January marks the most miserable time of year for many of us, and that means good sleep is more important than ever
If you’ve ever read the children’s classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, then you’ll know that the villain of the tale, the dreaded White Witch, holds Narnia in the terrible, permanent state of ‘always winter, but never Christmas’.
In other words, the people of Narnia are forced to suffer an eternal January.
January is widely considered to be the most depressing month of year, even housing the infamous ‘Blue Monday’. The days are cold, the nights are long, and spring still feels like a long way away, so it’s only natural to feel your mood drop during this bleak time of year.
And good sleep is essential to combating low mood and feelings of depression. Understanding more about the winter blues, and how sleep can impact it, is essential to feeling more like yourself this January. And we’re here to help.
Are you suffering from low mood this winter?
Low mood can come in many forms, and for many reasons. At its worst, low mood can also spiral into depression – a serious mental health concern that impacts one in four people in England alone. And while symptoms of depression can be present at any and all times of year, they are often exacerbated by the darkness, low temperatures and lack of social activity that tend to be most prevalent in January.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, meanwhile, is a kind of low mood that is specifically triggered during the colder months of the year. It leads to your mood being more positive in summer than in winter.
Across all forms of depression and low mood, issues of anxiety, irritation, sleeplessness and decreased energy levels can all rear their heads. And while there are many steps that can be taken to alleviate these problems – including exercise, a balanced diet and even a light therapy lamp – getting good quality sleep is certainly among the most important.
How are sleep and depression connected?
Sleep and depression have a close relationship, as almost all people with depression will experience sleep issues – so much so that healthcare professionals may hesitate to diagnose depression in the absence of sleep complaints, according to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information.
Poor sleep can contribute to the onset of depression, and depression can lead to poor sleep, making the connection between the two a bidirectional relationship. This can make it hard to know which impacted your health first – your low mood or your sleep difficulties.
Insomnia is thought to impact as many as 75% of people living with depression, and a lack of sleep can contribute to the development of depression by disrupting the function of the neurotransmitter serotonin, impacting circadian rhythms, stress levels and more.
As such, improving your sleep habits can help to alleviate symptoms of depression and improve your mood during what is considered to be the gloomiest time of the year.
There are steps you can take to improve your sleep schedule and regulate your body’s natural hormone release. Set yourself a regular sleep/wake cycle you can stick to every day, and use the evening as an opportunity to wind down, avoiding screens and opting for relaxing activities like reading, having a bath, stretching and meditation. Likewise, get your energy levels up in the morning by getting out in the (limited) winter sun and engaging in some exercise.
There are other steps you can take too, such as reducing your caffeine intake and avoiding alcohol, in order to make your sleep habits more predictable. By prioritising sleep this winter, you can enjoy higher energy levels and a better mood overall.