I Made Sleep a Priority During the Pandemic, and It Helped Ease My Anxiety

Like newborn babies and wild teenagers, my sleep life has been fractured and unpredictable well into my adult life. I could blame it on my parents — they have always stayed up late and never enforced a strict bedtime on me or my siblings — but the truth is more complicated than that. I have anxiety and I'm an overachiever, a dangerous combination that means I'm either up late working, letting off steam after a long day (read: getting some alone time without the kids), or overthinking about all the things that have gone wrong in my life, or, you know, that could happen in the future.

Enter: 2020. When the COVID-19 shutdown first happened last spring, I treated the extra time at home as even more of an excuse to stay up late. I didn't have to get up early to drive to work, so why did it matter if I rolled out of bed at the last second to start my day? But as time wore on (and on and on), I started sleeping less and less. The scary news headlines and overwhelming sense of doom had me up tossing and turning — and left me irritable, stressed, and straight up unpleasant to be around. So I started setting my alarm — to go to sleep.

For the first time, I made sleep a priority. No matter what I was doing, when 9:30 p.m. rolled around, I would take a shower, put on pajamas, and cuddle up in bed with a good book or a TV show. Lights out happened at 11 p.m. on the dot, so I could get eight hours of sleep before my 7 a.m. wake up time (a full hour before I was supposed to be at work!). I forced myself to be strict, to the point that I would sometimes annoy my husband by turning off the TV halfway through an episode.

My kids were already used to a bedtime ("do as I say, not as I do" strongly applied here), so getting myself on track just felt like the right thing to do. It wasn't easy — I had to take melatonin for months if I had any hope of getting some decent shut-eye — but it was so worth it. My mood changed so much. Suddenly, I was able to (gasp!) wake up before my alarm, wait patiently through midmorning tantrums, yell at my kids a lot less, and even have the energy to start working out again.

If 2020 taught me anything, it's the importance of taking care of your body — and listening to it when it's tired.

It's not just my mood that has benefited from more sleep. Research has shown that not getting enough sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, and it shortens your life expectancy. Uh, no thanks!

Sometimes, not getting enough sleep is impossible to avoid — looking at you newborn moms, those who are sick, and those who just discovered the joys of Schitt's Creek and are up late binge-watching. But when it is in your control, going to bed early and consistently can make all the difference in your health, both physically and mentally. Think of it as the ultimate form of self-care. If 2020 taught me anything, it's the importance of taking care of your body — and listening to it when it's tired. Sleep well, friends. You won't regret it.