There are so many truly wonderful things about winter. I adore the festive period, and the cosy feeling of contentment that only comes from wrapping presents for loved ones, and spending evenings snuggled up by a twinkling Christmas tree. I love the way the world looks, all warmth and glittering lights. I love the smells – cinnamon, the fresh scent of real Christmas trees, and crisp evening air laced with bonfire smoke. There’s something really special about getting up in the morning and padding downstairs, while the world is still dark and so, so quiet. There’s a stillness in the air that only exists in winter, I feel.

Ho ho ho, no!

That said, winter can also be a difficult time. As an emetophobe, I don’t enjoy the heightened anxiety that comes with flu season. I also don’t enjoy the darker evenings and miserable weather, or the lack of motivation I feel when it’s almost too cold to function. While I love Christmas, I can find it quite overwhelming, what with all the socialising, planning and people-pleasing.

With the shorter daylight hours and colder weather, many people (myself included) can be prone to the winter blues – not to be confused with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is a type of seasonal depression.

Whether you struggle with Christmas-induced social anxiety, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just find this time of year a bit grim, there is one thing that will always give you a boost: a good night’s sleep. When I spoke to my doctor about my mental health, one of the first things he asked me was how well I sleep at night. Sleep, he told me, is when the mind and body get a chance to heal themselves. I’ve found several things help me to sleep better – fresh bed sheets, a nice cool room, and rain sounds, to name a few – but the one thing that has made the biggest difference was getting a new bed.

Choosing the right bed

When we moved house, we were excited to have the space for a king size bed. Our previous mattresses were either bought for us, or came with our rented uni rooms, complete with all sorts of stains I don’t like to think too much about. So this was our first time picking our own, which was quite exciting.

With so many options to choose from, we were quite fortunate that we had a good idea of what we wanted already. We knew quite a few people who either had full TEMPUR® mattresses, or memory foam toppers, and we were pretty sure that’s what we wanted as well. My mum got her first TEMPUR® mattress way back in the 90s, and I remember her calling it her astronaut bed, and explaining to me that TEMPUR® was invented by NASA.

It was surprisingly fun going from shop to shop, sitting on different beds, and we took our time, because we knew this was something we needed to get right. Eventually, we found a lovely memory foam mattress and pillows (sadly at the time, TEMPUR® was out of our budget, but next time we will definitely go for it as it is DREAMY). I had a great time choosing covers to suit the style of our new bedroom and, let me tell you, that first night sleeping in a brand new bed with all new brushed cotton sheets was nothing short of glorious.

We all love fresh bed sheet day, but this was fresh everything day. After months of stress and hard work, we were finally in our new home, sinking into that lovely, perfectly firm foam, as a satisfied sort of exhaustion loosened our limbs and pulled us into a deep slumber.

That bed remains one of my favourite things we bought for our house, and I can’t recommend memory foam enough. Gone are the days of lumpy mattresses and springs digging into our ribs. It’s like falling asleep on a cloud.

The quality of my sleep has improved immensely, and I’m almost certain this is one of the reasons my mental health has been so good since we moved into our house.

Here are some ways you can improve your sleep quality:

  • Invest in a good quality mattress, pillows and covers. Factors to consider when choosing a duvet include filling (synthetic or down) and tog rating (warmth).
  • According to the Better Sleep Council, mattresses should be replaced every 8 years for optimal comfort.
  • Memory foam needs to be cared for differently to traditional spring mattresses. Be sure to ask how to get the best out of your mattress.
  • If you struggle with SAD, it could be worth trying a natural daylight alarm clock, like the Lumie Bodyclock. A lovely blogger friend of mine shared some of her own tips for coping with SAD. They can be found here.
  • It might sound obvious, but you should avoid caffeine in the evenings, and try to cut down screen time before bed.

Struggling this winter?

More information about SAD can be found here. Be sure to visit your GP if you have any concerns.

My bed, my happy place

One of my favourite things is a good Sunday morning snuggle in bed. Dave, the cats, and a nice cup of coffee – perfect.

Edwin bed frame, £649, Made

DISCLAIMER: This post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts are my own.

 

rachel

I’m delighted to have Rachel on the blog today. She is one of my absolute favourite bloggers, and I highly recommend you check her out, if you haven’t already.

We thought it would be interesting to interview each other about a specific mental health issue. In this post, Rachel will be talking about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and my interview about emetophobia (fear of vomiting) will be going up on her blog soon.

Can you explain SAD and how it affects you?

SAD is type of depression which is prevalent in the Autumn/Winter months. It is believed to be caused by the lack of sunlight at this time of year which affects the body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy) and serotonin (which affects your mood). For me SAD is characterised by a complete lack of motivation to do anything. When the days get shorter and darker my mood plummets and I find it hard to make myself eat sufficiently or look after myself properly.

What is the main thing about SAD you wish more people understood?

I wish people understood that SAD is real for a start. I’ve mentioned it to many people who question its existence which is really hard to hear when Autumn/Winter fills you with dread.

Are there any common misconceptions about SAD?

I think SAD is often seen as simple winter blues. It’s harder to get up in the mornings and it’s dark and cold all the time, and everybody feels happier when the sun is shining. But SAD is much more than just wishing it was sunny.

What are your top tips for anyone else struggling with SAD?

Getting exercise is crucial. Just with all types of depression, it’s so easy to stay in bed all day and not want to face the world but you absolutely will feel better if you get some fresh air.

What do you do to make things easier for yourself on difficult days?

If it’s a day off from uni/placement I listen to whatever my body wants and needs. If I want to stay in bed all day and rest I will do but I’ll try to make sure I don’t just sleep because that’s not good for you! I’ll have a nice bath and make a coffee and try to take everything as easy as possible.

If it’s a uni day I’ll try to make sure I treat myself where possible. Sometimes with SAD it’s really hard to motivate yourself to do any kind of forward planning, so when I might not be able to be bothered to make lunch the night before I’ll make sure to treat myself to a nice lunch at uni. It’s all about appreciating and looking for the little things!

Have you found any benefit in special lamps/alarm clocks?

I use a Lumie alarm clock. This will be the second year I’ve had it through the Winter and I really think it makes a difference. The light starts to come on 30 minutes before my alarm goes off so that I never wake up in total darkness so it really helps me feel less lethargic in the mornings.

Is there a particular product or app you think would help you?

I talk about this app all the time and while it’s not SAD specific I find it really helpful. Pacifica is a mood tracker app and I find it really useful for tracking how I’m feeling each day. Sometimes it’s clear that my mood is worse at the start of the week so I think about ways I change my Sundays so that I’m not dreading a dark start on Monday that follows me throughout the week.

Do you find you struggle more with your mental health in general in winter months? For example, do you find yourself more anxious, and if so, do you think this is linked to SAD?

Definitely. I go out a lot less in the Winter months and that only makes it more difficult and anxiety inducing when I do go out.

How can other people help you during difficult times?

As much as I’d rather be left completely on my own from about October to March I know that’s not helpful. So I just want people to treat me like they would any other time of year except to be mindful that I’m probably not going to want to go out as much or socialise as frequently.

Any final words of advice to anyone struggling?

SAD is a real disorder so don’t be worried about getting help for it.

You can find the lovely Rachel at No Space For Milk.