How to get enough sleep

Last reviewed on 12 October 2021

Around a third of adults are thought to have trouble sleeping. In fact, sleep problems are one of the most common psychological reasons for GP appointments and, left untreated, insomnia increases the risk of development or worsening of anxiety, depression, hypertension and diabetes.

Add the stress of COVID-19 and even more people appear to be struggling with sleep. A 2020 survey by King's College London/Ipsos MORI found that almost two-thirds (63%) of people in the UK said their sleep was worse than usual during the pandemic. A separate study by Southampton University found that mothers, key workers and BAME groups experienced a particular increase in sleep problems.

As Professor Bobby Duffy of KCL comments, these sleep problems are, "... tied to both how stressful we’ve found the virus itself and how much we fear the impact of the lockdown on our employment and finances."

Research has shown that being helped to sleep better really helps to reduce stress so here’s our advice for getting a better night’s sleep.

Three reasons to put sleep first

  1. Self-control: When you’re sleep deprived, the brain enters survival mode – we dial up activity in the emotional fear centres, making us feel more anxious and sensitive to threats. At the same time, we downgrade activity in the parts of the brain responsible for less urgent activities like planning and self-control. This is why it’s much harder to stick to your goals when you’re short of sleep.
  2. Appetite: When we cut sleep short, we throw our internal body clocks into disarray. We produce more of a hormone called grehlin, which makes us hungry, and less leptin, which makes us feel full. So, we get more of the munchies after a bad night’s sleep and we’re less likely to resist our cravings.
  3. Memory: We consolidate new memories overnight, putting the most important into long-term storage and pruning the unnecessary.


Three things that can help

  1. Start a sleep diary: For seven days, write down when you go to sleep, what time you wake up and how energised you feel during the day. Most adults need at least seven hours sleep to function at their best but your sleep need is unique to you.
  2. Prepare for sleep: An hour before bed, start to unwind and detach from the day. Leave tech out of the bedroom – it interferes with melatonin, your body’s signal for sleep. A daily ritual of relaxation, such as reading a book or listening to soothing music, will help with readiness for sleep.
  3. Learn the tricks of the trade: To transform your sleep habits for the better and ease the racing mind, take some time to learn more about sleep and why it’s so important. Download this leaflet by The Mental Health Foundation and try out the Good Thinking sleep quiz to find out what apps and tools, such as Be Mindful and Meditainment, can help you. We’ll be adding more resources, so keep checking back to see if one of them is right for you.

If you’re struggling to get to sleep or waking up a lot because you’re worried about coronavirus, we hope these tips help you. This is an extremely difficult time for everyone but it’s vital that you get the right amount of rest to help you stay healthy in both mind and body.

Listen to our podcast with NHS sleep consultant Michael Farquhar and take a look at these information sheets about sleep and insomnia from the Centre for Clinical Interventions.

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