Sleep is vital for maintaining good mental health - in the same way that a healthy diet and exercise can help to improve our mental wellbeing as well as our physical health, so can getting a good amount of restful sleep.

During January, MHM team members Danielle and Nicola tried a range of different tips for sleeping better. They tweeted each day about what they were trying and how well it worked for them. In case you missed it, below we’ve compiled a list of all the things they tried!

1) Experts agree that a regular bedtime is key to a good night’s sleep, helping to keep your circadian rhythm (your internal 'clock' that regulates various processes including sleep) in sync. Nicola aimed to go to sleep at 11pm every night to get into a good sleep routine, and did pretty well at sticking to it apart from on a few weekends!

2) Yoga is a gentle form of exercise that can boost physical & mental wellbeing, with a focus on stretching & deep breathing - perfect for relaxing and letting go of tension before drifting off! Nicola tried this lovely free 20 min yoga video from Yoga With Adriene - it's specifically aimed at helping you sleep, and short enough to squeeze in before bedtime even on a busy day! 

3) A cup of herbal/decaf tea & a good book is probably the classic way to wind down before bed, and is also great way to practice self-care in general. Getting lost in a book with a comforting warm drink is a great way to slow the pace down ready for sleep.

4) Lots of experts believe the blue light which comes from computer/phone screens stops our bodies secreting the sleep hormone melatonin. Nicola said, “Sitting in bed on my phone/laptop at bedtime is a bad habit of mine, often making me stay up later than I mean to. Avoiding their blue light will hopefully help me get to sleep better!”

5) This sleep tip contradicts the one before it, but as different things work for different people, we wanted to try as many as possible! The day before, Nicola stayed away from screens before bed, but the next night relaxed by watching some TV, and found that she didn’t struggle going to sleep after this.

6) Listening to an audiobook while drifting off to sleep is increasingly popular. Nicola said, “This is something I already do a lot, as I often find my mind racing when I try to sleep & audiobooks distract me. I opt for stories I know, so I don't get absorbed & stay awake!”

7) Danielle told us about an amazing military-developed technique for falling asleep in just 120 seconds! Will you be trying this tonight?

8) Sleeping well can be helped by preparing for the next day, so you hopefully head to bed feeling prepared and less stressed. Get as much as possible ready for the next morning - lay out your outfit, pack a healthy lunch, and even prep breakfast

9) Just as experts recommend a regular bedtime, a routine before bed helps signal to your brain that it's soon time to sleep. It could just be the usual tasks of brushing your teeth, washing your face, etc. - and could include tips we've shared so far, like doing a few mins of yoga.

10) A top sleep tip from Danielle is that if you wake in the night for more than about 15 mins, leave the bedroom and do something relaxing like reading until you feel sleepy. Danielle said, “If I stay in the bed to tossing and turning, I quickly start to feel stressed rather than sleepy!”

11) When you try to sleep, do you often find your mind racing with things you need to do, emotions from your day, and other thoughts? Before going to bed, try jotting down a to-do list or notes about what's worrying you. This allows you to acknowledge your thoughts & clear your mind.

12) Exercising during the day is proven to boost your overall mood AND help you sleep better at night - though make sure to do strenuous exercise earlier in the day, at least 3 hours before bedtime, so that the short-term adrenaline rush doesn't interfere with sleep!

13) One of Nicola's favourite tips for getting to sleep is having a light snack before bed. Avoid a heavy meal, but something light like some nuts or oatcakes (foods which support the release of melatonin) can help you to avoid feeling peckish as you're trying to drift off.

14) Nicola and Danielle are both partial to a cup of coffee, but they tried avoiding any caffeine or alcohol in the hours before bedtime, as both can affect how quickly you fall asleep AND the quality of your sleep.

15) Many sleep experts remind us to make sure our bedroom is a good environment for sleeping in - lined curtains to block out light, a comfortable temperature, and support from a good mattress and pillows. Nicola took a look around her bedroom to see what she could do to make it a better environment to sleep in, and decided to treat herself to some fluffy new pillows.

16) A relaxing bath is a great way to chill out before bed, & at this time of year you might have some bubble bath gifts to enjoy! A warm bath (not too hot) helps your body reach a temperature that's ideal for rest.

17) Deep breathing relaxation techniques can really help at bedtime, which you can find in the 'helpful resources' section of our site.

18) Visualise a pleasant landscape or memory as you settle down to sleep. Visualisation helps put you in a calm, happy mindset, rather than letting your mind focus on internal dialogue that is stressful or unsettled. A bit like the old trick of counting sheep!

19) A 2015 study by Harvard Medical School showed that meditation - a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment - can be a powerful solution to insomnia & other sleep disorders. Nicola tried a guided meditation video focusing on alleviating anxiety. Nicola said, “I think this will be a great way to settle the mind before sleep. I'm new to meditation, so following videos is really helpful.” 

20) Exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning is a great way to regulate your natural circadian rhythms and sync your sleeping and waking patterns up with the day!

21) Experts on sleep hygiene recommend that you try to avoid doing tasks or watching TV in bed as this weakens the association between bed & sleep. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the bedroom, so you only associate your bed with sleep!

22) It's so tempting to hit snooze in the morning for a few more minutes of sleep - but those extra forty winks aren't 'good quality' sleep, and a regular wake-up time helps improve our sleep rhythms. If you get into good sleep habits, you should start to wake up feeling refreshed.

23) Many people swear by ensuring your feet are toasty warm when you go to bed! Scientists think that warming the feet causes blood vessels to dilate, signalling to the brain that it’s time to fall asleep. Time to don your fluffy socks!

24) Lavender is often used as aromatherapy to aid sleep and relaxation – try a few drops of lavender essential oil in a bath, or a scented pillow-spray.

25) Especially during cold snaps like the recent frost and snow, being chilly can make it really hard to get to sleep. Don't shiver under the duvet; get a cosy hot-water bottle and make sure you're snug to get a good night's rest.

26) At this time of year, many of us struggle to get to sleep because we've got coughs or colds. To help you get good-quality sleep to support your mental health, make sure you're also taking care of your physical symptoms with cold & flu capsules, drinks or other remedies!

27) If you drink too much water before bed, you're likely to find yourself getting up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, so try to limit your intake of water/other drinks in the hours before bedtime to avoid this!

28) Earlier in the month, we suggested listening to audiobooks to help with drifting off to sleep if your mind's racing due to anxiety or stress. Some people also enjoy music - lots of streaming services have pre-made sleep/relaxation playlists, or you could choose a soothing CD.

29) This challenge was a bit like keeping a 'sleep diary' for Nicola & Danielle. A sleep diary helps you track what you did on nights when you did (or didn't) sleep well, so you can change and do more of what works for you.

You can follow us on Twitter @MHM_Info for more mental health and wellbeing advice. (Of course, for those with serious insomnia it may be necessary to seek more specialist treatment, and you can find a useful list of resources here.)

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