Always-on work culture, pinging phones, Netflix’s ‘watch next episode’ button, and general life stress all made getting a good night’s sleep difficult before the pandemic. Then Covid struck. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the virus, you may have fallen victim to a nationwide epidemic of pandemic disruption-related insomnia.
The pandemic has ruined our sleep.
“In one study conducted across 49 countries in March and April 2020, 40 percent of people said their sleep was worse than before the pandemic. Participants’ use of sleeping pills increased by 20 percent,” reports a horrifying but hardly surprising Vox article detailing the virus’s toll on the nation’s sleep.
We are nearing year two of the coronavirus, but the experts say many people’s sleep is still disturbed. I’ve seen evidence of this myself. Stories on how to get a good night’s sleep have attracted huge interest this year. No wonder I — and tons of other writers — have been pestering experts and scouring the web for every possible sleep hack and insomnia cure out there.
Lots of these breathing exercises and calming routines are useful. By all means give them a try and see if they work for you. But according to one doctor, you don’t need fancy techniques or the latest sleep app to achieve deep, restful sleep. You just need to steal the bedtime routine of a toddler.
The solution is the same whether you’re 3 or 43.
The same simple principles that help lull anxious, overstimulated three year olds into getting the sleep they desperately need work for anxious, overstimulated adults as well, argued pediatric emergency medicine physician Dr. Hasan Merali in Popular Science recently. You can probably skip the hot milk and teddy bears, but Merali claims that research shows the essential pillars of a good toddler bedtime work just as well when you’re 43 as when you’re three.
Take a hot bath (or shower). “A comprehensive study published in 2019 examined 13 different adult studies and found that scheduling a hot bath or shower one or two hours before a planned bedtime significantly shortened the time it took to go to sleep,” Merali reports. Our body temperature naturally drops before sleep. A hot shower dilates your blood vessels, accelerating this process.
Apply lotion. This isn’t to keep your skin soft (though that might be a nice bonus). “A study that randomized 76 infants to receive a bedtime massage with lotion, a massage without lotion, or no massage, it was the infants that had a lotion massage that experienced longer periods of sleep,” Merali says. You probably don’t have an at home masseuse, but you can replicate some of these effects by applying lotion to yourself.
Engage in a quiet activity. Bill Gates always reads before bed. Science suggests he’s not just expanding his mind but also helping ensure a restful night’s sleep. “Researchers found that language-based bedtime routines were associated with longer nighttime sleep duration,” Merali writes of one large study of children, adding “adults have also been shown to benefit from reading.”
No sensible adult would try to rip a toddler away from an engaging activity one minute and shove them into the bed the next. The result would be a lot of misery all around. And yet we regularly try to do this exact thing to ourselves, jumping straight from Twitter doomscrolling, annoying work emails, or stimulating TV to trying to turn in for the night.
No wonder the results are so often disastrous. We know that, for kids, a good night’s sleep demands a thoughtful transition from the hubbub of the day. Adults would sleep better if they remembered the same principle applied to them as well.