom is a cue for melatonin synthesis. Skincare practice is important here too - it signifies us making self care a priority. As of late, I’ve personally been using Edible Beauty’s Sleeping Beauty bundle - which includes a purifying night mask and a rose quartz crystal mask. Two really wonderful products that induce a sense of calm, so find what works for you.
Have a magnesium based sleep supplement to relax your muscles: a clinical trial found magnesium could reduce anxiety by 31%.
Read: a study by University of Sussex found reading could reduce stress by 68% - and the anti-anxiety effects eventuated in just six minutes.
Use an eye mask: protecting you from any form of sleep sabotaging blue light while you sleep.
Do you have any other tips on staying well in lockdown?
Look at this time as an opportunity to go inwards, slow down, practice more self care, and be kinder to yourself. Now, more than ever, there is no need to rush.