Peaceful woman sleeping in bed in duvet cover

Struggling to sleep? It’s not easy to relax at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic, but there are some techniques that can help, as we discover…

Sleep is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, but sometimes the simple act of falling asleep can feel like an impossible task.

Nationwide, people are reporting fitful sleep and more vivid, stress-related dreams since the outbreak of COVID-19. Plus, prescriptions to treat insomnia are on the rise.

All of which isn’t great news for our emotional and physical health. “Sleep is your life support system,” says Max Kirsten, founder of The Sleep Coach. “It helps every cell in your body and brain to renew and to be ready again for another day. It also increases your immunity.”

If you, like many of us, are struggling to bank an undisturbed eight hours, we have some advice. Read on for our six expert-backed tips to help you fall – and stay – asleep.

1) Stick to a routine

With schools and offices closing, many of us have lost our normal routines, with one in three Brits saying they no longer have to set an alarm to get up. While this isn’t all bad news (according to sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, the lockdown has given us the chance to construct our days around our natural rhythm), it also means that daily patterns of life have been disrupted. This, in turn, disrupts sleep.  

To help with this, “try and stick to a routine and remember to keep your body and brain active during the day,” says Dr Stanley. The other big thing, he adds, is not to “lie in for hours, no matter how tempting it is, as your sleep will suffer.”

2) Exercise

Open your windows, go for a run or a walk and expose yourself to sunlight as much as possible, say experts. Working out will tire you out and help you get a deeper sleep and doses of natural daylight regulate your body clock.

When it comes to the style of your activity, aerobic exercise is particularly effective in helping to reduce insomnia symptoms – but don’t expect immediate results. Research suggests that the benefits of exercise kick in over time, so be patient.

3) Watch your diet

Experts recommend eating your last meal at least three hours before going to bed and making sure this is a mix of complex carbs and protein (a recent study showed that eating a diet rich in fibre and protein leads to deeper sleep). And when it comes to caffeinated drinks, don’t drink coffee in the afternoon, no matter how tired you are, as it can stimulate your brain and delay falling asleep.

4) Try warm milk

It’s an age-old cure for insomnia, but studies show that drinking warm milk is effective in reducing stress and can soothe the brain before sleep.

Another good solution is herbal teas, such as chamomile, which include the antioxidant apignenina compound that binds to certain receptors in your brain that may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.

5) Have an electrical sundown

Another thing that we are all guilty of is checking our digital devices for social media and What’sApp updates through the evening – all of which stimulates our minds.

To help against this, 30 minutes before bed, put devices away. And if that seems like too much of a challenge, try setting your device to ‘night mode’ to reduce brightness. This is less disruptive to your sleep schedule and helps prevent disturbances in your biological clock.

6) Meditate

Studies suggest that meditation can be a great tool in the battle against stress-related insomnia and sleep troubles, as it improves your relaxation response and also enhances control of your autonomic nervous system, which effects how easily you wake up.

Exercise is one way to getting a better night’s sleep, and it can also help with your mental health. When you relax and improve your mental health, you often sleep better. Find out why exercise is key to keeping your body and mind healthy