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Problems sleeping

Problems sleeping can contribute to, or result from, mental health issues. Learn about how to improve your sleep.

Sleep is important for your mental health. Most people need between 5 to 9 hours sleep a night. The ideal amount is 8 hours, but everyone's different.

Sometimes it's not always possible to get as much sleep as you would like. If you don't sleep well, you won't feel as alert as you should. You will feel easily agitated and your actions may seem slow.

Stress and anxiety can lead to sleeping problems. You can experience stress or anxiety at work, with family, or in daily life. As the stressful situation passes, a more regular sleep pattern should return.

Try not to worry if your sleep is disturbed for a short while. This can be perfectly normal.

But if you've been feeling down for a couple of weeks and have been unable to sleep, speak to your GP.

Disrupted sleep

Difficulty sleeping is often called insomnia. The odd night without sleep won't cause you any damage. But insomnia can leave you tired and moody. You might also be unable to focus on tasks.

Things that can disrupt sleep include:

  • asthma
  • breathing problems
  • pregnancy
  • stimulants like caffeine and nicotine
  • some types of medication
  • some forms of the contraceptive pill
  • pain and cold relievers
  • jet lag
  • stress and worry

Better sleeping tips

You can take steps to improve your sleep. They include:

  • keeping active
  • avoiding stimulants
  • keeping to a routine
  • avoiding naps
  • relaxing your body and mind

Keep active

Regular exercise can help improve your sleep. But try to avoid exercise in the hour before bedtime.

Related topics

Exercise and your mental health

Avoid stimulants

Avoid tea and coffee, or foods high in sugar, in the evenings.

Routine

Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. This helps your body clock get into a rhythm and makes sleeping feel more natural.

Naps

If possible, avoid naps during the day. This is because it makes it harder to fall asleep at night.

Relax

Process the day's thoughts and feelings and then let go of them. If it helps, write things down or talk about them with someone you trust. Reading in bed can focus your mind and empty it of the day's worries.

Your bedroom should be a comfortable temperature. If it's too hot or too cold, it may make it more difficult for you to sleep.

Turn off all technology and do something restful such as gentle stretches or taking a warm bath.

Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax. The smell of lavender oil also helps. Try sprinkling a few drops on your pillow. You can learn about other relaxation exercises here.

Learning meditation is a very useful tool for stilling the mind and relaxing the body.

Sleep and mental health

Lack of sleep can affect your general wellbeing. Long-term lack of sleep can either be a cause or a result of depression or anxiety.

If you're struggling to sleep over a long period of time, this may lead to more challenges to your mental health. It could also make any existing challenges worse.

Challenges to your mental health

Being tired makes it harder to cope. Over time, this can affect your self-esteem and mental health.

You may become lonely and skip social occasions. You might see fewer people. Isolation can lead to mental health problems.

Lack of sleep may also impact your mood and energy level. This could lead to negative thoughts.

Existing mental health problems

Mental health problems such as stress, depressionor anxiety can make it harder to sleep.

Depression can make it more difficult to cope. You may over-sleep to avoid daily tasks. This can make it harder to sleep at night.

If you're feeling stressed or anxious, you may be more prone to disturbed sleep or nightmares.

Some medication may cause sleep disturbances.

It is important to let your GP know if your medication keeps you awake or makes you too sleepy.

Sleep disorders

You may have a sleep disorder if you:

  • feel very sleepy during the day or groggy in the morning
  • have irregular breathing
  • move a lot during sleep
  • can't sleep and have night sweats
  • have unusual sleep behaviours

If you're struggling with your sleep on a regular basis, you should talk to your GP.

The most common types of sleep disorders are:

  • insomnia
  • sleep apnoea
  • circadian rhythm sleep disorder

Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects a person's ability to get to sleep at night or stay asleep at night. As a result, someone with insomnia may find it harder to function during the day. Read more about insomnia and how to manage it.

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a disorder that affects your breathing when asleep. It makes your breathing stop and start irregularly when sleeping. This can be pretty serious.

Read more about sleep apnoea and how to manage it.

Circadian rhythm disorder

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles in your body. Some people call them your 'body clock'. They help to manage your appetite, energy, mood and sleep.

Your body clock can change depending on your environment. It responds to light and changes from night to day.

When your body clock is out of sync, this has an impact on you. It can cause circadian rhythm disorder (CRD). This sometimes triggers depression.

How to manage your body clock:

  • try not to take naps during the day
  • allow yourself time to wind down before going to bed
  • get some exposure to light in the mornings
  • exercise regularly
  • eat a healthy diet

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is linked to CRD (your body clock). During the winter, our bodies don't get enough light. This can mean your body produces the wrong hormones at the wrong time of day.

The symptoms usually pass as the days get longer. But many SAD sufferers have 1 to 2 weeks of SAD-like symptoms in the summer. Read more about SAD.

Impact on bipolar disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, you may enter a depressive (low) phase in autumn and winter. You may have episodes of euphoria or mania (intense excitement and happiness). This is due to fewer daylight hours. You will need more help to manage your condition.

You may also suffer from sleep problems and feel worse at a particular time of day. Sometimes using a bright light can help these symptoms.

14-day #ZZZChallenge

You can try simple steps for 14 days that can help you to get a better night's sleep. Use our list of suggestions and printable 14-day mood tracker to help improve your sleep.

Download the 14 Day Mood Tracker: ZZZChallengeCalendar

Download the sleep suggestions: ZZZChallengeTIPS

Recharge is an app for your mobile device. It offers a 6-week program to helps improve your sleep and health. Download the Recharge app.

Page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
Next review due: 23/09/2021

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