How spending less time in bed is VITAL to ensuring a good night's sleep and allowing the body to deal with the stress of the Covid-19 lockdown

But as we approach the third month of coronavirus restrictions which have changed our daily lives beyond recognition, all have become increasingly common symptoms of the UK’s Covid-19 crisis aswe struggle to cope. The latest data from the Office of National Statistics is startling – revealing that four in five Britons are worried about the effect coronavirus is having on their lives. And the rolling YouGov mood tracker survey, which collates thousands of responses every week, also shows people reporting far more negative emotions than usual. ‘Since lockdown, more people have been saying they feel bored, scared, frustrated, low and angry – all sorts of negative emotions. ‘Partly, it’s due to fear about the virus itself and catching it, anxiety about loved ones becoming seriously ill and the impact of people losing their financial security – or worrying that this might happen. ‘We know from studies that quarantine is hard to deal with in the long term and that social isolation is bad for mental health. But no one has been quarantined on this large a scale and for so long.’ It’s no coincidence, either, that the hashtag #cantsleep has been trending on Twitter as the continuing uncertainty begins to affect our ability to switch off and relax. And there are concerns that the number of people seeking mental health support during the crisis has plummeted by up to 40 per cent, potentially storing up more complex problems for later. Now, as the Government begins its first tentative relaxation of lockdown rules, we face a new problem: how do we come out of a state of quarantine with our mental health intact? Two distinct groups are emerging – those planning to abandon the restrictions to plough on with their lives, and those who remain highly anxious about any transition back to normal. There are simple, everyday techniques that we can use to help us sleep better, reduce stress and promote calm – all of which will benefit our overall health as we move into the next stage of managing the pandemic. The body arms itself while you slumber Sleep is the ‘canary in the mine’ for our mental health, according to experts – so if we’re struggling to drop off, or waking up during the night, it’s a sign that the stresses and anxieties caused by coronavirus are taking their toll. Others are sleeping later in the mornings in the absence of a commute, according to Prof Yardley, and this in turn pushes back the time we fall asleep. Once you’re awake, go for a walk in the sunlight – a US study found that it reinforces the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, and not only helps promote better sleep at night but reduces stress and depression. And there are other pitfalls: avoid using a phone or tablet for an hour before bedtime – studies show the blue wavelengths of light they emit suppresses release of the sleep hormone melatonin which makes it harder to wind down. ‘If you’re interacting on Facebook or Twitter, or catching up with the latest coronavirus updates, that’s not very calming.’ A surprising method for those who find themselves waking in the middle of the night is sleep restriction therapy which, counter-intuitively, involves spending less time in bed than normal. It helps get rid of frustration, will send you to sleep more quickly and improve the quality of your sleep.’ How to worry... just enough Stress is normal right now – but two extremes of mindsets seem to be emerging, which experts say may not be entirely healthy. On one hand, there are those who are angry and frustrated at the rules which continue to be imposed on our freedoms – and feel no true risk from the virus. And, according to Catherine Sanderson, professor of psychology at Amherst College in Massachusetts, others assert control over their situation by underplaying the risks, and wilfully ignoring or defying the rules. ‘We see the same thing with those who are very worried about the risk of developing breast cancer, refusing to attend screening appointments.’ There are ways both groups can alleviate their stress – without resorting to either breaking the rules or locking themselves away. The most significant benefit of relaxing the lockdown rules is that we can now meet single individuals from outside our households – provided that we do so outdoors and stay 6ft apart. ‘Non-verbal communication – body language, small gestures, tone of voice – which we don’t get on video calls or text messages, is incredibly important.’ Take advantage, too, of being able to exercise as much as you want. Decide to start jogging, to have a walk twice a day or meet a friend in the park.’ For those tempted to flout the rules, seek out accurate information about the risk – beware the tendency to rely on facts that support our beliefs, says psychologist Jivan Dempsey. For both camps, a website called Germ Defence, developed by Prof Yardley and her team with Government Covid-19 funding, gives advice on protecting against infection.