Sleep and mental health

Problems with sleep can affect how you feel physically and mentally, and how you feel can also affect how you sleep. Find out how a lack of sleep can affect your mental health, and what you can do to improve it.

It’s recommended that adults up to the age of 64, need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. In reality, the latest research has shown that:

  • Almost 1 in 5 people in the UK aren’t getting enough sleep.
  • 25% of adults in the UK cite money worries as negatively impacting their sleep.
  • 26% of adults in the UK cite Covid-19 as negatively impacting their sleep.
  • 66% of adolescents cite poor sleep as negatively impacting on their mental health.
  • 37% of adults in the UK cite work as reducing the amount of control they feel they have over their sleep.
  • Women, Black, Asian and other minority ethnic adults are disproportionately likely to experience poor sleep likely due to social inequality.

What causes sleep problems?

Everyone experiences problems sleeping at times, we can wake up in the night, or have dreams that disturb our sleep. These problems will usually resolve themselves after a short period of time.

Problems with sleep are often caused by:

  • Environmental issues: Night-time noise, screen light from phones, TVs and tablets, and light from the outside can trick your body into delaying sleep. Air pollution can also disrupt your sleeping patterns.
  • Life events: You may feel distracted, stressed or worried about something going on in your life while you’re trying to go to sleep, which can affect your ability to relax.
  • Thinking cycle: Anxious thoughts about not getting enough sleep can cause distress, which can prevent you from relaxing and falling asleep. This can become a vicious cycle.
  • Lifestyle: Developing poor habits around sleep, such as not having a regular routine, can cause problems.
    – Not having a regular sleep-awake routine
    – Eating late at night
    – Consuming alcohol, nicotine or caffeine around bedtime
    – Vigorous exercise late at night
    – Using smart devices (phones, tablets etc.) before bed
    – Checking and responding to work emails outside of working hours

It’s common to experience periods of poor sleep, but this doesn’t usually point to a serious mental health problem. However, consistently poor sleep can be a symptom and cause of mental health problems.

Effects of poor sleep on mental health

Sleep can affect your emotional regulation. If you’re experiencing a period of bad sleep for weeks, months or years, this can affect your day-to-day life.

Poor sleep can affect your physical and mental health. Not getting enough “good quality sleep” can sap your energy levels, lower your mood and reduce your concentration. It can also negatively impact your relationships, immune system, work, and social life.

One of the biggest issues associated with not getting enough good quality sleep is sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is associated with poor mood and the inability to control our emotions. This poor mood can then disrupt our sleep, creating a vicious cycle.

  • Poor focus, memory and concentration
  • More likely to consume caffeine and sugary drinks
  • More likely to take part in risky and anti-social behaviour
  • More likely to suffer from colds and infections
  • Less able to manage stress

There is now evidence that shows treating sleep problems may help reduce anxiety disorders and symptoms of depression.

If you are experiencing ongoing problems with sleeping, the best thing to do is make an appointment to see your GP.

Download our sleep tracker

If you’re worried about your sleep, keeping a sleep diary can be useful. Download our simple sleep tracker and to record many hours of sleep you’re getting and the quality of it. After 1 week, come back to this page to see what your results mean and for tips and ideas to help you improve your sleep.

How much sleep should I be getting?

How much sleep we need depends on factors including our age and lifestyle. You can use this table produced from research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation as a guide:

Category Sleep needed per day
New-born babies 14-17 hours
Children 9-11 hours
Adolescents 8-10 hours
Adults up to 64 7-9 hours
Adults over 64 7-8 hours

Tips for getting a good nights sleep

Having conducted a survey with over 2000 Brits, Eve Sleep discovered that 79% of us struggle to switch off at bedtime and 60% of us wake up in the night with thoughts of work and other worries. The most common knock-on effects include tiredness, being less productive, being snappy and feeling over-emotional. Faye form Eve Sleep will help you to identify bad sleep patterns and offer some practical tips for improving your nights’ sleep.

  1. Create a regular sleeping pattern: Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will programme your body to sleep better.
  2. Create a restful sleeping environment: Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest and sleep. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool when you’re trying to sleep.
  3. Monitor your job, commute, and work environment: 15% of UK workers cite not having to commute long distances helps them get the right amount of sleep. Think about things like:
    – Whether you should be answering emails or work phone calls outside of work hours
    – Whether you enjoy or resent commuting to work
    – Does your work environment, whether it’s at home, in an office or elsewhere make you feel regularly stressed and tired?
    – Do you always need to be in the same place to do your job? Can you split your time and be more agile?
    – Is your job, the right one for you?
  4. Exercise regularly: Moderate exercise, such as swimming or walking, can help relieve some of the tension built up over the day. Try not to take part in vigorous exercise too close to bedtime though, as it could keep you awake.
  5. Watch what you’re eating and drinking: Cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evening. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea. Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, can interrupt your sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, but it will disrupt your sleep later on in the night.
  6. Keep a sleep diary: If you’re worried about your sleep why not keep track of how many hours you’re sleeping and why – you may see a pattern of behaviour which you can address. You can download our sleep tracker here. 
  7. Wind down routine: Learning how to relax both your body and mind will help you to get to sleep more easily. Have a warm bath, listen to quiet music or do some gentle yoga to relax the mind and body.
  8. Write down your thoughts: If you tend to lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, set aside time before bedtime to make plans for the next day. Avoid doing these things when you’re in bed, trying to sleep.
  9. If you can’t sleep, get up: If you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.

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