Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

Sleeping well

Sleep is an important function that allows body and mind to rest and recharge.

Sleep benefits nearly all systems of the body and how well we sleep can have a big impact on the quality of day-to-day life.

Most adults need between 6-9 hours of sleep per night but how much sleep someone needs is very individual.

Lady sleeping

Difficulties falling to sleep, staying asleep or waking early can lead to sleep deprivation, which contributes to problems such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Low mood
  • Reduced concentration
  • Irritability
  • Stress
  • Reduced motivation
  • Reduced social participation
  • Reduced productivity

Clock saying 3amDifficulties with sleep can occur due to a number of reasons:

  • It may be because you have been unwell and your body needs more rest to repair and recover.
  • It might be that you are feeling nervous or anxious; you may be worrying about your health or treatments, or thinking about the past or the future.
  • You might find yourself worrying about not sleeping which can then disrupt sleep further.

Other things that disrupt sleep include:

  • Caffeine (caffeinated tea and coffee, energy drinks, some fizzy drinks e.g. cola)
  • Alcohol
  • Eating a large meal before bed time
  • Vigorous exercise before bed time
  • Stimulation from blue light emitted from screens and devices that signal the brain to be awake in the same way sunlight wakes us up in the morning.

Strategies for sleeping well

Some tips for creating a daily routine include:

  • Waking-up and going to bed at the same time each day.
  • Keep yourself occupied during the day. Doing normal everyday activities can help you feel tired and ready for sleep. The following activities can be relaxing and can help manage worrying thoughts making it easier to sleep:
    • reading
    • puzzles
    • jigsaws or
    • crafts such as knitting.
  • Create a daily routine that includes opportunities for rest and relaxation. Practice short breathing exercises or short relaxation exercises throughout the day to help reduce stress levels. Lower stress levels during the day will benefit sleep. Take a look at the useful videos below, which introduce a variety of relaxation techniques.  

Physical activity reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and boosts endorphins – the body’s natural feel good chemicals.

The World Health Organisation recommends that all adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Physical activity includes aerobic exercise such as cycling and jogging but domestic occupations such as hoovering, mowing the lawn or carrying the shopping all count. Keeping active during the day can help prepare you for sleep.

Take some gentle exercise each day, such as a short work or yoga. This will help you feel naturally tired. Gentle Tai Chi before bed can be a lovely way to relax the body and mind. Take a look at our seated and standing Tai Chi videos presented by one of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board’s physiotherapists.   

Avoid vigorous exercise near bedtime as this can leave you feeling too awake to sleep well.

  • cup of coffeeStimulants
    It is best to avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine 3-6 hours before bed. These can all reduce the quality of your sleep (note e-cigarettes contain nicotine).
  • Screens
    Mobile phone screens, tablets and TV screens all emit blue light. Light is the most powerful cue for our body’s internal body clock. Blue light from these devices supress the brain’s production of melatonin (the hormone that you need to fall asleep). Using screens before bed can therefore prevent sleep by telling your brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Vigorous exercise 
    Vigorous exercise is recommended for general health and wellbeing and can help tire the body and promote sleep. However it is best to finish vigorous exercise a few hours before bed time as vigorous exercise is stimulating and can leave you too awake to fall to sleep soon after finishing.
  • Large, heavy meals
    Allow time for digestion between eating large meals and going to bed. Three hours between a large meals and bedtime is usually recommended. Eating late can interrupt your body’s internal clock, telling it to stay awake thus interfering with your ability to fall asleep.
  • Long day time naps
    Limit naps to 20 minutes, any longer can impact night time sleep.
  • Clean sleep environment
A comfortable sleep environment can make it easier to fall asleep and remain asleep. Make your bedroom a relaxing place to be, dark, quiet, cool and comfortable is best.

  • It can help to block out natural light, use black out blinds / curtains or an eye mask to help.

  • Ensure the room is a comfortable temperature. Leave the window open for cool air to circulate. Using layers of blankets or sheets instead of a duvet can help regulate temperature.

  • Keep the bedroom clean and clutter free and only use the bedroom sleep and sex. A clear, dedicated sleeping environment will help promote restfulness and calm.

  • Notepad and pencil in bedside drawerTry to empty your head of thoughts that may be impacting your sleep. Keep a notepad next to the bed and write down any thoughts that may be on your mind. Tell yourself “it’s on the list” and that you don’t need to think about it now.
  • Use cognitive strategies and mental techniques to purposefully focus the mind on something different:
    • A-Z lists
      Name countries, cities, song-writers, boys or girls names, fruit or vegetables – anything you can think of e.g. A is for apple, B is for banana, and so on. If the mind wanders to other things just come back to the next letter.
    • Count backwards
      Start at 100 and subtract 7 (100 – 7 – 93, 93 – 7 = 86 and so on). If the mind wanders to other things just bring it back to your counting.
    • Describe to yourself in meticulous detail the steps of an everyday task, such as getting dressed. Picture yourself doing the task, breaking it down into the tiny steps.
    • If you are still lying awake after trying these strategies, it is best to get up and do something different for a few minutes and return to bed when you feel sleepier.

You could try:

Useful videos

You may find the following apps useful:


Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

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