We all know that sleep is essential for health and is as important as a balanced diet and regular exercise to maintain our overall physical wellbeing.

There are several areas health professionals list as being benefited when we have adequate sleep. These include better cognitive capacity, productivity and concentration.

Although we all know how important sleep is, we all go through times when its difficult to have as much as we feel we need. This may be because of a new baby; a change in working pattern; travel and jet lag; work load. As long as these last for only a short duration we can usually manage to “catch up”.

However, if they go on for a longer period and you are being impacted in other areas of your life then you may need to seek advice.

The reason its important is that there is evidence that lack of sleep – sleep deprivation can be harmful.

Here are some tips to try to get back into a good sleep patterns. Remember though to work our how much sleep you need and remember this may change throughout your lifetime.

Manage your stress

There’s a strong relationship between sleeping badly and feeling stressed. Although you often can’t control being in stressful situations, you can control how you react to stress. Our section on managing stress will help you understand whether stress is having a negative effect on you, and gives personalised advice to help.

Write a to-do list for the next day

Do this as part of your bedtime routine, and include things you’re trying to figure out and some ideas for how you’ll try to address them. That should help you put them out of your mind until the next day.

Learn to relax

With some practice, you can learn to trigger your body’s relaxation response. Teaching yourself some simple relaxation techniques can help you wind down and de-stress. Find some tips for relaxation here.

Manage the causes of sleeplessness
  • Manage your stress – there is a strong correlation between being stressed and not being able to sleep well. You may not be able to reduce the stress you have but you can address your reaction to it .
  • Make notes – if you are lying thinking of things you have to do or haven’t done – have a pad and pen by your bed. Write them down and know that you don’t have to lie there worrying about them.
  • Take time to relax – you can with practice, learn to trigger your own body’s relaxation responses. Try and learn some simple relaxation exercises for when you want a change from counting sheep! Link to relaxation page.
Have a daily routine
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Don’t be tempted to keep pushing the snooze button.
  • Avoid napping even though you are tired, it may just add to the problem.
  • Have at least 30 minutes of exercise a day – though not in the two hours before bedtime.
Have a bedtime routine
  • Avoid caffeine for around 4 hours before wanting to sleep. Caffeine affects people differently some need to cut it out from midday others only a few hours before sleep. Experiment to see what works for you.
  • Avoid big meals before bedtime. Studies have shown its harder to sleep whilst your stomach is digesting food.
  • Go to bed when you are sleepy. Just because you are tired does not mean you are sleepy. It can be worse lying there trying to sleep but not falling off. wait until you feel sleepy – yawning, heavy eyes are good signs of being sleepy.
  • No screens. Try and stop using screens up to an hour before bedtime. If you have to use them try adjusting the brightness so your eyes are dealing with such a bright light stimulating your brain.
Look at your sleeping environment
  • Try to avoid bringing work into the bedroom, especially before bedtime.
  • Limit screens in your bedroom, again adjust brightness if you do use them for relaxation.
  • Make sure you are comfortable. Check the temperature, your pillows and your mattress. any of these can affect your quality of sleep.
  • Make sure your room is dark. You can use an eye mask if your curtains let in too much light and you don’t have a blackout blind.
If you can’t sleep

Don’t watch the clock. This could just make you more anxious.

Reset your routine. If you’ve been lying awake for an extended period, get up and do something peaceful like make a cup of herbal tea or read by a dim light. Once you feel tired again, return to bed and try again.

If you wake at night. It’s usually better to get up rather than toss and turn. If you stay in bed too long when not sleeping you will train your brain to associate bed with being awake. So get up move to a different part of the room or house, listen to soft music, read a book or do anything that distracts you. Only go back to bed when you’re feeling sleepy once again.

Below are some other resources which you may find useful to help get you back into a healthy sleeping pattern.

Resources and Further Reading

Sleep Diary