Sweet dreams: 5 ways you can sleep better

posted by in Budgeting

You may have read about our Need to Sleep campaign, which highlights the fact that 7.4 million people across the UK have trouble sleeping at night because of money worries. As well as affecting your sleep, it can impact on your relationships, your job, and your health, including your mental health.

34% of people who can’t sleep because of money worries say it makes them feel lonely, and 39% say it makes them feel helpless.

We asked Joanna Carson from the Mental Health Foundation to give us an insight into how sleep problems can affect mental health, and what you can do to get a better night’s sleep. Over to you, Joanna!

distressed woman in bedroom

How does lack of sleep affect mental health?

When I talk to people about the ways they can look after their mental health, sleep is by far the most popular topic.  While most of us don’t get enough sleep, we still see it as one of the important factors to a happier life.

Sleep isn’t just “time out” from our daily routines; a good night’s sleep helps our bodies and minds to rest, repair and re-energise.

Sleep is something everyone needs and it’s essential for both our physical and mental health – so why aren’t we sleeping better?

We lead increasingly busy lives and it’s estimated we now sleep around 90 minutes less each night than we did a hundred years ago. Large numbers of people also live with sleep disorders and many people function from day to day in a permanently sleep-deprived state.

There are more than 80 different sleep problems recognised by doctors, ranging from insomnia (an inability to sleep) to narcolepsy (where the brain is unable to regulate sleeping and waking patterns normally).

The impact of poor sleep

Not getting a good night’s sleep can cause a range of problems including poor concentration, feeling low, irritability, and a weakened immune system. In the longer term this can lead to mental ill-health such as anxiety, stress and depression. The Great British Sleep Survey (2012) found that poor sleepers are:

  • 7 times more likely to feel helpless
  • 5 times more likely to feel alone
  • twice as likely to have relationship problems

Good sleep doesn’t just mean lots of sleep – the amount that each person needs is different. The important thing is the quality of your sleep. Factors like your attitude, lifestyle and sleeping environment all play crucial parts in sleep quality.

Many sleep problems are temporary and there are some really useful self-help measures that can get you back to more normal sleeping patterns.

Improve your sleep

There are many things you can try to help yourself sleep well:

  1. Exercise regularly, but at least three hours before bedtime
  2. Avoid tea and coffee and don’t drink a lot of alcohol before bedtime
  3. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day
  4. Only use your bed for sleep (or sex!). Your bed should be associated with sleep, so refrain from using electronics (phones, television) in your room before bed
  5. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that lets you unwind, sending a signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep

If you find it hard to use some of these approaches in your life and you regularly have trouble sleeping, you may need to see your doctor. Sleep problems can often be a symptom of other issues in our lives, so it’s worth seeking out your doctor’s input if problems continue.

Sleep problems: find out more

Listen to the Mental Health Foundation’s podcast on how to use progressive relaxation for better sleep.

Download the Mental Health Foundation’s Pocket Guide to Better Sleep, which includes simple ways to improve your sleep and a diary to record your sleep patterns.

If money worries are keeping you awake at night, read Paul’s story.

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