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Feeling low and slow? Consider your sleep health to tackle lethargy.

After days and days of unusual, uncertain and unsettling times, a new feeling is starting to kick in - a sort of continual tiredness, low energy, low motivation: lethargy.

From the initial panic of reacting to lockdown, things are changing. In more recent days, we’ve relaxed our routines a little, we aren’t forcing ourselves to go to every zoom pub quiz and not feeling like we need to put 100% in every day - which is a good thing, we need to give ourselves a break

But without a sense of ‘when will this be over’, and ongoing stress, this situation can take its toll, and as a result, many of our community is starting to feel a lack of energy, motivation and often low mood.

This is lethargy, and can be a sign that you need to start putting things in place to better support your mental health.

What is lethargy?

Lethargy is a lack energy or motivation. Whilst we all feel like this from time to time, persistent lethargy can be even more exhausting, and makes it harder to get up and do the things which are important, or help us maintain good health.

It can be cause by physical (i.e. an illness), behavioural (too many late nights, or overworking) or emotional challenges (depression, stress, anxiety, etc)

Why are we feeling it?

At the moment, its likely that we’re feeling lethargy due to the ongoing nature of coronavirus and the challenging situations we’re facing. Even if you’re not struggling financially or emotionally, the sustained uncertainty and unusual circumstances add up over time. Whilst stress is usually associated with more ‘high energy / activity’, i.e. when we’re doing lots, it might seem strange that when we’re doing less, we would be stressed, but sustained stress and change, even small amounts, just tires us out.

Does it mean I’m depressed?

Let’s not worry about labels or definitions - mental health is a wobbly line that flows up and down constantly, sometimes you’re doing great, other times not so well. There are people who’s mental health is adversely affected more significantly and often feel lethargy or low, not necessarily because of external stresses or situations, but all of us have ups and downs. Being down doesn’t mean you are depressed, but it should act as a reminder to take care of yourself, and find things to help you return to a more positive state of energy.

What can I do to combat it?

Earlier on, we shared tips of how to deal with immediate stress, reaction to the more panicked and urgency of coronavirus - which is about taking time to breathe, and adjusting calmly.

Now, we need to focus on things which help us to keep our energy levels up, and find more energy and momentum. Lots of these things might feel like really basic stuff, but it’s often the simple things which help - so start with putting the basics in place.

When you have low motivation or low energy, it can feel hard to get any of these things done, so taking small steps towards rebuilding your energy is critical. Don’t try everything at once, it’ll be too much. Start small, and stick with it - things get easier the more you do!

We’ll be posting a set of techniques every couple of days to think about how you can improve your energy levels and get back to feeling on form, covering:

+ Sleep Health

+ Exercise and Diet

+ Routine and Motivation

+ Focusing on things we enjoy

+ Emotional Connection

Today, we’re looking at sleep.

Sleep Health

Our sleep habits have really taken a hit recently - from not being able to sleep well a few weeks ago, the clocks changing, longer days, and now feeling sleepier in the day, not waking up feeling refreshed, taking naps. One of the biggest challenges to getting good sleep is not having a good routine - and poor sleep leads to way lower energy and concentration in the day.

“Most of us will be feeling a degree of anxiety, even if it is at a low-grade background level and it is likely to affect the quality and duration of our sleep.” says Professor Colin Espie, University of Oxford, and co-founder of sleep health app Sleepio.

Tips for better sleep

Go to bed and get up on a regular schedule

Try and stick to a routine for getting to sleep, and waking in the morning. You’ll find the right time after a while, but stick to a regular time, as easy as it may seem to just have another hour, or stay up a little later.

Make sure you’re making the most of natural daylight

Get outside when you can, and really soak up as much of the natural daylight as possible - even if it means just standing on your front-door step, or pulling a chair and sitting on the street for an hour. Ideally, try and get a good dose of outdoor light in the morning, which really helps your wakefulness, and avoids that mid-morning slump.

Consider your caffeine and alcohol levels

Try and limit the amount of caffeine you’re drinking during the day, and how late in the day you have another cup. Equally, don’t turn to alcohol to help you drift off. Both substances can disrupt how well you’re sleeping, and lead to more grogginess the following day.

No screens before bedtime.

Don’t use screens for an hour before you’re going to sleep - not only does the light from the screen play havoc on your wakefulness, it also gets your brain going before you’re trying to sleep.

Make sure your sleep environment is cool and dark.

Light has a significant impact on our bodies wakefulness. When trying to sleep you need a dark space, and during the day you need daylight, to help your body’s natural rhythm. We’re not getting as much natural daylight at the moment, so do what you can to help create a distinction between ‘day’ and ‘night’. Temperature plays a big role well we sleep at night too - so make sure your bedroom isn't too hot, and you have plenty of fresh air in the house.

Don’t lie in bed awake.

If you’re struggling to sleep at night, or waking up - don’t lie awake in bed, get up and do something else, and when you’re tired again, return to bed. Try to protect the bedroom as a place for sleep, and free from anxiety. This means avoiding working from the bedroom during the day too.