Sleep is essential for our health and well-being, yet it is estimated that 40% of the population suffer with their sleep and do not get the support that they need.
How we sleep and how much sleep we need is different for all of us and changes as we get older. On average, adults require between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. It is natural to feel tired from time to time, and any problems with sleep usually resolve themselves within about a month. However, longer periods of poor sleep can have a negative affect on the quality of our lives and make usually manageable tasks harder.
- you find it difficult to fall asleep
- you lie awake for long periods at night
- you wake up several times during the night
- you wake up early and are unable to get back to sleep
- you feel down or have a low mood
- you have difficulty concentrating
- you find yourself being more irritable than usual
- you feel like you have not slept well when you wake up in the morning
There are many reasons why we might not be able to sleep well, and these differ for everyone. They can include:
- feeling stressed or worried
- a change in the noise level or temperature of your bedroom
- a different routine, for example because of jet lag
- too much caffeine or alcohol
- shift work
- physical or mental health problems
- side effects from medicines
There are a number of things that you can try to help improve the quality of your sleep, including simple lifestyle changes.
Below are some 'do's' and 'don'ts' when it comes to getting a good night's sleep:
Working outside of traditional hours (e.g. 9am - 5pm) can have an effect on our sleep and wake states, also known as our internal body clock or circadian rhythm. Fortunately, there are various techniques that can help you to maintain your physical, mental and emotional health when working shifts.
Day shift work
It can be lonely, tiring, and disruptive to your personal life working shifts, especially if you often switch from one type of shift to another (i.e., early to late to nights).
Take a look at the resources below to help look after your mental wellbeing as a shift worker.
They have created an article which includes advice on how to get good sleep, even if you’re a shift worker, click here to read.
Night shift work
Night shifts can be physically and mentally taxing. Take a look at some tips to help you manage your wellbeing when working nights below.
Recording sleep patterns and problems using a diary may help to explain fatigue and tiredness. It can also be used to help find the most suitable strategies and conditions for a better quality of sleep.
- If you work regular shifts, try going to bed at different times eg soon after you arrive back from work or stay up and sleep before the next shift
- have a short sleep before your first night shift
- if coming off night shifts, have a short sleep and go to bed earlier that night
- once you have identified a suitable sleep schedule try to keep to it.
Make the environment favourable for sleeping
Sleep loss and fatigue are some of the most significant problems for shift workers. It is important to try and maintain your normal level of sleep and rest. Daytime sleep is usually lighter, shorter and of poorer quality than night time sleep. It is more frequently disturbed because of warmer temperatures and daytime noise. To help make the environment favourable for sleeping:
- sleep in your bedroom and avoid using it for other activities such as watching television, eating and working
- use heavy curtains, blackout blinds or eye shades to darken the bedroom
- disconnect the phone or use an answer machine and turn the ringer down
- ask your family not to disturb you and to keep the noise down when you are sleeping
- discuss your work pattern with close neighbours and ask them to try and avoid noisy activities during your sleep time
- if it is too noisy to sleep consider using earplugs, white noise or background music to mask external noises
- adjust the bedroom temperature to a comfortable level, cool conditions improve sleep.
Techniques to promote sleep
To promote sleeping, try to follow a similar routine to the one you follow before a normal nights sleep. The following tips may help you relax after a shift and promote sleep:
- go for a short walk, relax with a book, listen to music and/or take a hot bath before going to bed
- avoid vigorous exercise before sleep as it is stimulating and raises the body temperature
- avoid caffeine, 'energy' drinks and other stimulants a few hours before bedtime as they can stop you going to sleep
- don't go to bed feeling hungry: have a light meal or snack before sleeping but avoid fatty, spicy and/or heavy meals, as these are more difficult to digest and can disturb sleep
- avoid alcohol as it lowers the quality of sleep.
It is very important to consider the timing and quality of your meals. Digestive problems are common in shift workers due to disruption of the body clock and poor diet. Plan your meals to help you stay alert at work and to relax/sleep when you need to rest.
- regular light meals/snacks are less likely to affect alertness or cause drowsiness than a single heavy meal
- choose foods that are easy to digest such as pasta, rice, bread, salad, fruit, vegetables and milk products
- avoid fatty, spicy and/or heavy meals as these are more difficult to digest. They can make you feel drowsy when you need to be alert. They may also disturb sleep when you need to rest
- avoid sugary foods, such as chocolate – they provide a short-term energy boost followed by a dip in energy levels
- fruit and vegetables are good snacks as their sugar is converted into energy relatively slowly and they also provide vitamins, minerals and fibre
- drink plenty of fluid as dehydration can reduce both mental and physical performance but avoid drinking too much fluid before sleeping as this may overload the bladder.
Physical fitness and a healthier lifestyle
An unhealthy lifestyle combined with shift work may increase the likelihood of sleep disorders and sleep loss or exacerbate existing sleep problems. A good diet, regular meals and exercise can improve sleep quality, health and well-being.
- you can improve your fitness by spending 30 minutes a day on a physical activity including housework and walking. Consider joining a gym or taking part in a regular exercise class
- eat healthy meals on a regular basis
- cut down or give up smoking
- reduce your alcohol intake
- seek advice from your doctor if you require regular medication such as insulin for diabetes or suffer from a chronic condition such as epilepsy.
Video: Advice for night shifts by British Medical Association
Sleeping problems: an NHS self-help guide
This self-help guide from the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, it helps you to understand your sleep problem and to learn some simple ways to sleep better.
The Sleep Council: The Goodnight Guide
This booklet outlines 7 practical steps to a good night's sleep
Centre for Clinical Interventions worksheets
The Centre for Clinical Interventions has information sheets for things such as insomnia, sleep hygiene and nightmares, as well as a sleep diary worksheet.
Webinar: Sleeping better
Watch this webinar about sleep, sleeping difficulties and ways to overcome these from ThriveLDN.
Mental wellbeing audio guide
Listen to this Mental wellbeing audio guide on sleep problems and what you can do to give yourself the best chance of a good night's sleep.
Sleep Sounds by Sleep Pillow
The app Sleep Sounds by Sleep Pillow contains a variety of soothing sounds to help you fall asleep, such as ocean waves, rain, bird and frog sounds, instrumental lullaby.
NHS staff have been given free access to Sleepio. Sleepio is a clinically evidenced sleep improvement programme that is fully automated and highly personalised, using cognitive behavioural techniques to help improve poor sleep.
- Visit the Sleepio website
- Answer a few short questions to tailor the programme to you
- Sign up for an account using your name and email address
- Click ‘Personalise Sleepio'
Although Headspace is primarily a meditation app, it also offers a generous selection of sounds to help you sleep.
The BetterSleep sleep app – formerly known as Relax Melodies – contains a full range of features designed to help you sleep better. The site’s library includes more than 200 soothing sounds.