A man sleeping in a bed.
How do stress and anxiety affect sleep?Image by: Movember
A man sleeping in a bed.
25 July 2023

How to get better sleep

5 minutes read time

Ever had a night where you tried everything to get some shut-eye – only to find yourself tossing, turning, and staring at the ceiling?

Perhaps you felt like shouting Samuel L. Jackson’s line from the best-selling adult children’s book, Go the F**k to Sleep? (seriously, look it up).

Most people have at some point struggled to get enough sleep. Many others live with ongoing poor sleep due to stress, illness, parenthood, a sleep disorder, irregular work patterns, or something else.

Good sleep is vital to your health and your mental and even physical well-being. Yet it seems that everyone has an opinion about how much sleep is the right amount, and how to get enough of it.

So, how much sleep do you need? How do you get better sleep? And if you're struggling, just how the f**k do you get to sleep?

How much sleep do I need?

You’ve probably heard the saying “getting your full eight hours” of sleep is best — and with good reason.

The right amount of sleep for an adult is between seven to nine hours of uninterrupted, deep sleep — the best amount to help you feel healthy, vital, and running for the day.

Beware of someone who claims they can function perfectly fine on just four hours' sleep and then smash through the next day. As you'll see below, not getting enough sleep isn't just bad for your mood and mental health – it can mess with your long-term physical health too.

Sleep deprivation

Feeling out of it and just plain cranky is only one consequence of not getting enough quality sleep. Far from just a mindset, being deprived of sleep has been likened to being drunk. In fact, road authorities around the world highlight the dangers of sleep deprivation in driver safety campaigns.

Even if you aren’t truckin’ across the country, sleep deprivation can still have some nasty short- and long-term effects on your mental and physical health.

In the short-term, poor sleep patterns can make you:

  • Drowsy or half asleep (in case you hadn't noticed)
  • Forgetful
  • Anxious
  • Have more frequent headaches
  • Irritable or have wild mood shifts
  • More prone to accidents
  • Sluggish and prevent you from performing at your best

Longer term, you might notice:

  1. You may have a lower sex drive
  2. You gain weight, since improper sleep can mess with your metabolism
  3. Your blood pressure goes up
  4. You’re feeling depressed or anxious

A growing pile of research also suggests that long-term sleep deprivation can do nasty things to your physical health – like increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes kidney disease and obesity.

Why can’t I sleep?

Can’t sleep? There are (regrettably) all kinds of reasons why you might be up at night. Sometimes they're under your control, and sometimes they're not.

Feeling anxious or worried is a common cause of sleeplessness. A whole range of things could be behind it: financial worries, job stress, or even a dreaded family engagement. While lying awake at night worrying is not fun, you're not alone – doctors and mental health professionals routinely find that their patients have trouble or can't sleep at night due to anxiety.

Health is another common source of night-time worry. Intrusive thoughts before sleep about illness or an impending diagnosis are enough to keep many people awake. And to compound things, a health condition's physical effects can interfere with sleep. For instance, many men living with prostate cancer find that fatigue can mess with their sleep routine – it's also common to feel tired after prostate cancer treatment.

New dads (and any partners) often have to contend with broken sleep. Little 'uns don’t sleep on adult schedules (though you probably didn’t need to be told that).

Chugging down stimulants like alcohol or caffeine can also affect sleep patterns. In fact, while the once-traditional 'night cap' might make you doze off sooner, it's far more likely to interfere with proper, deep sleep. In short, the verdict about alcohol and sleep has been out for ages: alcohol makes your sleep worse.

Sometimes the sleep deprivation may be due to a sleeping disorder, be it something physical or more complex. Sleep apnoea is a common physical condition that can interrupt sleep multiple times a night; and chronic insomnia is a complex issue (often related to stress or anxiety) that can lead to long-term sleep deprivation.

How to get better sleep

There are a surprising number of ways you can get a better night’s sleep. Best of all, none of it involves medication, narcotics or alcohol.

Getting regular exercise and moving more every day can help. It's not just about feeling more tired before bed – exercise is known to help deal with stress and worry.

Switching off all your devices well before bed and getting up at a routine time can also get you back to a regular sleep pattern. Ironically, some people use apps to track sleep. In fact, some apps are high-tech enough to show things like when your body is in a deep sleep cycle. Other apps may lead you into meditations to help you doze off sooner.

Being conscious of your caffeine and alcohol consumption can make a massive difference too. Consider holding off on caffeine in the afternoon. Don’t give up your Morning Joe — but be mindful that some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others.

Talking out your worries and stresses can also help relieve the pressure – and help with sleep.

Similarly, if you sense a friend is sleep deprived too often, be their rock and have a proper conversation with them. You might make a world of difference. After all, bad sleep may be the symptom, rather than the cause, of something else going on.

For many new dads, the cause of sleep deprivation is no mystery. Fatherhood is incredibly rewarding but also challenging, and Movember has some excellent tips and advice for new dads finding it hard to sleep as well as good sleep habits for children. And if you're worried about chronic insomnia or some other sleep disorder? The best place to start is with an appointment with your doctor.