Sleep is key part of maintaining good mental and physical health. Everyone needs different amounts of sleep, but you should usually feel refreshed and not sleepy during the daytime. If you do not, it may be that you just did not have a good night's sleep/were woken during the night, or it may be a sign that you are experiencing sleep problems. Sleep problems are common, research has shown that a third of adults have difficulty with sleeping which can be caused by:

  • Worrying about being awake or not sleeping
  • Temporary problems (e.g. a strange bed, too hot/cold room, new baby)
  • Stress, anxiety or depression (FREE local support is available on the NHS. More info here)
  • Sleep apnoea (where the airways close while sleeping)
  • Other issues such as coffee, alcohol or smoking, or prescription medication.

Sleep problems can occur just during particularly stressful/worrying times, or if they occur more frequently, they can be a key sign of stress and common mental health conditions (like anxiety and depression), and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep, waking early and not being able to get back to sleep
  • An irregular sleep pattern
  • Tiredness and exhaustion leading to low mood, anxiety, poor concentration, memory problems, irritability and frustration

Self help for improving your sleep

There are many things you can do to improve your sleep, ranging from those to do with your sleeping environment and habits, to those linked with managing related emotions and thoughts.

Sleep at regular times

If you have difficulty falling asleep, a regular bedtime routine will help you wind down and prepare for bed. Few people manage to stick to strict bedtime routines. This isn't much of a problem for most people, but for insomniacs, irregular sleeping hours are unhelpful. Your routine depends on what works for you, but the most important thing is working out a routine and sticking to it. First of all, keep regular sleeping hours. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. Most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night. By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.

Make sure you wind down

Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. There are lots of ways to relax:

  • A warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that's ideal for rest.
  • Writing "to do" lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions.
  • Relaxation exercises, such as light yoga stretches, help to relax the muscles. Don't exercise vigorously, as it will have the opposite effect.
  • Relaxation CDs work by using a carefully narrated script, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to relax you.
  • Reading a book or listening to the radio relaxes the mind by distracting it.
  • If you need more ideas, you can get help and advice from your GP.

Make your bedroom sleep-friendly

Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Experts claim there's a strong association in people's minds between sleep and the bedroom. However, certain things weaken that association, such as TVs and other electronic gadgets, light, noise, and a bad mattress or bed. Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and be kept at a temperature of between 18C and 24C. Fit some thick curtains if you don't have any. If you're disturbed by noise, consider investing in double glazing or, for a cheaper option, use earplugs.

Keep a sleep diary

It can be a good idea to keep a sleep diary. It may uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness. If you see your GP or a sleep expert they will probably ask you to keep a sleep diary to help them diagnose your sleep problems. So taking one you've already done with you could save time. A sleep diary can also reveal underlying conditions that explain your insomnia, such as stress or medication. 

Useful Contacts

Visit the NHS website for 10 tips to beat insomnia and healthy sleep tips for children.

More information on sleep and tips on how to sleep well can be found at One You - Sleep.

The Mind website provides information on 'How to cope with sleep problems'.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists website provides information on sleeping well. They include information on how to get help and tips on how to help yourself.

The Sleep Council provide more information on how you can get a better nights sleep, more information and tips.

Sleepio provide an online cognitive behavioural therapy sleep programme for a weekly/ yearly fee.