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Sleep Tips for When the News Cycle Is Bad and Your Brain Won’t Shut Off

Hayley Dawes
14 June 2022

Can’t fall asleep because you’re doomscrolling or you’re thinking about the latest news? This expert-backed advice is for you…

It seems like every time we look at the television or read the news online, there’s something bad going on in the world. All of these subjects can affect our wellbeing. It may seem self-explanatory that if bad things are going on in the news, then your sleep might suffer over that. Clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist Kristen Casey, has noticed an uptick in insomnia symptoms, especially since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Doomscrolling often involves two things that negatively affect sleep: blue light and anxiety. Screen time before bed is disruptive to your body’s natural sleep process. Screens emit blue light, which inhibits the release of melatonin, a hormone that’s crucial to helping our bodies realize it’s time to rest. Doomscrolling can increase levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress hormones. Research has shown that chronic levels of elevated stress hormones are associated with many physical health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Anxiety keeps us up at night and may affect sleep quality. In fact, anxiety will inhibit you from a good night’s sleep, even if your circadian rhythm is set and your sleep drive is high. Therefore, it is likely that this worry (whether we are aware of it or not) affects our sleep cycle.

However, in today’s news climate, it is unrealistic to suggest you can cut off information entirely. On top of this, our phones demand our attention: headlines and the way social media is tailored for our interests continually pique our interest and feed our habits. We know we should avoid doomscrolling, but sometimes we can’t help it. So, how do we sleep when everything is bad? Here are some things to try:

  1. Rule out other health conditions

While the bad things going on around you and in the news might be affecting your sleep, there could also be underlying medical conditions that you’ll want to rule out first. Anxiety and depression are commonly associated with difficulty sleeping.

  1. Wake up at the same time every day

We recommend keeping a consistent sleep routine to ensure your circadian rhythm stays on track. Focus on a wake-up time rather than a bedtime, as we have more control over waking up to an alarm rather than hoping to be tired by a certain time every night. A steady cycle helps with our body’s melatonin secretion at the same time every day, resulting in us naturally feeling tired. This means waking up at the same time every single day, even on the weekends, no matter how late you fell asleep, or how many naps you took. Good sleep is a habit.

  1. Practice realistic habits that may reduce stress

When bad things are happening around us, anxiety symptoms can increase and keep us up at night. Try practicing stress management techniques during the day, such as progressive muscle relaxation or diaphragmatic breathing, which will help to manage any anxiety at night. Apps like Calm and Headspace have guided meditations available which can help for stress.

  1. Don’t use the bed for anything other than sleep

Whether you’re working from home or watching movies on your bed, it’s time to change the location. Try sitting on the sofa, in the kitchen, or at a coffee shop. By doing other activities in your bed, a negative association can be created between being awake and your usual place for sleep.

  1. Turn off your phone notifications an hour before bed

It’s natural to want to know what is going on in the world. Tuning out completely can also come with its own set of guilt or mental health struggles. However, your brain isn’t meant to absorb this much traumatic information. Set boundaries by turning off your notifications or news alerts at least an hour before bed. This will help you to mentally unwind before your sleep. It is important to our overall health and wellbeing that we practice self-care and find balance in our lives. One good solution is by logging off. 

  1. Move your body during the day

Exercise is important to overall health and helps us sleep. Any form of daily exercise, including walking, will benefit our sleep. Exercise reduces stress and muscle tension, which in turn will improve the quality of our sleep. Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise can also help to stabilise your mood and decompress the mind.

  1. Take note of what you’re eating, drinking, or taking right before bed

You may also be decreasing your chances of getting a good night’s sleep by what you put into your body, such as food or medication, so it’s a good idea to evaluate those. If medication is the culprit, talk to your doctor about the best time to take it or if you can switch to something that doesn’t influence your sleep.

  1. Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep

If you are in bed, and you cannot sleep, get up, walk around, and reset. Try a relaxing, low-impact activity. Activities such as reading, listening to music, meditating, or experimenting with deep-breathing techniques might make you feel sleepy. Avoid high-impact activities or brightly lit screens. Ideally, you should stay out of the bedroom for a minimum of 30 minutes. You can go back to bed when you start to feel sleepy. You’ll be more likely to fall asleep faster if you go to bed when you are drowsy.

  1. Every day allow yourself a small window of time to worry

Give yourself 30 minutes in the morning or afternoon to catch up on the news, and then tune out. When the time is up, move on and banish all anxious thoughts. Keep your evenings screen-free so you’re more likely to fall asleep faster.