World Mental Health Day and the clocks going back

World Mental Health Day - Tartan blanket, hot cocoa, autumn leaves and open book

With Autumn in full swing, October is a time when the days start to get shorter and the nights colder. At the end of the month, we gain an hour’s sleep when the clocks go back, but this means we get even less sunlight in the evenings. With less sunlight and the weather less favourable for being active outdoors, this can lead to people not sleeping and well. Also, the lack of bright sunlight can lead to people getting the “winter blues”, or more accurately called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

October is an important month for mental health awareness. On the 10th October it is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is ‘Make Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority’. How we sleep is significantly related to our mental health. People who struggle to get enough quality sleep have poorer mental health than those who sleep the recommended 7-9 hours.

Sleep and mental health

When you are worried or anxious, this leads to difficulty falling or staying asleep. When you are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, this leads to worry about your sleep. This worry then leads to poor sleep. It is a vicious cycle!

When you are depressed or have SAD, this can actually make you sleep more and struggle to feel alert during the day. Depression can also cause insomnia, meaning you may sleep for less than usual.

If you improve your anxiety or depression, this can improve your sleep. Also, improving your sleep can help to improve your mood, and lessen anxiety and sadness.

If you are struggling with worry and anxiety at bedtime, then it is important to create a relaxing wind down time before bed. This way you can help your mind relax from all of the busy worries keeping you awake. Stop working an hour before bed and do something relaxing – such as reading a good book, taking a bath, or doing some evening yoga. Also, dim the lights to help your brain produce the sleep promoting hormone, melatonin. Avoid looking at screens too near to bedtime as they can make your mind too alert as well as affecting your sleep with the bright light. Writing down any worries you have during the daytime can really help to keep your mind clear at night.

SAD is the winter blues that people can experience in the autumn and winter months when there is not as much sunshine due to the shorter days. To improve the SAD symptoms of lethargy and sadness, increase your sunshine exposure during the day. Make sure that you get outdoors every day for a brisk walk in the sunshine, even in the poorer weather. It will really boost your mood and energy levels. Also, getting more sunshine during the daytime will help your sleep at night. If you can’t get outside, then you could consider using an SAD light box to give you a boost of indoor light exposure. An SAD light box is not right for everybody though, so speak to your GP before you start using one to make sure it is suitable for you.

Coping with the clocks going back

At 2am on the 30th October the clocks go back by an hour, meaning we gain an extra hour’s sleep! Although that might sound great, if you have young children who don’t know the clocks have changed, it might not be as good.

Here are 5 top tips for when the clocks go back.

  1. Start going to bed a little later in the days leading up to the clock change so that your body starts getting used to the later bedtime. Adjust your wake time a little later too if possible. Ideally you want to be going to bed and waking up an hour later than normal by the day before the clocks change.
  2. Start eating your meals a little later too, since when we eat is related to when we sleep. Ideally, the day before the clocks change, all of your meals should be one hour later than usual.
  3. Reduce caffeine too near bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant and can make it harder to fall asleep, so ideally avoid it within about 6 hours of bed.
  4. On the day the clocks change allow yourself a lie-in and embrace the extra hour’s sleep.
  5. If you have been going to bed later and eating meals later leading up to the clocks change, On Sunday the 30th October (when the clocks have changed), simply return your mealtimes and bedtimes to their normal times. Your body should have been used to this time thanks to your pre-planning and you should find the clock change fairly easy.

Don’t forget that we sleep best when we have a great bedroom environment. In the colder months, you may need a thicker duvet than your summer one. Plus, a supportive mattress made with natural fibres can keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. If your mattress is too old or not comfortable for your sleeping style, you may find it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Get a great night’s sleep this October!

Dr Lindsay Browning is the resident sleep expert for And So To Bed, and sees private clients at her sleep clinic Trouble Sleeping. She is also author of the self-help sleep book, Navigating Sleeplessness.

Posted by Dr Lindsay Browning
3rd October 2022

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