It seems like every time you look at the television lately there’s something bad going on in the world. Whether that’s updates about the pandemic, mass shootings, police brutality, court hearings, celebrities promoting eating disorder behaviors, all of these subjects can affect your well-being.
It may seem self-explanatory that if bad things are going on in the news, then your sleep might suffer over that. Kristen Casey, a clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist, has noticed an uptick in insomnia symptoms, especially since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When we think about things we can’t necessarily control, our body responds in certain ways. Excessive worry or anxiety may provoke rumination, which is one of the major mechanisms in exacerbating anxiety. Anxiety keeps us up at night and may affect sleep quality,” Casey said.
In fact, anxiety (arousal) will inhibit you from a good night’s sleep, even if your circadian rhythm is set and your sleep drive is high. Therefore, it’s likely that this worry (whether we are aware of it or not) affects our sleep cycle.
But in today’s news climate, it’s unrealistic to suggest you can cut off information entirely. We know we should avoid doomscrolling, but sometimes we can’t help it. So the question becomes: How do you sleep when everything is bad? Here’s some advice:
First, rule out other health conditions
While the bad things going on around you and in the news might be affecting your sleep, there could also be underlying medical conditions that you’ll want to rule out first.
“Anxiety and depression are commonly associated with difficulty sleeping and thus should always be part of an evaluation,” said Dr. Kristin Gill, a board-certified psychiatrist and faculty member at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “Other medical conditions that can cause difficulty sleeping that your doctor may want to evaluate you for include (but are not limited to) heart failure, hyperthyroidism, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.”
Wake up at the same time each day
Casey recommended developing a consistent sleep routine to keep your circadian rhythm on track.
“Focus on a wake time rather than a bedtime because we have more control over waking up to an alarm rather than hoping to be tired by a certain time each night,” she said. “This is helpful because when our body has a consistent cycle, then it helps with melatonin secretion at the same time each day. Then we naturally become tired and know what to expect from our bodies day to day.”
Practice realistic habits that may help reduce stress
When bad things are going on around us, that can increase anxiety symptoms and keep you up at night.
“This is probably the most important factor in treating chronic insomnia because anxiety will keep us up all night even if we are physically exhausted,” Casey said. “Try practicing stress management techniques during the day at neutral times, such as diaphragmatic breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, which will help us manage this anxiety if it pops up at night.”
If that doesn’t help you, then create a designated “worry time.” It might sound weird, but it can help you compartmentalize your stress. Choose a time each day to worry, long before bed. This way it’ll help prevent worry and anxiety from creeping back up when you want to go to sleep.
Don’t use the bed for anything other than sleep and sex
Whether you’re working from home or watching television on your bed, it’s time to change the location. Try sitting on the couch, at the kitchen table or at a coffee shop.
“By doing several other activities in your bed, a negative association can be created between being awake (and often feeling stressed out) and your usual place for sleep,” said Sarah Silverman, a holistic sleep doctor and behavioral sleep medicine specialist. “In other words, instead of your bed being a place for peaceful slumber, it becomes a cue for being awake.”
Turn off your phone notifications an hour before bed
It’s natural to want to stay informed. Tuning out completely can also come with its own set of guilt or mental health struggles. However, your brain isn’t meant to absorb this much traumatic information.
Set boundaries by turning off your push notifications or news alerts at least an hour before bed. This can help you mentally unwind so you’re not focusing on the news right as you crawl between the sheets. It also is a reasonable amount of time to step away from the doom and gloom. The information will be there when you get up.
Move your body during the day
Exercise is important to overall health and can also help you sleep. You don’t have to do a vigorous fitness routine to benefit from it ― walking, dancing, running, hula hooping, etc. will suffice.
“Increasing your overall level of physical activity has been shown to improve the quality of sleep,” Silverman said. “Not to mention, exercise reduces stress and muscle tension, which can influence how you fall asleep, too.”
Take stock of what you’re eating, drinking or taking right before bed
You may also be decreasing your chances of getting a good night’s sleep by what you put into your body, such as food or medication, so it’s a good idea to evaluate those.
“The most common medications and substances that could be keeping you up at night include caffeine, alcohol, glucocorticoids (“steroid” medications), stimulants, diuretics and bronchodilators (used to treat asthma and COPD),” Gill said.
If medication is the culprit, talk to your doctor about the best time to take it or if you can switch to something that doesn’t influence your sleep.
Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep
You might think that lying in bed will help you fall asleep, but it’ll actually do the opposite.
“If you are in bed, and you cannot sleep, get up and reset. Staying in bed awake may actually program your bed to send a ‘wake’ signal instead of the desired ‘sleep’ signal you want,” said Michael A. Grandner, an instructor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and a sleep expert at Oura.
Grandner suggested getting up after about 20 to 30 minutes, but if you start to feel frustrated about not sleeping, that is also a cue to get up and try to go back to sleep again in a little while.
If you adjusted your lifestyle and still can’t sleep, then it might be worth it to visit a sleep doctor or insomnia expert for professional guidance and counsel.
“General sleep advice is great if you already have good sleep habits and want to optimize your sleep, but if you have insomnia or a primary sleep problem, general sleep tips may not be helpful, and it’s important to talk with your doctor or see a sleep specialist if you’re struggling to sleep well on a regular basis,” Silverman said.