Four white pillows with a white and blue/grey woolen blanket rest on a recently made bed that has a brown material headboard and base. Photo via Casterly StockCanva.
Everyday Lifestyle, Self-Care & Well-Being

Supporting Your Mental Health: How To Get Better Sleep

An appropriate amount of quality sleep is fundamental in helping us maintain our mental, emotional and physical health; we’re often advised to get enough rest when trying to manage stress, anxiety and depression. The problem with this recommendation is that all of these mental health challenges regularly interfere with our ability to sleep.

Sleep is quite literally restorative. It’s good medicine. When we fall into a restful slumber our body repairs tissue and muscle, replenishes energy and nourishes nerve cells that maintain healthy brain function; including increased activity in areas that regulate thought, feelings and memory, aiding our emotional stability — these are just some of the reasons we need to get enough sleep.

Bouts of sleep deprivation can produce a profoundly negative impact on our general well-being. Experiencing a lack of sleep can be so detrimental it weakens our immune system, decreases focus and even triggers mood changes, intense fatigue, anxiety and/or depression; which, if you’re already struggling with your mental health for other reasons, develops a vicious cycle that becomes even harder to break out of.

Background: Four white pillows with a white and blue/grey woolen blanket rest on a recently made bed that has a brown material headboard and base. Photo via Casterly StockCanva. Foreground: A white text box that reads: “Supporting Your Mental Health: How To Get Better Sleep”

So what can we do to improve our sleep during times of stress, anxiety and depression?

Ultimately, it all comes down to establishing a sleep routine and sticking to it; this will support your body’s ability to recognise when it needs to unwind and prepare for rest, offering yourself a decent chance at improving your slumber. Everyone looking to enhance their sleep experience will benefit from these tips; but if you’re struggling through insomnia that’s set off by stress, anxiety and/or depression, here’s what has been working for me … 

  • If your schedule/lifestyle allows for this, spend some time outside in the daylight. Our circadian rhythm helps to regulate when we’re supposed to be asleep/awake; it relies on sunlight cues to accomplish this, so if you spend all day inside, it can get easily disrupted.  
  • If it’s timed right, taking a short, 30-45 minute energy-boosting nap can support someone suffering from sleep deprivation get through the day. Known as recovery naps (making up for lost sleep), this form of respite can improve focus and restfulness if they aren’t taken too late in the day/last too long; take a recovery nap if needed, but make sure it’s before 3 pm.   
  • Reducing caffeine intake throughout the day is favourable, but if you require the fuel to keep you going; it’s most beneficial to stop drinking coffee/tea or other caffeinated drinks at least 3 hours before your bedtime. As a stimulant, caffeine blocks our adenosine receptor that promotes sleepiness, so we absolutely need to allow time for these effects to be lessened before we head to bed.
A woman of colour lays sleeping in her bed. She looks relaxed and well rested. Photo by Ashley Byrd from Unsplash.
photo via Ashley Byrd
  • The key to any routine is its repetition of action/s and timing. If we get up and go to bed at the same time every day; as much as we can/life allows, it will help our circadian rhythm stay on track; preparing our bodies to recognise when it’s time to catch forty winks. If you need to change a disrupted sleep schedule to a new time for rest; make small adjustments of 15-30 minutes every few days until you reach your desired bedtime. 
  • Promote relaxation after each day and do some simple stretches for 5-10 minutes before you get into bed. They not only feel good, but they can also ease muscle aches/tensions that frequently occur during bouts of anxiety and stress — here are 10 stretches you can do before bed that may help.
  • Stop reading your mobile phone in bed just before you try to go to sleep. There are a number of reasons why scrolling through your phone as you lay in bed is bad for you; the one I’m focusing on, however, is connected to working through mental health challenges. If you’re mindlessly scanning through social media or looking through the news, chances are you’re going to come across something triggering and upsetting. If you’re already combating stress, anxiety and depression, reading something disconcerting can play over and over in your mind impeding the ability to fall asleep. There are things you can use your phone for at night (see below) but reading is probably one to avoid.
  • One way a smartphone can be utilized during the nighttime is to turn on its ‘Do Not Disturb’ function; then listen to some calming music and relaxing sounds from nature. I enjoy the free version of Calm, a meditation and sleep app because it features a selection of audio files; including a beach at sunset, a woodland stream, a light thunderstorm with rain and even celestial white noise. Everything is playable outside the app, so I can keep my phone screen off and eliminate any glare or disruption from blue light to create a tranquil space. This isn’t an ad/promotion for Calm; it’s just been extremely effective at quieting the exhausting, intrusive thoughts I experience when my anxiety is especially severe; there are many other meditation apps you can try.
  • Use lavender essential oil to aid relaxation by creating a bed linen/pillow spray that will encourage a gentle drift into slumber as you inhale its calming scent. Lavender contains chemicals rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream (linalyl acetate and linalool) and is known to lower the heart rate, reduce anxiety and relieve insomnia. Combine two cups of water, fifteen drops of lavender essential oil and one tablespoon of witch hazel in a clean spray bottle; shake to combine then lightly mist over your pillows, sheets and blankets. 
  • The most straightforward way you can ensure your nights are undisturbed is to sleep on the best quality mattress you can buy. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive but it should meet as many of your needs as possible and suit your sleeping style. When buying a new mattress, there are many things to consider, including how well it supports spine alignment; if it can regulate temperature or maintain sleeping positions; and what level of firmness reduces aches and pains, etc. Treat it like an asset piece; achieving sleep that will support, nourish and restore your mental health is an investment.

Building a sleep routine and finding what works for you can be a bit frustrating; it does involve an element of trial and error, but stick with it and see it through. I hope you discover something within these suggestions that will improve how you rest and create space to care for your well-being.

Do you have a sleep routine that works for you? Have you tried any of these tips? What do you do when you can’t sleep?


Further Info:

If you experience chronic insomnia (it lasts for more than three months) you need to visit your doctor and rule out any underlying medical issues that may be causing it.

The 9 Best Foods And Drinks To Have Before Bed – HealthLine

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86 thoughts on “Supporting Your Mental Health: How To Get Better Sleep”

  1. I am so guilty of scrolling if I can’t fall asleep. To the point that I have to leave my phone in a different room. Meditations work for me, sometimes self-guided and sometimes from a podcast called Meditation Minis. I have a few favorites that I always use.

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  2. Great advice! I’ve always struggled with sleep, thankfully I’m getting a bit better at managing it. I find that reading anything disturbing before bed, is a surefire way to keep up all night. A little lavender, some nature sounds and a good book have done me wonders! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Sleep is so important, I eventually was put on medication to help me sleep but having a good bed time routine would definitely help me more. Thanks for sharing will try some of these tips.

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    1. Sometimes seeking medical help/medication is the best thing to do but doing some of these tips alongside all that can be an extra bit of support we can do for ourselves — a bedtime routine has certainly helped me. Thank you so much for reading!

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  4. Brilliant post Molly, sleep is definitely so important! I’m always more tired on my period but I also moved so I am absolutely exhausted these days, the tips will be so useful 🙂

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  5. All awesome tips, Molly! I have definitely felt more restless since the start of the pandemic. It’s been weird being home so much as before home used to be the place where I unwind and now, home is the place I have to be productive. Lavender works wonders for me as well as a nice bath when time allows it! Thanks for sharing x

    Lynn | https://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

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  6. Great post. Having a good sleep is great for the overall health and skin. I always put my phone on silent and Do not Disturb when going to bed. I love your tip about Lavender oil spray, I should try that.

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  7. Hi Molly. A very interesting post, thank you. I’m fortunate in that I never have any trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. It has been suggested, though, that I snore (which I’m sure can’t be true!). Have you any sleep advice for those people who have snoring partners?

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    1. I’d probably try ear plugs or listen to white noise (this helps you to not focus in on the sound of someone’s snoring and should help someone fall asleep). Also trying a change of position for the snorer — either while they sleep or swap sides before getting into bed. A body pillow to lean/rest on may also help with positioning, etc. That’s where I’d start and then take different steps if they don’t improve things!

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  8. I didn’t know that spending more time outside can help your body realize when it’s time to go to sleep! Super interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Sleep hygiene is so important, and you’ve got lots of helpful tips here. I think adjusting bedtime by small increments is really helpful. Making changes too drastic is setting up for failure, so I think baby steps are the way to go. That way you almost don’t even notice the change.

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  10. Sleep is probably my biggest priority. I have a chronic illness and when I have a bad sleep routine, everything else is affected – my physical health, mental health, work, relationships, etc. I currently have a great routine going and most days it really works. Great advice Molly!

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  11. This is a really great post Molly. You’re absolutely right when you say that sleep is medicinal and it’s much better to get a good nights’ sleep than to have to take medication.

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    1. Some people may need to be medicated if insomnia is ongoing and interfering with everyday activities, but for many of us, putting a routine and practices in place that create an environment where sleep can be improved (and any anxiety/stress/depression managed effectively) is beneficial. I am so glad you found this informative!

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  12. I struggle so much with creating a routine… especially since working form home, work jumps in at all times and it is so hard to keep my days and night look the same. I do try to do what you said though, I have my phone on DND and then I listen to podcasts or calming sounds. It doesn’t always help, but when it does, it’s great.

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    1. Life lately has been so disruptive for so many people that having a sleep routine has been way more difficult than it should be. If you can get into one that would be really beneficial and I would even go as far as having a boundary with work — that anything related to it is switched off after a certain time (which I know is probably easier said than done). You deserve to take care of your time and energy!

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  13. I personally love listening to instrumental music right before bed. It helps me go straight to sleep. Getting enough sleep is so important for your mental health. I always feel so much better when I get enough sleep.

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    1. I love the idea of listening to calming music before bed (I tend to do it when I’m in bed) as it probably helps sets the intention of that time being for rest. Getting better sleep is critical for us to be able to function — I hope everyone finds what works for them. Thanks for reading!

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  14. It’s become my habit to scroll my phone to read stories before bed 😦 feel so guilty about that! Thanks for writing this, really helpful and can be a reminder for someone like me x

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  15. These are some great tips. I’ve developed a habit of not going to sleep until like 3/4 in the morning which isn’t great considering I go to university soon. I’m a nightmare for checking my phone before I go to sleep so I definitely need to stop doing that. There are also some other great tips here too! Thank you for sharing x

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    1. I hope you can get into some good sleep routines for when you are at uni — it can be so frustrating not getting enough quality rest that is ends up really impacting your day. Hopefully some of these tips will help out — they have been amazing for me and are well on their way to kicking my chronic insomnia in the butt, haha!

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    1. Reading on your phone is probably a good habit to break — it disrupts our sleep so much but I totally get how easy it is to do it and not even notice it’s effects. Lavender oil is amazing so I hope you can give that a try! Thanks so much for reading!

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  16. I love this post Molly! Sleep is one thing I have struggled with so many times. I don’t have a sleep routine at the moment as I find it so difficult to stick to one. I am so guilty of using my phone right before bed as well. I know that’s terrible and I am trying to stop it. Putting your phone on DND before sleeping is such a fab tip. I love light and I expose myself to light as often as possible still my sleep life sucks lol. It’s crazy that most times I hardly get up to 5 hours of sleep. I guess that’s about to come to an end. You’ve got some amazing tips here which I haven’t tried. I’ll try them as soon as I can. Thank you for sharing x

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    1. It has taken me a long time to figure out a sleep routine that works for me but it took a lot of trial and error. It is frustrating to try and find something beneficial so I gave up so many times. Once lack of sleep began to have a really negative impact on my mental health I knew I had to do something. I hope you can find what works for you, which might be a combination of some of these tips here — it’s worth doing! Good luck with it all!

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  17. This is such an informative post. Thanks for sharing. Coffee is a slight issue but otherwise, I do most of the suggestions listed here 🙂 – Je

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  18. I had terrible insomnia for most of my life and I tried just about everything to improve it and everything failed at helping me sleep, but one thing that I found massively helped me mentally was to make clear distinctions between night and day even on nights I didn’t sleep at all. Going through a nighttime routine and morning routine at roughly the same time each day helped me a lot. The relaxation of the evening routine and structure was so beneficial mentally x

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    1. I am so happy to hear that you found routines an night and in the morning beneficial — to struggle with insomnia for as long as you have (mine has only been for about two years) it must have been so frustrating trying things out. It is definitely trail and error but when you do find what works for you it can be liberating. Finding a way to relax (as best you can) is so important — thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

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  19. Thanks for this post, so useful.

    I am bad for playing on my phone at night, well these days on Twitter!

    Lavender essential oil is great & we use pillow mist for us & the bubble bath for our little one. It works!

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  20. I’m huge on good sleep hygiene – a great pillow and mattress also do wonders! I love using lavender essential oils to help me sleep, as well as keeping the bedroom a cooler temperature to help promote a night of restful deep sleep. Thanks for sharing all these amazing tips – it’s so important to take good care of our sleep cycles.

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  21. Great tips. Luckily sleep doesn’t tend to be a problem for me when I’m going through bouts of anxiety, stress or depression. I actually prefer to be asleep during these times and my bed is a huge comfort for me, too.

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  22. I needed to read this post. In the last year, my sleeping patterns have been so weird especially when I experience anxiety. Thankfully, it’s gotten better, but I learned a lot from reading your post that I will incorporate in my life. My first priority is to create and stick to a bedtime routine. I’m guilty of not going to bed and waking up at the same time, and definitely scrolling before sleeping. 😅

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    1. I feel you on everything you said, and I am so glad you read this post as I have been having the most awful chronic insomnia related to my anxiety. The key is definitely a routine because it trains your body to recognize when it needs to rest (I was previously all over the place with when I was awake/asleep). I really hope you get to put some things in place as you deserve good rest!

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  23. You are right; good sleep is essential for our health, and the tips you have shared are simple and easy to follow. I didn’t know about the lavender oil benefits before:)

    Thanks for sharing. xx

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  24. I’m a huge fan of essential oils for better sleep (I’ve just written about 17 of the best ones on my blog, including lavender!) but all these other suggestions are spot on too. Having a regular routine works wonders, as does leaving your phone alone… great tips, Molly, thank you 🙂

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  25. These are all amazing tips! I am definitely struggling lately with sleep more than usual. I have been struggling with it since I was younger, but it has come in bouts and since coming back from holiday nothing seems to work. I need to retrain myself to sleep at the same time when possible and avoid caffeine! x

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  26. These are such helpful tips! I have a sleep schedule which reflects decades of getting up and going to work. Now that I’m retired I can’t seem to go to bed a little later and get up later. Guess I’m just a creature of habit! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. It’s amazing how our bodies get into a rhythm but also tricky when that routine changes. Being a creature of habit will at least work in your favour when it comes to getting enough rest! Hopefully you can make some adjustments to your sleep schedule so you get a well deserved later night/later wake up! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  27. Great tips here Molly. We gotta support and improve our mental health more. Getting a solid 8-hour sleep is the way. I really prioritize sleep. It makes everything better.

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  28. I’ve always had issues with falling asleep…my brain cannot shut off. Power naps can def help me get through the day but I try to avoid them as much as possible. Also, trying to drink less coffee during the day but it is hard as I love coffee a lot!

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    1. I used to use long naps as a way to catch up with the sleep I consistently missed but it made more more/over tired and groggy. If I nap now, it’s a powerful 30 mins and that is it. Since I got my new mattress, I’ve not had to nap at all — such a positive change! I feel you on drinking less coffee — I love it so much it is quite hard, haha!

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