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How to get a better night's sleep

Sleep is as important to our bodies as eating and drinking. Inadequate sleep over a prolonged period can undermine your mental and physical wellbeing. So if you're affected by poor sleep you should consider doing something about it.

For lots of us just taking a few practical steps, like following a bedtime routine, or improving our sleep environment can help. But for some of us poor sleep is caused by an underlying issue, like work-related stress, debt problems or something else. In these situations you'll still benefit from the practical steps identified below but you should also consider these underlying causes.

Statistic highlighting level of poor sleep amongst employees. 1 in 3 have poor sleep.
Source: Vielife

Practical advice

  • Address the causes

    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 Stress Check helps 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.
  • Improve your daily routine

    Get up at the same time every day. It’s tempting to have a lie-in to 'catch up' on sleep. But getting up at the same time every day, even at weekends and even if you feel tired teaches your body better sleep rhythms. You could even set a bedtime alarm. Stick to this routine for at least 10 days to get the full benefit.

    Stop snoozing. It’s tempting to hit the snooze button to get a few extra minutes sleep, but this undermines the quality of your sleep. Set one alarm and stick to it. If you find this hard, place your alarm across the room so you need to get out of bed to turn it off.

    Avoid daytime naps. When you’re tired, you're likely to want a nap, but dozing off during the day won't help you sleep better at night, it might even make it harder.

    Take 30+ minutes of exercise every day. Exercise can help you sleep better, but don't exercise in the hours before you go to bed.
  • Improve your bedtime routine

    Avoid caffeine and alcohol for four hours before bed. This includes coffee, tea, and some energy and soft drinks.  Caffeine affects us all differently, some experts say to avoid caffeine after noon, and some say to cut it out altogether, so try different approaches to see what works for you.

    Avoid big evening meals. It's been shown that it's harder to get to sleep when your stomach's too full.

    Only go to bed when you’re feeling sleepy. Feeling sleepy is different to feeling tired, and is a good indicator that you'll fall asleep if you go to bed. Signs to look out for include: itchy eyes, yawning, 'nodding off', and a lack of energy. Going to bed when you haven't experienced any of these signs makes it less likely you'll fall asleep quickly.

    Resist your phone, laptop or tablet. Try not to use these before you go to bed. The bright light makes it harder for your brain to know it’s time to sleep. But if you do use a digital device before bed, try using an app to change the tint of the screen.

    Don't take over-the-counter sleeping tablets. They’re unlikely to be effective, and they won't help with the underlying cause of your sleep problem. But if you do want to try them, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.

  • Create an ideal sleeping environment

    Make sure your bedroom's dark enough. Use blackout curtains or thick blinds or wear an eye mask.

    Check your bedroom temperature. We all feel comfortable at different temperatures, but it's easier to get to sleep in a cooler room than it is a warmer one, experts say that around 17 degrees Celsius is about right

    Try wearing earplugs. These can be useful if you’re often woken up by noise.

    Get comfy. Get a comfortable mattress, a pillow that's at the right height for you and a duvet and blanket that works for you.
  • What to do 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.

    Get up if you wake at night. It's generally better to get out of bed than toss and turn. Staying in bed too long will train your brain to associate bed with being awake. Get up and 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.

Establishing healthier sleep habits is an ongoing process

What works for one person might not work for another, so be prepared to try a few different approaches to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Watch our two minute video about the importance of good sleep and the steps you can take to achieve it.

More support

  • How to learn to relax

    When we’re stressed or anxious, we automatically tense up. Learn some relaxation techniques to help you relax when you need to most.
  • How to do a digital detox

    A digital detox lets you enjoy the benefits of technology without the downsides. Use this advice to learn how to bring better balance to your digital habits.

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