Lack of sleep greatly affects how we think and feel and what we do 

Girl sat on bed looking sad

Sleep is an important biological function. For all involved, sleep disturbance or difficulties can feel worrying and really get in the way of life. Depending on our age, we need different amounts of sleep:

  • Newborn babies to three year olds: 13–17 hours
  • School age children and young people: 10 hours
  • Adults: 6–9 hours

If you’re experiencing problems sleeping, you may find you worry about going to sleep and that sleep doesn’t come easily no matter how hard you try. The slightest noise or physical discomfort may keep you awake.

You may have to do something in order to fall asleep, such as stop thinking or watch TV. When sleep finally comes, you may toss and turn or wake from terror or nightmares. In the mornings it can be hard to get up – perhaps you fall asleep just before your alarm clock sounds.

There are different types of sleeping problems. For example, insomnia is when we have had poor quality or a poor quantity of sleep for a long time.

What affects our sleep?

Lots of things can affect how we sleep – some of these involve what’s going on in our body and others involve what is going on in our mind.

Young children's sleep might be affected by teething, separation anxiety or over-tiredness. When children are a bit older they may have nightmares or even night terrors.

When we are older, our sleep can be affected by things such as shift work, jet lag, drinking alcohol and using drugs. Importantly, we know that for all people of all ages mood, worry or stress can really get in the way of good sleep.

How to improve sleep

  • Underlying causes and beliefs: Is there anything happening in the day to keep you awake at night? What are your beliefs and expectations about sleep? Perhaps discuss this with someone who you know you can trust. Consider recording patterns of sleep and keeping a sleep diary to empty your mind before you sleep and explore any disturbing dreams.
  • Exercise regularly: But not within three or four hours before sleep. Evidence suggests that yoga, tai chi and walking outdoors are particularly helpful, but most exercise helps.
  • Develop a healthy and consistent sleep ritual: Make preparation for sleep a feature of the day. Some people find having a warm bath with soothing essential oils, relaxing music, deep muscle relaxation or mindfulness meditation is helpful.
  • When getting ready to sleep, try to avoid: Eating meals, sugary or caffeinated drinks, computers, TV, phones, tablets and other screen time.
  • If you work shifts: Aim to have at least four hours of sleep at the same time each day or night. Working a clockwise shift rotation (meaning days to evenings to nights) might be helpful. Scheduled naps before and during breaks within your shift can help recovery.
  • Talking therapy: If sleep problems are getting in the way of your life, consider meeting with someone trained to help. This might include meeting with a health visitor or GP or having talking or behaviour therapy.

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