Good sleep is essential for restoring the body and recharging the mind. Lack of sleep can be exhausting and may impact our ability to focus and carry out daily activities.
Common signs you may be experiencing sleep problems
- 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
Good sleep hygiene means creating a comfortable environment and daily routine for sleep. Improving your sleep hygiene can help you to enjoy consistent and undisturbed sleep. Below are 6 tips on how to maintain strong sleep hygiene, or watch a video on tips for sleeping better.
Try to keep to regular sleeping hours where possible.
Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day can help train your body to sleep more consistently. National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Think about how many hours is possible for you and set your sleeping hours to fit that. Try to avoid napping where possible as it can disrupt your sleep schedule.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
Drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol in the evening can cause difficulty falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to avoid these kinds of beverages before sleep. Herbal teas or hot chocolates can be a good drink to have before bed to wind down.
Set up a restful sleeping environment.
It can be easier to fall and stay asleep when we have a dark and quiet environment. Use heavy curtains or an eye mask to stop light from interrupting your sleep. Avoid using phones, tablets and other electronic devices for about an hour before bed as the light from them can negatively impact your sleep. Try wearing ear plugs if you find that noise is interfering with your sleep. Calming scents can help create a positive space for sleeping - try using a lavender pillow spray on your pillow before bed.
Active day, restful night.
Being active and doing physical exercise can help you sleep better. If you can fit in a workout, run, cycle, or walk into your day then it could help you sleep better later. However, try to avoid exercising directly before bedtime as this can make it more difficult to sleep.
Don’t force it.
If you are lying in bed and really struggling to fall asleep, don’t force it. Try getting out of bed and carrying out a relaxing activity, such as reading or meditation, and then go back to sleep when you feel more tired.
Write down your thoughts or worries.
It can be hard to fall asleep when our minds are preoccupied with worrying or planning the activities of tomorrow. If this often happens to you then try setting time before bed to write these thoughts down. This can help relax your mind and prepare you to sleep.
Working shifts can be tiring and challenging to balance with our personal lives, especially if you often have to change the type of shifts you’re doing (e.g. nights to early shifts).
It can be hard to have a regular sleep schedule when your routine is often changing and it is very common for people working shifts to experience sleep problems. It is important to address these problems as poor sleep can affect your mood, health, and work performance.
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
- 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.
Insomnia is when you are regularly struggling with sleep problems. It can be short-term (lasting less than 3 months) or long-term (lasting more than 3 months).
If you are struggling with insomnia or sleep problems, the NHS has a sleep self-assessment which will give you a ‘sleep score’ and some tips on what you can do to improve your sleep.
Speak to your GP if changing your sleeping habits hasn’t helped, you’ve been struggling with your sleep problems for months, and your sleep problems are affecting your ability to cope in everyday life.
There is more information on insomnia on the NHS.
Sleep apnoea is when your breathing stops and starts while you are asleep. It can cause you to wake up a lot during the night and then feel very tired in the day.
Symptoms include: breathing stopping and starting; making gasping, snorting or choking noises; waking up lots; and loud snoring.
It can be difficult to tell whether you are being affected by sleep apnoea so it can be helpful to get someone to stay with you while you sleep to see if you have the symptoms. Sleep apnoea can be serious when left untreated so contact your GP if you think you may have sleep apnoea.
There is more information on sleep apnoea on the NHS.
Watch our Sleep Well webinar series
We ran a series of webinars with Sleep Well Oxford to offer information on how to get the most from night-time rest.
The webinars looked at:
- how sleep works
- why it's important
- exploring the natural biological rhythms and helpful thinking styles that influence and support rest and sleep.
During the sessions, staff learnt key day-time and night-time behaviours and tools that can improve your sleep with the guidance and support of a clinical expert and committed therapist using the Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia technique.
Night Club is a health and wellbeing programme for night shift workers and employers to get help from sleep researchers to shape a healthier working experience. They've developed a guide on managing sleep and shift work.
Additionally, Night Club works with employers to alter working practices and conditions to improve the environment for the workers and provide longer-term change.
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.
If you are an employer and would like to find out how Night Club could work at your organisation, please contact email@example.com.
Get better sleep by working through this sleep workbook, created by Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist Majella Cogan and London’s digital mental wellbeing service Good Thinking.
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.
White Noise Lite is a free white noise app that offers 50 free pre-programmed sounds. They also offerWhite Noise Deep Sleep Sounds that has a simple interface that is available in light or dark mode.
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.
- Overcoming insomnia and sleep problems: A self-help guide using cognitive-behavioural techniques. (2nd Ed.) Espie, C. A. (2021)
- Sleeping through the night: How infants, toddlers, and their parents can get a good night’s sleep. Mindell, J. (2005)
- Take charge of your child’s sleep: The all-in-one resource for solving sleep problems in kids and teens. Owens, J., & Mindell, J.
- Solving sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorders: A guide for frazzled families. Katz, T., & Malow, B. (2014).
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