The start of 2020 has certainly been challenging for many Australians. With the devastation caused by the bushfires, flooding, hailstorms and cyclones, as well as concerns about the spread of coronavirus and the many uncertainties that lie ahead, it is likely that our personal coping resources might feel rather depleted.

While most people can cope with time-limited stressful events, it becomes harder to do when stress turns chronic and inescapable. It is normal to experience changes in mood, appetite, irritability, and worry during stressful times, and often things improve on their own once the stressor is over.

However, prolonged disruptions to sleep, often caused by stress, can begin to have their own effects on how you feel, which is why it is important to know how to protect your sleep during stressful times. Here are a few things you can do:

Create a wind-down routine ahead of going to bed.

Our minds and bodies respond to cues in our environment, so if you have a daily routine that will signal to your mind that it is safe to relax and prepare for sleep, overtime it will learn to respond to these cues.

It doesn’t have to be a rigid routine, but doing regular activities – perhaps shutting off your laptop, getting changed into PJs, doing some gentle stretches or a relaxation exercise, or reading a book can help to prepare you for nodding off.

If you find that your mind tends to feel very “active” around bed time – try to write things down, so that it gives your thoughts a place to go and they don’t keep swirling around.

Try not to spend excessive amount of time in bed if you can’t sleep.

Keep your bed (and bedroom if possible) only for sleep. Avoid spending too much time in your bed doing stimulating activities, like checking your e-mails, eating, watching triggering content (e.g., the news), or mindlessly scrolling through social media. Ideally, try to keep digital devices away from your sleep area.

If you’ve settled down for sleep but are wide awake after about 20 minutes, get up and sit quietly elsewhere until you feel sleepy again, before returning to bed.

Try different strategies for managing worry.

Feeling worried during a stressful time is normal, but excessive worry or rumination (thinking about something or how bad something is over and over) is one of the main disruptors of sleep, so it’s important that you know how to manage your thoughts when you feel unable to “switch off”.

Mindfully focusing on activities earlier in the evening (e.g., preparing and eating your dinner), writing out your worries on paper, or debriefing with someone about the events of the day, can help you to process what’s going rather than keep mulling things over in your mind.

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