Rest, repair and re-energise

Why do we sleep?

Why do we sleep? TED Talk by Russell Foster, Circadian neuroscientist

Why is sleep important?

Getting a good nights sleep allows our bodies and minds to rest, repair and re-energise. Lack of sleep can cause poor concentration, low mood, irritability, and a weakened immune system.

Adults who get 7-8 hours sleep a day have lower mortality rates, and tend to be healthier, than those who have more or less of this amount. You may also have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Those who have fewer than 4 hours or more than 8 hours a day are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, dementia and heart disease

Help me to sleep: 10 practical ways to get better nights sleep by Mind Tools:

1. Exercise Regularly

In the morning or afternoon, 20-30 minutes a day, can improve your sleep as you release feel-good hormones, which help reduce stress, elevate your mood and relieve anxiety and depression. Avoid exercise two or three hours of your bedtime as it raises your body temperature and makes it harder to sleep.

2. Increase Your Exposure to Daylight

The more you are exposed to (two-three hours each day), the more your body produces the hormone melatonin, which can regulate your body clock. Go out into the fresh air at lunchtime, and work by a window, if possible

3. Avoid Eating Large Meals Close to Bedtime

You may struggle to sleep while your stomach digests it. Spicy and acidic foods can cause heartburn, which makes it more difficult to sleep well. A light snack, however, may satisfy your hunger before bed, and help you to sleep.

4. Avoid Drinking Caffeine or Alcohol in the Evening

Drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep patterns. Caffeine stays in your system for up to 12 hours, so limit your consumption to the morning. Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it can also cause you to wake up periodically through the night, so drink it in moderation.

The same applies to nicotine— as it is a stimulant, it can affect sleep quality.

5. Relax!! Before Bed

It is important to feel relaxed before you go to sleep, so write down any sources of stress before your bedtime. If you have a To-Do List, cross off what you've accomplished that day and write down the tasks you need to do the next day. This way, you'll find it easier to relax so that you are not worrying about forgetting important things while you should be sleeping. Avoid clock-watching.

6. Establish a Regular Sleep Pattern

You can improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Consistency is the key, so do not break your pattern at the weekends, when it may be more tempting to stay up late and then sleep in the next morning!

7. Stick to a Familiar Routine

Get into the right frame of mind by establishing a bedtime routine. 

8. Create the Right Environment

Use your bedroom only for sleep and bed-related activities, including sex, as your mind and body will recognise that getting into it means that it is time to go to sleep. Your bedroom should have a temperature of around 18-21°C with adequate ventilation. Drown out any background noise by playing calming music or white noise. Meditation and other relaxation techniques can be useful for winding down before you go to bed.

9. Keep a Sleep Diary

A sleep diary can help you identify the habits that affect your ability to sleep.

10. Take a Nap

Short naps (no more than 10 minutes) can boost your energy and help you perform at your best throughout the day.

Sleep disorders and solutions


Insomnia is a condition where you are regularly unable to fall asleep or remain asleep for a long enough period of time, which can result in a negative impact on mood, energy levels, concentration, relationships, ability to stay awake throughout the day and ability to complete simple daily tasks.

Solution: CBT is the best proven treatment for persistent insomnia. Regular daytime or early evening exercise can also be a great way to combat insomnia as it helps to reduce anxiety and stress, as can practices such as mindfulness. Using sleep medication (or hypnotics), such as sleeping pills, is common. However, they should generally only be used for a few nights as you can become reliant on them long-term. It is best to seek advice from your GP if your insomnia persists.

Sleep walking

Sleep walking happens during deep sleep, meaning people can rarely remember doing it.

Solution: sleep walking is not dangerous unless you start doing risky activities in your sleep. It is often related to stress or lack of sleep or, in adults,  drinking alcohol, so it is important to try get regular, good quality sleep.

Night terrors

Night terrors: occurs during deep sleep. It is often an extreme and frightening experience. Night terrors make your heart beat faster and might cause you to sweat or scream.

Solution: in some cases, night terrors can be linked to a traumatic experience. If this is the case, and your night terrors are affecting your everyday life or ability to sleep, your GP might be able to refer you for therapy to help you deal with the underlying trauma.


Snoring is a breathing problem, rather than a sleep problem, and happens when a blockage in the airway causes the organs that help us to breathe to vibrate. It is usually more of a problem for anyone who shares a room with a snorer, rather than for the snorer themselves.

Solution: nasal strips can help by widening the nasal passage and improving the airflow when breathing. It is also better to sleep on your side, as sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to fall backwards and partly block your airflow. Drinking less alcohol, exercising more regularly and taking steps to lose weight (if you are overweight) can also reduce your snoring.

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea causes shallow breathing or pauses in breathing that may last up to 30 seconds at a time. In most cases, you will begin to breathe normally again. People with sleep apnoea can wake up frequently throughout the night feeling sweaty with a dry mouth and a headache. 

Solution: it is more important to treat sleep apnoea to prevent the brain being deprived of oxygen. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device can help by easing your airflow. Your GP will be able to refer you for an assessment called a sleep study.