Blue Monday Solutions: the role of sleep in protecting good mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on our mental wellbeing – that’s been well documented. But while time spent confined to our homes may be leaving some of us with low mood and bottled up anxieties, it’s important to remember how powerful sleep can be as a remedy.

Monday 18th January 2021 has been dubbed this year’s ‘Blue Monday’; the day of the year on which we are supposed to feel the most depressed. This isn’t something any of us want to hear, especially after the emotional rollercoaster handed to us over the last 10 months.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on not only the nation’s physical health, but our mental health too. Restrictions on travelling, working, socialising and leaving the house have left many of us feeling lonelier, more stressed and more tired than ever before.

Mix of all this together with dull winter days, long nights and cold weather, and you have the recipe for a genuine mental health epidemic. It’s now more important than ever to take active steps to look after your wellbeing, and that includes getting a good night’s sleep.

The mental health of a nation has been thrown out of balance

Since the COVID-19 outbreak hit UK shores in March 2020, concerns have been raised over the mental health of the British population, as well as our physical health.

According to the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, almost half (45%) of the UK population have felt anxious or worried in the last two weeks, while one in four people have suffered from loneliness. What’s more, one in five people reported feeling hopeless in the last two weeks, and half (49%) have felt frustrated.

Loneliness levels have risen most dramatically among the unemployed, full time students and single parents, and young people on the whole have experienced the most dramatic toll on their wellbeing. Loneliness is an issue for 38% and 35% of 18–24 year-olds and 25-34 year olds respectively.

These figures come as no surprise, as the longer the COVID-19 restrictions are in place, the greater the impact on our social lives and job security, all of which takes its toll mentally. Between April and November, the number of people coping with the pandemic stress “very well or fairly well” dropped significantly, from 73% to 62%, according to the Mental Health Foundation. And since then, we’ve all had to struggle through a Christmas without the usual celebrations.

Now, almost half (45%) of the population feel that they are unable to cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

The impact of the winter blues

As the pandemic has evolved and shifted, the seasons have also changed. When the COVID-19 crisis first began to impact the UK, it was spring and we could at least enjoy the benefits of warmer weather and brighter evenings. Now we find ourselves in another lockdown, but this time there are also the January blues to contend with. After all, it’s no coincidence that Blue Monday always falls in January.

The additional anxieties of isolation, work fears and health concerns are now further impacted by the shorter days and dark time of year. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a form of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, resulting in a persistent low mood in winter. It impacts around three in every 100 people in the UK, according to Bupa, and its symptoms can be exacerbated by external stresses like work and isolation.

And of course, when our mental health is subjected to strain, it’s not just our emotions which are impacted. Stress, anxiety and depression can all have a significant impact on the body. Imbalances in hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and melatonin can lead to tiredness, irritability, weight fluctuation, changes in libido and appetite and, crucially, problems with sleep.

Why sleep is so important to your wellbeing

When your mental health is impacted, it’s all too easy to find yourself in a vicious cycle of insomnia or broken sleep. Stress and anxiety make it increasingly difficult to fall asleep in the first place, which in turn elevates your stress and anxiety. The knock-on effect of these issues is – you’ve guessed it – worse sleep. And so it goes on.

Throughout the pandemic, sleep is one of the key areas of our health to have been most significantly affected. Back in the summer, The Guardian reported that levels of insomnia had increased dramatically due to COVID-19 crisis. A study of more than 15,000 participants found that levels of worry-related sleep loss rose from 15.7% to 24.7% in just a few months.

But why is this such a big concern?

According to the mental health charity Mind, chronic sleep loss can cause an increased risk of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. You’re also more likely to have psychotic episodes, as poor sleep can trigger psychosis, mania and paranoia.

You will find it more difficult to concentrate and to rally yourself for daily tasks, being more prone to irritability and outbursts. You’re also more likely to feel lonely or isolated, which in the midst of the current pandemic is a significant issue.

‘How can I sleep better?’

With sleeplessness on the rise, it’s important to take active steps to improve your sleep habits in order to support your mental health during these difficult times.

We all know the basics of sleeping better. Go to bed at the same time every day; avoid caffeine in the evening; don’t scroll through your phone just before your head hits the pillow. But what else should you be considering?

Well, temperature is often an under-appreciated aspect of the sleep environment. Temperature has a key role to play in helping you relax and drift off to sleep. This is, in part, because a drop in temperature to between 16-degrees and 18-degrees Celsius encourages the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

To help prepare for bed a hot shower or bath in the evening can make you feel more ready for a good night’s rest.

Dr Nicola Barclay, University of Oxford Sleep Scientist, explains some of the science behind this, saying:

“Having a warm bath can actually trigger the body to cool down. When our bodies get out of a warm bath and we hit the cool air, our bodies naturally start to cool and our bodies love to be cool in order to get to sleep.”

Another great way to unwind in the evenings is yoga or meditation. As a gentle and restorative form of exercise that focuses on breathing, yoga is naturally good at helping to alleviate stress, and this in turn can make it easier to fall asleep. In fact, a study by Harvard Health found that over 55% of people who do yoga claimed it improved their sleep, while 85% used it to reduce their stress levels.

Similarly, meditation is widely used as a relaxation technique. With practice, meditating is designed to help you stay present and calm, which means it can be used to quiet the mind in the run-up to bedtime. It’s also a great alternative to using your smartphone just before bed.

Consider keeping a sleep journal so you can see which techniques have helped you the most. By looking for commonalities between good nights’ sleep, you may discover factors that you can incorporate into every day to improve your sleep quality overall. For example, exercise is a great way to boost energy levels during the day and help you feel ready for sleep come nighttime. Therefore, you might find that you sleep best on the days when you’ve worked out.

At Mammoth, we are of course passionate about improving sleep through the finest materials and cutting-edge technologies. But when it comes to an issue as critical as mental health our message is not about which product to use; it’s simply to encourage you to tend to their sleep requirements and make the time to improve sleep hygiene. By feeling in control of this aspect of your routine it’s possible to significantly improve mindset and, ultimately, wellbeing.

Looking for more sleep news and tips? Explore the rest of our blog for expert advice.