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Say goodnight to bad sleep

27 April 2020

5 mins

An illustration showing a woman asleep with stars and planets in the background

Although essential, there is no denying that life in lockdown is hard.

Being confined to our homes presents an array of challenges, one of which affects many. In fact, some people may be affected by this lockdown issue and not even realise. You can guarantee that they won’t be feeling 100% though and could be left wondering why.

We are of course talking about sleep disturbance.

Good sleep quality is important right now as it helps you to maintain a positive mood, contributes to the energy and stamina you need throughout the day, and supports your overall ability to sustain a locked-down life. 

In a bid to help the Loughborough family catch some much-needed Zs in these difficult times, sleep expert Professor Kevin Morgan, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, has shared his five top tips for getting better sleep.

1. Maintain your routines and avoid naps

Routine is the guardian of good sleep, as it helps to keep our body-clock in sync with the 24-hour day.

Illustrations showing routine, including: cooking, cleaning, working, dancing, reading and other activities

Try to maintain your usual bedtimes and rise-times. Getting up at standard time in the morning is particularly important, as it provides an ‘anchor’ for your body-clock.

If it’s practical, maintain your usual schedules for meals, coffee breaks and work periods too. Mealtimes, in particular, provide your body with important ‘time-cues’ throughout the day.

Try to avoid periods of boredom and, unless it was part of your pre-lockdown routine, absolutely avoid napping during the day. For those who find sleeping at night a problem, ‘sleepiness’ is a valuable resource – don’t squander it on naps, save it for bedtime.

2. Exercise

The current guidance allows daily exercise outside the home.

Illustration showing two people doing exercise

Research shows that exercise levels in line with World Health Organization recommendations for cardiovascular health (that is, at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day at least five time per week) can also improve mood and sleep quality.

Typically, ‘moderate activity’ could be a brisk walk which raises your pulse-rate (or a bike-ride). But don’t forget to maintain social spacing – keep 2 metres from other walkers! 

3. Let the light in

Staying indoors keeps us away from sunlight. Strong light helps to synchronise our body-clock by supressing melatonin – a hormone that begins to rise in darkness as we prepare for sleep.

Try to take your exercise in daylight or, at the very least, sit in your garden or walk to the shops if you can. Even on a dull day, there’s a lot of sunlight out there.

By letting your body know it’s daytime, it will be less inclined to want to sleep!

Note: melatonin can only be influenced if light hits special cells on your retina – so if you have a sleep problem, and you think light may be the answer, you might want to consider rationing your use of sunglasses.

4. Manage stress

This is a time of worry but try not to take your worries to bed.

Illustration showing a oversize laptop with a woman sitting on it using a smaller laptop and a man holding a giant pencil

This is easier said than done, however, a technique that has proved very useful in therapy is to create a ‘worry buffer’.

Simply set some time aside every day (20-30 minutes or so), perhaps in a special quiet place, to focus on the things in your life which are worrying. Try writing them down – and making notes of possible responses or solutions.

Then, at the end of that period, stop.  And that’s it.

If these worrying thoughts return at night, reassure yourself that they’re in-hand, and that you’ll return to them tomorrow.

Give yourself permission to go to sleep. There’s nothing wrong with worrying – just avoid doing it in bed.

 5. Eating and drinking

Diet can affect sleep in several ways. In addition to keeping to usual mealtimes, as mentioned in tip one, there are two other useful tips that will help you sleep:

Be careful how much caffeine you ingest every day – working at home (or just being at home) offers more opportunities for tea and coffee breaks.  Caffeine suppresses the chemical adenosine which contributes to sleepiness and promotes sleep.

Be very careful with alcohol consumption – above a moderate level, alcohol can certainly help to get us to sleep, but it will also ensure that sleep is lighter, and can lead to early morning awakenings.

Download Loughborough’s sleep improvement app

If you would like to follow-up or build on any of this advice, The University, in collaboration with the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, has created a sleep improvement app called Sleepful.

The Sleepful self-help programme has been developed through a series of publicly funded research studies and clinical trials in the UK.

It is free to download and is available on Google Play, the Apple App Store and at

Health and Wellbeing

Wellbeing means being in a positive physical, social and mental state. Wellbeing is important to us as happy, healthy people who achieve harmony in their work / life mix are more creative, productive and help to create a great place to work.

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