How to sleep well during the confinement?

What about you, how are you sleeping during the confinement?

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In order to contain the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19, confinement has been imposed in major parts of the world. If confinement is urgently required to fight the virus, several side effects exist. During the last few weeks, a lot of people have told me about their sleeping disruptions. This new and unprecedented situation of confinement has led to three major categories of sleeping disruptions:

-your sleep is impaired because of a desynchronization of your sleep-wake rhythm. Your bedtimes and wake-up times are erratic, you often snack throughout the day and finally your sleep-wake rhythm is totally desynchronized from the biological patterns regulated by your biological clock. An overall sensation of fatigue is generally present;

-your sleep is impaired because of a high level of pandemic-induced anxiety. Recent studies on the effects of confinement in China have shown, unsurprisingly, very high levels of anxiety, a difficulty to regulate emotions and a lot of post-traumatic stress cases when confinement exceeds 10 days. You follow very carefully the spread of the virus, often relayed by the media in a very anxiety-provoking manner. You dream more regularly, you experience more vivid and strange dreams;

-you sleep more than usual and take the opportunity to have a good night’s sleep. Without the various professional constraints, this might be the manifestation of a sleep debt you have cumulated over time and that you are currently making up for.

Whatever the category you belong to, here are some sleep hygiene strategies in order to restore your sleep during this period of confinement:

-Regularity: be careful to adopt a regular bedtime and especially a regular wake-up time, whatever the sleep quality you experienced throughout the night. Get dressed as if it were a usual work day. During the weekend, avoid sleeping in and set an alarm maximum two hours after your usual wake-up alarm. In doing so, you will be active enough throughout the morning, and you might even enjoy a restorative nap (30 min maximum) in the afternoon. You will also cumulate enough sleep pressure throughout the day and you will fall asleep easily at night. Above all, you will maintain a regular sleep-wake pattern day after day, night after night… We actually do not know how long the confinement will last!

-Physical activity: for an elite athlete who trains up to 30-35 hours per week, such a drastic reduction of diurnal activity may be problematic. During the confinement, be careful to exercise daily at least one hour, whilst being exposed to the sunlight if possible. Such regular physical activity favours deep and restorative night sleep.

-Light is the most powerful zeitgeber ('time giver' in German) to set the biological clock and biological patterns. Just after getting up, and during breakfast, expose yourself to sunlight or by default to light therapy (white or blue). Continue the exposition when possible throughout the day: even confined, your biological clock must be aware this is day time!

-having regular meal times (breakfast, lunch, dinner) is also an important zeitgeber, whereas the meal composition may favour your sleep quantity and quality. Dinner should be consumed at least two hours before bedtime, with high-glycaemic index carbohydrates in the plate, as well as tryptophan-rich food (e.g. chicken, turkey, pumpkin seeds). Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, precursor of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone! Alcohol, coca cola, energy drinks should be prohibited whereas coffee consumption should be limited up to noon.             

-limit exposition to media coverage of the coronavirus Covid-19 to maximum 30 min per day, and avoid checking it just before bedtime. The use of technologies (smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV) should cease at least one hour before bedtime, and the earlier the better!

-use a relaxation technique (reading, meditation, self-hypnosis, sophrology, etc.) during the hour leading up to bedtime. A hot shower, a foot bath, or a hot bath (40-42°C) also favour a fast sleep onset latency and improve sleep quality throughout the night.

-the perfect sleep environment: as dark as possible, with a temperature between 18 and 20°C, and as quiet as possible. The Covid-19 pandemic-induced confinement limits our motorized trips. This is a big change from our noisy and busy society. You just have to open your windows to appreciate the silence and the sound of nature. Use this time to make the most of a restorative and continuous sleep! Learn how to leave your connected watches, sensors and all their data in their right place, i.e. outside your bedroom…

These tips should allow you to find restorative sleep during the period of confinement. This period, as uncertain as it may be, is without delay an opportunity to make up for a potential sleep debt, to take up good habits that you will then stick to, and finally to prepare yourself as best as you can to exit the confinement and recover from this crisis!             

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.