What to do if you’re not getting enough sleep

The end of Daylight Saving Time means an extra hour of shut-eye. But how can you get a good night’s sleep during something as unpredictable as a pandemic?

What to do if you’re not getting enough sleep

It’s time to fall back. With Daylight Saving Time (DST) coming to an end on November 1, most Canadians – except in DST-free regions like Saskatchewan – will turn their clocks back an hour. This means that as the days get shorter, we get back the hour of sleep we lost in the spring when we turned our clocks forward for DST.

The hour you get back may help you catch up on your sleep. But there’s still a more prominent issue: Many Canadians may not be getting enough sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, researchers found that the following factors led to increased sleep disturbances during the pandemic:

  1. Stress and anxiety.
  2. Changes to daily routines. (For example, waking up at a later time and not having to go into work or engage in social activities.)
  3. Reduced daylight exposure and staying indoors more than usual.

What’s more, researchers noted that prolonged sleep loss can lead to problems with your:

  • mental health (e.g. depression),
  • physical health (e.g. high blood pressure and diabetes), and
  • occupational health (e.g. injury or disability).

But even if you know you’re not getting enough sleep, the question remains: What can you do about it?

Why you’re not getting enough sleep

Dr. Charles Samuels, Medical Director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary, claims that, in many cases, poor sleep habits can be traced back to screen addiction.

“The bottom line is we don’t put our devices away,” he says. “We’re connected and plugged in right up to bedtime.”  

And it’s not just your device’s blue light that’s keeping you up. “Yes, there’s plenty of research that looks at blue light and its effects on circadian rhythms [our natural wake and sleep cycles],” Samuels says. “But we now have screen blockers on our devices, so we can’t always place all the attention there.”  

Instead, Samuels believes we must also look at our own bedtime behaviour. “Many adults and children stay up at all hours of the night, scrolling, browsing or streaming without noticing how much time has passed,” he says. “The longer they’re on their phones, the less time they have to actually sleep.” 

And, it doesn’t help that we’re living in the era of “doomscrolling” or “doomsurfing.”  That’s when you’re scrolling through bad news, even though it’s stressing you out.

In an interview with Lumino Health, Toronto-based psychologist Nicole McCance stated that many of her patients tend to scroll on their phones at night before going to bed. This causes them to stay up later than they intended to, resulting in fewer hours of sleep. “Doomscrolling can keep you up much longer at night because you lose track of time while you’re scrolling,” she explains.

Tips for better sleep

How can you improve your sleep routine and prioritize sleep time over screen time? Samuels offers these expert tips:

  1. Make time for sleep as you would any other activity. Sleep is just as important to health as nutrition and exercise, says Samuels. So why not put it in your to-do list just as you would a fitness routine or a trip to the grocery store? Set up a regular time to go to bed and stick to it.
  2. Cut back on screen time one hour before bed. Be sure to disconnect from your devices or screens when it’s close to bedtime. This way, you’re less likely to continue a scrolling or streaming session for hours on end. Replace the urge to reach for your phone with more relaxing activities like meditation or taking a bath. If you have kids, set an example for them and make sure they’re not plugged in late at night as well.
  3. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol. A cup of Joe or a glass of red wine might have positive health effects in small doses, but when consumed in larger amounts, they can disrupt your sleep routine. “Limit caffeine to one or two cups of coffee a day in the morning and reduce alcohol consumption at night,” advises Samuels.
  4. Know how much sleep you really need and catch up. To maintain good health, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, which adds up to 50 to 60 hours per week. Children require even more snooze time. The Public Health Agency of Canada encourages kids (ages five to 13) to get nine to 11 hours of sleep and teens (ages 14 to 17) to clock in eight to 10 hours of shut-eye. “If you know that you and your family aren’t getting enough sleep, make time for it and catch up,” says Samuels. The hour you get back after DST ends might even help a little.
    • Read more: How can I get my child to sleep?

Plus, research done on behalf of the Canadian Sleep and Circadian Network also recommends the following tips to manage sleep disturbances during the pandemic:

  • Keep a regular time for sleep, meals, work and social contacts. These activities are important time cues that help maintain your sleep schedule.
  • Get as much daylight exposure as possible. Turn on the lights, open the curtains or go outside if possible. These small things can all help to regulate your circadian rhythm.
  • If sleep does not come within 15–20 min, go to another room and engage in quiet activities (like reading). You can return to bed only when you’re ready to sleep.

What do you do if you can’t fall asleep?

What happens if you’re putting in the time and effort but can’t seem to doze off? “If you’re having restless or disruptive sleep, then you may have a sleep disorder,” says Samuels. “In which case, you should see a doctor or a health-care provider for help.”

While there are many types of sleep disorders, Samuels says the most common ones are insomnia, snoring and sleep apnea. “These kind of sleep disturbances can be detrimental to one’s health and require medical attention.”