Mental Health Awareness Week - DMU psychologist's 10 tips for a better sleep


In a world with round-the-clock news coverage on coronavirus and life transformed via lockdown, there is little wonder insomnia is rife across the nation.

Whether you are waking up anxious in the middle of the night or just cannot seem to wake up in the morning, the lockdown is playing havoc with our sleeping patterns.


Sleep and mental health are intimately linked, making good quality sleep in a world of uncertainty more important than ever before to protect our overall wellbeing.

We asked psychologist Dr John Shaw of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s School of Allied Health Sciences to share his advice on what to do after a poor night’s sleep to get your cycle back on track.

Here are his top 10 tips:

Get up at the same time as you usually do.

This may sound illogical but staying in bed longer to catch up on lost sleep could negatively affect your body clock, so it does not optimally support your sleep. Waking up later than usual could make it even harder to sleep well the following night. It might comfort you to know that our body makes up for sleep loss by sleeping deeper, which is as important as sleeping longer.

Seek exposure to bright lights during the day.

Bright light, when received by our brain at around the same time every day, is a powerful time signal of our body clock. Scientific research shows bright light exposure can also reduce the effects of depression, which is prominent in the current situation.

Go to bed the following night around or after your usual bedtime.

This means not going to bed too early. If we go to bed much earlier, it could make getting to sleep even harder. Even if you fall asleep fast, you are likely to have more wakefulness in the middle of the night or wake up too early.

Remain active and avoid/minimise napping during the day.

If you are so tired that you unintentionally doze off, take a brief catnap (10-20 minutes). Otherwise, skip naps during the day, unless you are in a situation where sleep deprivation is a safety issue.

Worrying about sleep makes it harder to sleep.

After a poor night sleep, it is understandable to think “how am I going to sleep well tonight?”, “how can I cope with not sleeping well?”. These thoughts make us feel more anxious around sleep and bedtime and make sleep harder. Try telling yourself: “I can’t force myself to sleep. Let me focus on relaxing each part of my body, and rest. Sleep will come at its own time.”

Trust your body’s sleep system.

When you lose that trust and become overly concerned about sleep, you are making it harder for your sleep system to do its job.

Unwind at least an hour before bed.

This helps prepare your body and mind for rest and sleep. Try to spend this time without any electronics in order to let your body be best prepared for sleep.

Do not attempt to sleep when you are alert, fully awake, or distressed.

If it is your bedtime and you are feeling this way, take more time to unwind your body and mind before trying to sleep. If this is the case, take some time away from the bedroom, trying to focus on sleep paradoxically prevents sleep!

Bed is for sleep.

Watching Netflix in bed can be nice but it tricks our brain into thinking that bed is a place for waking activities, and not sleep. Over time, our brain learns to be more awake, and not sleepy in bed. Keeping bed and bedroom for sleep is a super-helpful thing to do when you spend extended periods indoors.

Be wise with use of substances.

Avoid caffeine at least six hours before bedtime; cigarettes are stimulating, so avoid it in the evening; reduce alcohol – you may feel drowsy after drinking it, but it disturbs your sleep in the second half of the night, which is not at all helpful. All of these have a severe knock on effect for sleep and will disrupt it.


Posted on Wednesday 20th May 2020

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