for better mental health

How to cope with sleep problems

Explains sleep and mental health, gives practical suggestions and information about where to get support.

How can I improve my sleep?

This page has some tips and suggestions for improving your sleep.

Some people find these ideas useful, but remember that different things work for different people at different times.

Only try what you feel comfortable with, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If something isn't working for you (or doesn't feel possible just now), you can try something else, or come back to it another time.

It could help to establish a regular sleeping routine or habits. You might need to try different things before you find what works for you.

You could try going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day. Or it might help to go to bed only once you feel ready to sleep, but still get up around the same time.

"I was told to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, but lying in bed, in the dark, for hours and hours ... left me far too distressed to be able to fall asleep. So now I only go to bed when I feel like I will fall asleep within about 15 minutes or so, no matter what time of night that is, and then I try to get up at the same time every day."

You may find a relaxation routine can help you prepare for sleep. These are some ideas you could try.

Do something calming

For example, this could be listening to relaxing music or having a bath.

"A nicely made bed helps. If I’m having an awful day, and the only thing I’ve managed to find the energy to do is make my bed, then that’s OK."

Breathing exercises

See the NHS UK and Mental Health Foundation websites for ones you can try.

"Another thing that has worked for me is to lay down on my back and rest both my hands on my stomach/chest. Concentrating on my breathing and feeling my natural up and down movement makes me stop overthinking."

Muscle relaxation

Consciously tense and relax your muscles, one after the other, starting with your toes and working up your body until you reach the top of your head.

Visualisation

Picture a scene or landscape that has pleasant memories for you, or that you imagine would be a calming or peaceful place to be.

Meditation

Some people find it helps to try meditation techniques, like mindfulness. You could learn these at a class or from self-help guides.

You may find it difficult to work out what's affecting your sleep. A sleep diary involves recording information about your sleep habits to help you understand your sleep problem and what's affecting it.

If you want to, you can show your sleep diary to healthcare professionals to help explain what problems you're having. For example, you could take it with you to a doctor's appointment.

A sleep diary could include information about:

  • what time you go to bed and what time you get up
  • total number of hours of sleep, or a rough idea if you're not sure
  • overall quality of sleep, ranked 1–5
  • how many times you wake up in the night, how long you're awake and what you do while you're awake
  • whether you have nightmares, night terrors or sleep paralysis, or have sleepwalked during the night
  • whether you sleep during the day and for how long
  • any medication you're taking, including the dose and what time you take it
  • the amount of caffeine, alcohol or nicotine you have
  • the amount of physical activity you do
  • what you eat and drink
  • your general feelings and moods, including any anxious or repetitive thoughts.

You should keep your sleep diary for at least two weeks.

You can find a sleep diary template on the NHS Live Well website.

"[I] write what's happened, what did or didn't help, anything I need to or scribble to let out anger when the words and the tears are stuck."

You might not have much control over where you sleep – for example, if you're staying in hospital or temporary accommodation. But there might still be small changes you can make, or ask someone to help you with. For example:

  • Try different temperature, light and noise levels to see what works for you.
  • Lots of people find dark, quiet and cool environments best, but everyone is different.
  • If you can't sleep in darkness, try keeping a light or bedside lamp switched on.
  • If silence makes it harder to sleep, listen to music, nature sounds, a podcast or the radio.
  • You might find it helpful to try different bedding – for example, a warmer or cooler duvet, or a different pillow.
  • If you're affected by issues with a partner – for example, snoring or problems sharing a bed – the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association has information on its website and a helpline.

"Sometimes when I'm trying to fall asleep I don't like being alone with my thoughts. I have found [podcasts] an amazing comfort because it's a friendly voice just speaking so soothingly and telling a winding bedtime story – it just keeps my mind occupied enough not to start spiralling, and to fall asleep."

Using screens in the evening, including on tablets and mobile phones, can negatively affect your sleep.

It can help to think about when and how you use screens. For example, you could try:

  • avoiding screens an hour or two before bed
  • cutting down on screen time before you try to sleep
  • avoiding stimulating activities, such as playing games
  • using a blue light filter, night mode or dark mode – you might be able to find these options in your device settings and in individual app settings
  • adjusting other settings – for example, changing the brightness, or using silent, flight or airplane, or do not disturb mode.

"Reminding myself that a bad night of sleep won't make or break me (because I can make it through, even if it sucks) has helped a lot to allay stress/anxiety about sleep."

Looking after yourself physically can help improve your sleep. Try these to see if they help.

Think about your diet

Some types of foods can affect your sleep, including caffeine and sugar. It can also help to avoid eating large meals right before going to bed. Our pages on food and mood have more information.

Try to do some physical activity

Physical activity can help you sleep, including gentle physical activity. It can be particularly helpful to be active outdoors. Some people find they need to stop any physical activity a few hours before going to sleep. Our pages on physical activity and mental health have more information.

Spend time outside

Being outside in green space can help you relax and improve your wellbeing. Spending time in natural light can also be helpful for your sleep. Our pages on nature and mental health have more information.

"Music and brisk walking helps me settle down at night because the pace of my thoughts I can match to the pace of my walking – thus it helps settle my mind a little and tires me out before bed."

If you're experiencing other issues alongside sleep problems, such as money worries or addiction to recreational drugs or alcohol, getting support for these things can help with your sleep problems too.

Our pages on money and mental health, addiction and dependency, and mental health effects of drugs and alcohol have information about organisations that can help.

Some medication, including psychiatric medication, can affect your sleep. If you're taking any type of medication and having problems with your sleep, talk to your doctor or a pharmacist.

Support during the night

If you're awake and you need support with difficult feelings or worries, here are some options that are available 24/7.

Our page on helplines and listening services lists more options for getting support, including opening hours.

Tips for when you can't sleep

Watch Jonny Benjamin talk about how his mental health affects his sleep, and how he has learned to manage it.

Treatments to help with sleep problems

Any treatments you're offered for sleep problems will depend on what type of problems you're having and any particular causes.

Talking therapies

Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a type of CBT designed to help with insomnia. You may also be offered talking therapy to help with mental health problems that are affecting your sleep. See our pages on talking therapy and counselling for more information.

Medication

You might be offered sleeping pills to help with short periods of severe insomnia, or you might be prescribed medication for other types of sleep problems. See our pages on medication for more information.

Referral to a sleep clinic

Sleep clinics are used to assess sleep problems, which can include using equipment at home or staying overnight for an assessment. To access a sleep clinic, you'll usually need a referral from your GP.

Sleep, Anxiety and Me

"I started to learn about what I’d been experiencing and ways to make it more manageable."

This information was published in May 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

Share this information

arrow_upwardBack to Top