What is Blue Monday?
Blue Monday was first termed by Dr Cliff Arnall back in 2005 and, despite the reputation that the day has earned, Dr Arnall initially identified the day with the hope of encouraging people to take a more positive outlook.1 However, despite this intention, Blue Monday is usually associated with feelings of depression and despondency.
After the festivities of December, many find themselves strapped for cash and still in the midst of winter, surrounded by bleak weather and shorter days. Even the initial buzz of New Year’s is starting wear off and many of us are starting to wobble on those resolutions that seemed so doable just three weeks ago.
Not everyone buys into the idea of ‘Blue Monday’ though. In fact many experts shun the idea as ‘pseudoscience,’ although there is some evidence to suggest that the term isn’t just rooted in fiction. The University of Exeter has even estimated that the workplace malaise surrounding Blue Monday could be costing businesses as much as £93 billion!2
Could poor sleep be responsible for Blue Monday?
As I’ve already mentioned, issues such as stress, low finances and even Seasonal Affective Disorder, usually take the brunt of the blame when it comes to the causes of Blue Monday. However, I’d also argue that poor sleep could be contributing its share to the post-festive blues.
After all, it’s well documented that poor sleep can have a knock-on effect on mental health with approximately 90% of adults with depression also struggling with insomnia too. In fact, the Sleep Council estimates that 50% of the UK population are getting less than 6 hours sleep a night3, so is it really so surprising that this, in addition to other added pressures, could have a negative repercussion on our mood and mental wellbeing?
Some studies have found a correlation between poor sleep and elevated negative thinking4, with those that fixate on negative thoughts often suffering from sleep deprivation and disruption, which makes sense as poor sleep, can impact your judgement and ability to process emotions.
Unfortunately, poor sleep can also exist in a toxic relationship with stress, with one often fuelling the other and vice-versa, creating a vicious cycle. For example, if you’re struggling to sleep because you’re worrying about your next pay check, this will affect your stress levels the following day, resulting in you feeling even more panicky and paranoid the next night.
Poor sleep won’t just affect your stress levels, though, it can also have an impact on your cognitive function, inhibiting your ability to focus and concentrate as well as impacting your memory and reaction time. All of these symptoms will have a noticeable effect on your work performance which could explain aforementioned ‘workplace malaise’.
Why January especially?
Poor sleep can strike at any time of the year so why January in particular? I’ve already mentioned a couple of reasons why you might find poor sleep a bigger problem at this time of year, with financial pressure and stress arguably being the biggest culprits. However, your body could still be recovering from the excesses of December.
For many of you, December was probably a frantic month that saw you break your usual routine plenty of times, whether it was overindulging in food and alcohol or travelling to meet family. While most us try to set ourselves straight in the New Year, it can sometimes take a while for our body to catch up with our good intentions.
All of those sugary treats and alcoholic drinks may have disrupted your endocrine system and affect your levels of essential micronutrients, which may cause blood sugar fluctuations that affect your sleep patterns.
You also have to consider that January is still in the midst of cold and flu season. Currently the country is the grip of Aussie Flu so many of us might be feeling a bit more run down than usual, particularly if we’re suffering from a persistent cough, sore throat or blocked nose. All of these symptoms can have an impact on our mood, making us feel utterly miserable, however, these symptoms can also affect our sleep patterns – after-all, nothing quite says flu like being woken up in the middle of the night by a chesty cough!
Finally, as I’ve already mentioned, SAD is also still a problem for many people. Interestingly, it is thought that during bouts of SAD, your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, increases making you feel more lethargic and sleepy. However, while melatonin increases, your production of serotonin, sometimes known as the ‘happy hormone’, decreases.
This fluctuation can lead to sleep disruptions, not to mention that during winter many of us become susceptible to low levels of vitamin D, which can stimulate symptoms such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Not exactly conducive to positive thinking!
What can I do to sleep better for Blue Monday?
Regardless of whether you buy into the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ or are simply feeling worn out after the festive period, the best thing you can do is to stop, take a breath and look after yourself. Blue Monday was initially coined in an effort to inspire us to rethink how we perceive January and to break the cycle of negative thinking that often embodies the month.
1 – Start by sleeping
It’s a new year so why not ditch those tired sleep trends that used to interrupt your sleep patterns? Establish a new and more relaxing bedtime routine, whether that means relaxing with a good book or having a nice hot bath. No matter how tempting it is, don’t take work home with you and don’t rely on a glass of red wine to make you feel calm before bedtime.
Practice good sleep hygiene and, if you do struggle to nod off, don’t immediately turn to popping pills because they may make you feel even groggier the next day. Instead, you could try our natural herbal sleep remedy Dormeasan, a non-drowsy formula that gently relaxes you, allowing you drift into a natural sleep cycle.
2 – De-stress
It’s January and you’re trying to get back into the routine at work, attempting to catch up with all the emails and memos you’ve received over the holidays. Trying to get back on top of things again can feel a little like running on a treadmill that’s been set to max – you feel as though you’re struggling to keep up and might fall off at any minute.
What also doesn’t help is that many of us have to wait that little bit longer for payday, which may place an additional financial strain on your household, particularly at a time of year when every media outlet is screaming at you to spend more money.
It’s hardly surprising that you may become a bit more stressed than usual and find yourself lying awake at night worrying about work and your bank account. However, this added pressure isn’t doing your sleep patterns any favours and you could end up making this worse for yourself in the long run.
Instead, try to take a deep breath and think of constructive ways to tackle your problems. Budget for the upcoming month and, rather than letting things pile up at work, organise and prioritise your workload. Resist the temptation to take work home with you and instead make your home a safe and relaxing environment –for more information and tips please check out my article dealing with the emotional impact of Blue Monday.
3 – Drink plenty of water
If you’re rushing about trying to get things done, the chances are you’re not so aware of whether or not you’ve been drinking enough water. While most of us would never dream of missing out on our morning cuppa, particularly when we’re feeling tired and a bit lethargic, sadly the same dedication rarely goes towards plain old water.
Which is a shame as caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea won’t be helping your sleep patterns or stress levels in the long run and may make you even more vulnerable to dehydration. Trust me, if you’re feeling a bit on the down side, the last thing you need is dehydration and its associated symptoms, which can include fatigue, moods swings and irritability!
4 – Get outdoors
It’s the middle of winter and the last thing you’ll feel like doing, especially if you’re already feeling run down, is going out into the cold. However, fresh air and the opportunity to soak up some vitamin D can do wonders for your mood and sleep patterns. Research has even indicated that vitamin D could be involved with sleep and pain manifestations, with the supplementation of vitamin D being associated with good sleep hygiene, having an almost therapeutic role.5
It doesn’t have to be anything too extreme – even a brisk 10 minute walk to the shops can do wonders! If you’re feeling bolder though, you could check out my colleague Gillian’s article about why you should be running outdoors in winter.
5 – Support your immune system
The New Year is just beginning and, unfortunately, the cold and flu season is just getting into its stride. As our immune system expert Dr Jen Tan mentions in his article ‘Coming down with the flu,’ the country is currently experiencing an epidemic so it’s vitally important that you’re looking after yourself.
It might be the month for fad diets but it’s important that you are eating healthily – don’t become too obsessed with calorie counting or low fat diets and instead focus on getting the nutrients that you need. Incorporate plenty of vitamin C rich fruit and veg into your day to day routine – for more tips please see our nutritionist Emma’s article ‘Winter warmers – foods to support your mood and weight.’
If you do find yourself beset by an aching throat or feel the first tingle of a tickly cough, it might be time to start taking some Echinaforce. Prepared using extracts of organically cultivated Echinacea, a herb with a long history of warding off colds and flus, this remedy is outstanding when it comes to keeping your immune system in tip-top condition. It also comes in a variety of different forms, from tablets to hot drinks so you’re bound to find a form that suits your need, including our highly rated Echinaforce Sore Throat Spray!
“Classic that everyone should be on.”
6 – Be kind to yourself!
Finally, it never hurts to be kind to yourself! These days so many of us have a tendency of trying to take on too much, placing far too much pressure on ourselves in the process. It never hurts to try and slow down to give yourself time to breathe, particularly if you’re recovering from a viral infection or a bug.
Most of us don’t give ourselves the time we need to recuperate and instead head straight back to work where we become vulnerable to exhaustion and secondary infections. Instead, take some time to look after yourself and remember, occasionally it never hurts to say the word “NO!”