How improving sleep can improve your physical and mental wellbeing
Reviewed by our clinical team
From experience, we’re all aware that getting a good night’s sleep can make a big difference to our productivity and energy levels. But did you know that poor sleep over a longer period of time can have a negative effect on your general and mental health and well-being? Read on to find out more.
The impact of sleep on your health and wellbeing
There are multiple benefits to getting good sleep, including the following:
- Improved memory, attention and concentration
- Improved immunity e.g. to minor illnesses like coughs and colds
- Improved sex drive
- Reduced stress
The flipside is that poor sleep can worsen all of the above, making you feel more stressed and foggy-headed, less interested in sex, and more prone to getting ill.
More worryingly, a consistent lack of sleep is known to heighten your risk of serious physical and mental health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Clinical depression
- Generalised anxiety disorder
Poor sleep can also make it harder to maintain a healthy weight, and can even lower your fertility. There can also be a significant impact on your relationships, caused by irritability, loss of interest in sex and general low mood.
Can lack of sleep cause headaches?
In the short term, a bad night’s sleep might cause some physical symptoms like a headache. We also know that sleep can be a trigger for people with migraine – if you get migraines you might find that lack of sleep (or too much sleep) sets off your symptoms.
Can lack of sleep cause hallucinations?
Yes, lack of sleep can cause hallucinations and other unexplained sensory experiences.
Sometimes poor sleep can also lead to sleep paralysis. This is where you find yourself unable to move or talk as you’re falling asleep or waking up – some people may also experience hallucinations, which can be quite frightening. Sleep paralysis is relatively common, but more likely to occur in people who have anxiety, a panic disorder or PTSD.
Can lack of sleep make you feel sick?
For some people, an unpleasant short-term symptom of poor sleep is feeling sick. However, if you often feel sick or if the feeling doesn’t go away, it’s worth speaking to your GP.
How to improve your sleep
If you’re struggling to sleep well and you’re worried about the impact it’s having on your mental and physical health, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s thought that one in three Brits suffer from poor sleep.
The good news is that there are some simple changes you can make to improve your sleep, including exercising during the day, getting fresh air and cutting back on caffeine and alcohol.
Other tips include the following:
- Set a routine and stick to it – this means getting out of bed at roughly the same time each day, even on mornings where you’ve had bad sleep the night before.
- Most people need 7.5 hours of sleep a night. Try bearing this in mind when you go to bed/set your alarm.
- Make your bedroom cool, dark, comfortable and quiet – it sounds obvious, but you want to associate the place where you sleep with rest and relaxation, so try to eliminate distractions, noise and mess.
- Avoid using smartphones and other electronic devices before you go to bed – instead read or listen to an audiobook, podcast or the radio.
- Ban your smart phone from your bedroom, so you're not tempted to look at messages. If you are using your phone as an alarm- get an alarm clock instead.
- Spend time winding down – take a warm bath, write to-do lists for the following day or try some gentle relaxation exercises like yoga.
- Keep a sleep diary – make a note of when you’ve slept well and slept poorly, making sure to include details like what you ate, whether you drank alcohol, and what time you went to bed (9).
If you’re struggling to sleep even after making these kinds of changes, it’s worth speaking to your GP for advice.
There are some very good resources online:
- Try the Good Thinking website's page on sleep for free advice. This is approved by the NHS.
- NHS Scotland also has a good self help guide for insomnia.
- You could also check out the Sleepio programme which is an online CBT programme. This is free if you work for the NHS or Health & Care in Scotland.