The importance of sleep for young people's mental health

Getting a good night's sleep is vital for good mental health, so put your phone away and discover how you can get the best night's sleep possible.

When you’re away from home at placements or University your sleep can be disrupted, especially when you’re juggling a new social life and course deadlines. It may not be on the top of your to-do lists, but getting a good night’s sleep has a huge impact on your mental health. One poor night of sleep can make you feel irritable or short-tempered and not getting enough sleep over several nights can have a profound effect on how we function and feel.

To make sure you are getting the best night’s sleep possible, take a look at these simple tips.

Set a routine

Stick to the same bed time and waking times every day, even if you can't get to sleep straight away. This should prevent the temptation to nap during the day, which can make it more difficult to sleep later on. Add a wind-down routine at least an hour before you go to bed to help you sleep more soundly. This should involve swapping stimulating activities, such as last-minute coursework or scrolling through Instagram with more relaxing activities, like having a bath or listening to music.

Make your bedroom a place to relax

Your bedroom should be a place you can relax and feel able to calmly fall asleep. Make sure the bedroom is dark, comfy and quiet. Fairy lights can look great but be sure to turn them off before you go to sleep - even the smallest amount of light can keep your mind awake. Get yourself some good quality pillows and make sure you have a mattress to support you while you’re asleep.

Good air quality and room temperatures are also important – the ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 16 and 18 degrees. If you like the scent of lavender, try adding a few drops to your pillow to help relax you.

Diet and exercise matter

Waking up in the night can be caused by hunger, but going to bed too full can also keep you awake. Make sure you eat a balanced diet throughout the day and aim to avoid eating large meals for at least two hours before going to bed. If you’re up late finishing an essay and haven’t eaten for four to five hours, then a small snack before bed might prevent you waking up hungry.

Try to get at least an hour of exercise a day, but don’t exercise in the two hours before bed as your body needs time to relax. If you’re doing sit ups before you get into bed, you’re increasing your heart rate and keeping your body and mind awake for longer.

Turn off all electronic devices

Social media can be addictive and many of us lie in bed having one last scroll through, messaging friends or simply checking the news. But this can have a huge effect on your quality of sleep. Phones and laptops emit a blue light which can keep us awake. This blue light prevents the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that kick starts sleep. If you need to use your phone before bed make sure you have it set to ‘night shift’ mode, which emits light from the warmer end of the spectrum, rather than the default blue light which has a lesser impact on melatonin. Ideally, avoid looking at screens entirely for two to three hours before bed.

If you’re still unable to get to sleep

Sometimes no matter how much we invest in creating a good sleeping environment you can lie there wide awake with thoughts racing. This can cause frustration and keep you awake even longer.

If you can't sleep; after 15 to 20 minutes, apply the quarter of an hour rule. Get out of bed and do something non-stimulating, such as reading a book, for 20 to 30 minutes before returning to bed. If you are still unable to get to sleep after 20 to 30 minutes get up again. It can be frustrating at first, but eventually you’ll be teaching your brain that the bedroom is a place for sleeping.

In shared houses, such as halls of residence or student housing, you might not have anywhere else to go other than your bedroom. In that case, try and divide your room up into the sleeping area and productive area. Create an area away from the bed that is used for eating, studying, using social media or getting up if you can’t sleep. You can buy a room divider, or simply make sure that nothing associated with not sleeping crosses over onto the sleeping side of your room.

Last updated Wednesday 24 February 2021

First published on Tuesday 9 October 2018