Sleep Problems

How To Cope

There's a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health.

What Are Sleep Problems?

You may find a sleep problem can lead you to:

  • have negative thoughts, feel depressed or anxious – if you have little sleep you may feel less able to rationalise worries or irrational thoughts
  • feel lonely or isolated – if you feel tired you may not want to be sociable or see friends
  • experience psychotic episodes – if you have a psychotic disorder or bipolar disorder, a lack of sleep may trigger mania, psychosis or paranoia, or make existing symptoms worse
For me sleep problems are a tell-tale sign of declining mental health. The worse I sleep, the less I feel able to cope during the day. The less I am coping, the worse I seem to sleep.
How Can My Mental Health Problems Affect My Sleep?

There are number of ways a mental health problem can affect your sleep. For example:

  • Anxiety can cause thoughts to race through your mind, making it difficult to sleep.
  • Depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can lead to oversleeping – either sleeping late in the morning or sleeping a lot during the day. If you experience difficult or troubling thoughts as part of depression, this can also cause insomnia.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause nightmares and night terrors, disturbing your sleep. This can mean you feel anxious about falling asleep, which could lead to insomnia.
  • Paranoia and psychosis may make it difficult for you to sleep. You may hear voices or see things that you find frightening, or experience disturbing thoughts, which make it hard to fall asleep.
  • Mania often causes feelings of energy and elation, so you might not feel tired or want to sleep. Racing thoughts caused by mania can make it hard to fall asleep and may cause insomnia.

Psychiatric medication can cause side effects including insomnia, disturbed sleep or oversleeping. You may also experience sleep problems after you stop taking psychiatric drugs.

Establish A Routine

Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern by going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. Go to bed only when you feel tired enough to sleep. Then get up at your usual time. This may mean you will spend less time actually in bed, but more of the time in bed asleep.

"Routine, routine, routine. Preparing your brain and body for sleep, letting yourself know that it's time to wind down. Then in the morning set a time to get up and stick to it no matter what."
Relax Before You Go To Bed

You may find a relaxation routine can help you prepare for sleep. There are several things you can try:

  • do something calming – such as listening to relaxing music, or having a bath
  • breathing exercises – in a comfortable position, try this: breathe into your belly (not your chest) then out through your nose, making your out-breath longer than your in-breath; repeat until you feel relaxed
  • muscle relaxation – consciously tense and relax your muscles, one after the other, starting with your toes and working up your body until you reach the top of your head; Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique some people find useful – this NHS guide has further details
  • visualisation – picture a scene or landscape that has pleasant memories for you
  • meditation – you can learn meditation techniques at a class or from self-help guides; many people also find mindfulness helpful
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