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This blog is the second in our series on optimising your mental wellbeing. If you have not already done so, please read the first blog which provides an overview of what causes stress, how to spot the signs and six tips for optimising your mental wellbeing. This blog focus on one of those tips - sleep.

Why is sleep important

If you are reading this post, then you probably already know how a lack of sleep affects you and your daily life, e.g. feeling tired, frustrated, stressed and irritated; lacking in energy; unable to focus or concentrate; making mistakes or poor decisions; declining social events; struggling to find the humour or joy in life, i.e. it impacts both your mental and physical capabilities. But more than that, if you experience a lack of sleep over a prolonged period of time, it can seriously affect you, e.g., it can cause memory loss, weakened immune system, increased blood pressure and obesity, as well as lead to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke [1] [2]. If left unchecked, it can create a safety issue and be potentially fatal for you, or people around you, e.g., due to falling asleep at the wheel of a vehicle, or not concentrating when operating machinery, or when working at height.

However, without stating the obvious, the opposite is true following a good night’s sleep and that is what we will focus on in this blog. But first some facts that demonstrate why sleep is so important:

  • Sleep is an important part of the recovery process; it is the body’s natural and most effective way to repair itself.
  • Sleep can reduce the effects of stress as it allows the cortisol and adrenaline which has built up in your body during the day to be removed.
  • Research found that 48% of people felt that sleep had negatively affected their mental health in the last 12 months [3].
  • A survey found that 77% of respondents said that a lack of sleep was interfering with their ability to function during the day.[4]
  • ‘The American Heart Association notes that getting good sleep is an important way to maintain or improve your heart health — and … chronic stress disrupts your rest, making for a vicious cycle.’ [5]
  • Research has found that when you combine stressors, for example, financial concerns, with a lack of sleep, it can reduce someone’s IQ by 13 points. ‘It’s arguably the case that lack of finances – or financial stress – combined with associated lack of sleep, can have an enormous impact on the ability to think clearly and make rational decisions.’ [6]
  • A Swedish study found that ‘men who slept less were at 2.8 times greater risk of developing diabetes, those who had difficulty falling asleep has almost 5 times higher risk of diabetes, and those with difficulty in maintaining sleep had 4.8 times greater risk’. [7]
  • A meta-analysis found ‘a moderate 24% increased risk of cancer for participants with insomnia symptoms compared with those without insomnia’. [8]
  • Yale School of Medicine recently published the results of a new study which found that ‘sleeping too much or too little is associated with changes in the brain that are known to precede and increase the risk of stroke and dementia later in life.’ [9]

What’s stopping you sleeping?

By considering the root causes of why you are not getting enough sleep, it may be possible to find suitable or appropriate solutions. Do you:

  • Stay up late either during the week or at weekends?
  • Watch TV, or use your mobile phone or tablet in bed?
  • Feel stressed because of finances, work, home life and/or relationships?
  • Have big meals before bed?
  • Have a balanced diet?
  • Drink caffeine in the afternoon or evening?
  • Keep hydrated during the day?
  • Drink alcohol to help you sleep?
  • Have too much light in your bedroom?
  • Experience too much noise?
  • Have a comfortable mattress?
  • Exercise enough?

How to improve sleep – good sleep hygiene is key

The reason for your poor sleep may be due to one, or more, of the above, or something that is personal to you, but there are some practical tips that can help you achieve a good night’s sleep. Remember, just changing one or two of the following could make a big difference.


  • Your subconscious likes routine, so ensure you establish pre-sleep habits, for example:
    • No ‘blue light’ (phone, laptop, TV etc.) for one hour before bed and do not take them to the bedroom with you.
    • Keep to a regular bedtime and wake up time (if possible) whether it is a workday or the weekend. Why not set an alarm telling you it's time to go to bed and remove the distraction.
    • If you work shifts, then change the entire day and not just when you go to sleep.
  • Ensure your surroundings are conducive to sleep – dark, quiet, warm, comfortable. According to an article on Scandinavian culture [10] (who are reputed to be amongst the happiest and most well-rested humans on the planet) your routine should include airing your duvet and pillows outside for at least five hours every week.
  • Try to get eight hours sleep a night as it is proven to improve your mood and capabilities.
  • Prioritise sleep – this might sound strange, but it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing or need to do and push your bedtime back but still having the early alarm call. Try, when possible, to stick to a routine and ensure you get to bed on time.


  • Try not to eat a big meal before bed as your body may still be digesting the food.
  • Try to avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening as it takes five hours for the effects of caffeine to be halved. Don’t get me wrong, everyone who knows me will tell you that I love very strong coffee, however, I noticed I was struggling to get to sleep at night. So, now, I have a strong coffee first thing and then move onto decaffeinated for the rest of the day. I can assure you, there is an excellent and varied array of different makes available these days.
  • Whilst the sedative effect of alcohol may help you get to sleep initially, it also affects the chemical processes needed to sleep so it will disturb your sleep and make you wake more frequently during the night.
  • A diet which is high in fibre, and low in saturated fats and sugar will not only help you get to sleep, but also to stay asleep as well.
  • Dehydration can cause your nose and mouth to dry out and lead to snoring and a sore throat, so drink plenty of water during the day.

Mind and body:

  • Try a workout or relaxation – survey findings commissioned by ukactive [11], found that 66% of respondents said that exercising helped them to sleep better, another study found that working out in the early evening (in particular), can help you to sleep better and it may also help to release tensions built up during the day. However, not everyone goes to bed at night, and each person’s body clock is different, but it may still be a technique worth trying.
  • If you struggle to get to sleep, try mindfulness, e.g., think about a place you love, a place where you feel calm, imagine your journey to that peaceful place; slow your breathing by taking long breaths in and out. There are some online recordings that talk you through, and prompt you to, focus on winding down, these can be found on YouTube and your usual app store.
  • Unload your brain before bed – keep a ‘notepad and pen’ (preferably not a digital equivalent) next to your bed, so that before you switch off the light you can write down everything that is still active in your brain. This can include the things you need to remember to do tomorrow, or in the next day or so, e.g., outstanding or urgent work items, household chores or shopping list; also, what went well or didn’t go well during the day, any ideas, upcoming birthdays or anniversaries etc. The ‘notepad’ will also come in handy if you wake in the night and cannot get back to sleep because your mind is repeating your to do list in an attempt to memorise it before it is forgotten.
  • Relax your senses – this could include aromatherapy – using essential oils for a massage, or adding oils to a hot bath before bed, or through a diffuser (please note it is not advised to burn oils/sticks etc. as it could cause a fire if left unattended e.g., if you fall asleep). Alternatively, play relaxing sounds on a low volume that don’t stimulate your mind e.g., classical pieces, or white (sounds like static), brown (e.g., a waterfall) or pink (a heartbeat) noise, whale music etc.

Address the causes:

  • Find support for the underlying causes of poor sleep, i.e., what are the stressors that are causing it e.g., if you are concerned about finances then you can get advice, guidance and resources from charities like StepChange; Money Helper or the B&CE Construction Helpline. Please see the ‘where to find support’ section below for more support services.
  • Try to protect your work-life balance – it is not always possible to leave work ‘at work’, especially as more of us work from home or run our own businesses. However, whenever possible, finish work at a reasonable time, switch off your laptop and do not check your work phone during the evening. A late-night email could be the reason you cannot sleep due to worry. If it was urgent someone would call you.

Where to find support

In the same way that we go to a doctor for any physical ailments, we should also seek outside support to help us maintain, or improve, our mental health. Remember, there is always someone who will listen, and the organisations below are a good place to start:


You can also download free infographics and guides from the resources section of this website. We also offer a range of training courses that can help you build knowledge and understanding across your organisation.

Next steps

In this blog we have looked at how sleep can aid recovery from stress and improve your mental wellbeing. Throughout 2024 we will be publishing blogs on ways to optimise your mental wellbeing. The third blog focuses on Relaxation and and can be read here.

If you would like to be kept informed about new blogs, resources, training and more, please sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.

Remember, you are not alone, there is always someone to talk to or somewhere to find additional help.

[1] Physical Health and Sleep: How are They Connected? (

[2] Sleep and Chronic Disease | CDC

[3] The Healthier Nation Index (

[4] Survey Reveals Covid-19 Having Severe Impact on Sleep - The Sleep Charity

[5] 5 Signs You're Dealing With Chronic Stress | HuffPost UK Life (

[6] The current state of financial wellbeing | Employee Experience | HR Grapevine | Insight

[7] The Interlinked Rising Epidemic of Insufficient Sleep and Diabetes Mellitus - PMC (

[8] Sleep quality and risk of cancer: findings from the English longitudinal study of aging - PMC (

[9] Poor Sleep May Increase Markers of Poor Brain Health, New Study Finds < Yale School of Medicine

[10] 7 Scandi Sleep Hacks That Will Revolutionise Your Rest (

[11] Three-quarters of gym-goers report boost in mental health, report says | Health | The Guardian

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