I’ve never particularly struggled with sleep. I’ve had the odd night here and there where I have found it difficult to drop off, or woken earlier than I would like, but it is not common and not every night. Aside from during uncomfortably hot weather or receiving phone calls if I am on call, I’m a pretty good sleeper.
Even with a good baseline to begin with, over the last year I have noticed a marked improvement in the quality, and at times the length, of my sleep. While so much around us has been difficult for so many, in this small way at least lockdown has had a positive for me. I have been reflecting a little on why this could be over the last couple of weeks, as I have both a personal and professional interest in good sleep.
Personally, as I am sure is the case with most people, I feel infinitely more ready for the day when I have slept well. I am writing this post the day after an on call with broken sleep, and while I have been relatively productive today, this is an anomaly. Getting a good night’s sleep is always something I strive for, so why my sleep has improved this last year is intriguing.
Professionally, the sleep, or more accurately disturbed sleep, of my patients can be a good indicator of how their health and well-being is doing more generally. Difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking early are all associated with poor health and mental health, consequently it is a question I ask every patient when I review them.
Thinking back, my sleep has been better for some time but for whatever reason it has not struck me until recently. Potential reasons why my sleep is better closely mirrors the issues my patients can have when struggling with sleep, and can be broadly split into three factors; the time I go to bed, the quality of my sleep once in bed, and the time I wake up.
I have not changed the time I go to bed particularly over the last year. Typically it will be between 10-11, midnight if I am watching something good. What I am not so good at is keeping off the phone just before going to bed, but that has not changed over the last year so is unlikely to be contributing to the change.
My barometer for the quality of my sleep is typically whether I wake up through the night. This is not common, and is usually related to phone calls when on call, or if the dog decides to jump on the bed in the middle of the night. Has this happened more frequently over the last year? Not particularly. As far as I am aware I am sleeping (and waking) much the same as previously.
When I need to wake up is affected most of all by the time I need to be in the office and how far from the office I am. When I worked in Hull I frequently needed to be up by six to make sure I made it to work on time. Moving back to work in Leeds and I had another hour available to me. With lockdown and home-working, I can stretch falling out of bed until 8 and still be at the desk with time to spare.
I suspect it is this, a more relaxed morning routine, which is the primary driver for me feeling I am sleeping better. Even going to sleep at midnight means I can get eight hours before I need to be up, and while the idea everyone needs exactly eight hours sleep is not accurate, for me eight hours feels to be just the right amount.
At some point in the future I will be returning to the office, at least for a few days a week. Inevitably I will need to wake up earlier when this happens, commuting in the car certainly takes longer than walking downstairs to the desk. If I want to continue getting the best night’s sleep when this happens, I need to be mindful of how to achieve this. If I need to wake earlier to commute, and cannot change my work start time, then the obvious solution is to go to bed earlier. This is not as straightforward as it might appear, and will take a shift in how I get ready for bed and at what time, but it should not be impossible. I might even find the time to update you here if this occurs.
This last year has been difficult for so many people and for so many reasons. It feels trying to grab whatever positives we can from the year is important, and my slightly better sleep is one positive to carry forwards. Sleeping better might be something you want to focus on in the future, and if it is then thinking about the three factors of sleep and how you can optimise your sleep hygiene might be a good start. Equally, there might be another aspect of life which has improved for you despite the pandemic, and considering how you can continue to receive this benefit as restrictions lift may be your goal.
If you do have an area of positivity from the last year, consider sharing it in the comments below. Improving our health and wellbeing can often take small steps, but with one small change on top of another, it can soon add up. Sleeping better gives me more energy and motivation to exercise and write and do all the things I need to do in the day. One small change builds to another!