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Most people will experience difficulty sleeping at some time in their lives but a good night’s sleep is extremely important to mental and physical well being.  Poor sleep is associated with, and affected by, a range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, experiences of voice hearing and paranoia.  Being tired makes it harder to cope with daily stresses and other problems.  That’s why identifying the problem early and creating an action plan for managing it is really important. 

If you are having trouble with getting a good night’s sleep then you might want to consider the following suggestions:

 

Do:

  • Try to relax before going to bed (you might want to try using guided relaxation CDs/apps, reading a book or having a bath)
  • Go to bed at the same time every night and get out of bed at the same time every day (even if you haven’t slept well! Sleeping in because you didn’t sleep well will only make it harder to go to sleep again the next night).
  • Eat a small snack if you are hungry (foods high in the chemical tryptophan such as porridge, oats and bananas can promote sleep)
  • Try to develop a bedtime routine (you may want to take a bath or have a warm milky drink- but not one with caffeine in!). These activities will become associated with sleep and can make you feel more tired
  • Write down any worries that are keeping you awake and tell yourself that you will look at them in the morning. If you wake up in the night with worries, you could keep a notebook by your bed.
  • Try and get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day (going for a walk or doing the vacuuming are some ideas- but you could do something else like football, swimming or dancing!)
  • Avoid watching TV, playing games or going on your phone while in bed
  • Try to maintain a comfortable sleeping environment (you may want to de-clutter your room and try to ensure it is not too hot or too cold, too light or too noisy).

 

Don’t:

  • Don’t drink caffeinated drinks in the evening or at night (including tea, coffee and some fizzy drinks)
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes late at night (although you might feel that alcohol makes you drowsy, don’t be fooled.  Like caffeine and nicotine, alcohol can make for a restless night)
  • Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full
  • Don’t keep checking the time as this may make you feel more anxious/frustrated
  • Don’t take a nap during the day
  • Don’t do any strenuous exercise too close to going to bed
  • Don’t use your bedroom to work in, if you can help it. Keep this as a room to relax in.
  • Don’t do anything mentally stimulating (like work or computer games) in the last hour or two before bed.
  • Don’t spend hours lying in bed trying to go to sleep. If you can’t sleep get up for 20-30 minutes, move to another room, do something mildly distracting or relaxing like reading or listening to quiet music, and then go back to bed and try again.  

If you are having trouble sleeping you might want to consider making some small changes to your bedtime routine and seeing if this makes a difference. You may find it helpful to record your sleep pattern in an activity diary (add link) as this can help you to notice what’s happening with your sleep, what affects it and what helps so you can notice even small changes.

If your problems with sleep are because of unusual distressing experiences, voice hearing, paranoia, anxiety, worry, depression or other mental health problems, you may want to get some help for these things as this might improve your sleep too.

It’s important to remember that getting problematic sleep patterns under control can take time and very rarely happens overnight, so pace yourself and try to stay positive! If you want to read more you could have a look at Daniel Freeman’s book ‘Know Your Mind’ which has a section on sleep problems.  Also, you could take a look at the books and website and apps sections for more. 

The EYE Project is a research project supported by:

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Swandean, Arundel Road, Worthing, West Sussex, BN13 3EP