Sleep and mental health

Getting good quality sleep is crucial for your mental health. Among other benefits, it can help with your mood, your memory and your ability to manage stress. Equally, poor quality sleep can have a negative impact.

If you’re consistently struggling to get a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone. Around 4 in 10 Australians regularly experience inadequate sleep. There are things you can try that will help. 

Why can’t I sleep?

There are many things that may impact how well you sleep at night. Some habits and activities can increase the likelihood of a good sleep, but there can also be things that come up outside of our control that mean you can’t sleep.

Things that could cause a negative impact are:

  • stress caused by things such as financial pressure, relationship issues or unemployment
  • upcoming events you may be excited or nervous about
  • how much exercise you had that day
  • your diet, especially alcohol, caffeine and nicotine intake
  • disruptions in the night
  • physical discomfort caused by injury or illness
  • sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

It’s important to remember that while there are things that happen out of your control, there are things you can do to sleep better.

Benefits of sleep

Consistent and good-quality sleep supports both your mental and physical health. There is no magic number for how many hours of sleep you should get. Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours every night but it varies from person to person.

When you get the amount of sleep your body needs, it can help you to:

  • improve your mood
  • manage stress
  • retain memories
  • think more quickly and clearly
  • feel energised
  • stay physically healthy thanks to a strengthened immune system
  • recover from and prevent injuries.


A good night's sleep is the best form of defense I can have against any attack. It's a key factor of keeping well and keeping mentally sharp.
Read Richard’s mental health journey.

Signs of poor sleep

When you’re trying to sleep

Poor quality sleep can present in many ways, such as:

  • difficulty in getting to sleep
  • less sleep than usual
  • waking frequently during the night
  • waking very early in the morning and being unable to get back to sleep.

During the day

When you don’t sleep well, you may experience the following:

  • tiredness or exhaustion
  • poor concentration
  • irritability
  • aches and pains 
  • feeling run down.

Having a poor night’s sleep happens to everyone from time-to-time. But when these symptoms occur over a period of time, they might indicate a sleep disorder such as insomnia.

Learn about sleep disorders and insomnia

Increased anxiety at night

You may find that your anxiety is worse at night and you get stuck in a cycle. At first you're anxious about not being able to sleep, and then you can’t sleep because you feel anxious.

Signs you may be experiencing heightened anxiety at night include:

  • finding it difficult to calm down
  • feeling unable to control your anxious thoughts or worries
  • catastrophic thinking, or dwelling on every possible negative outcome
  • physical restlessness and fidgeting
  • tightness in the chest and shortness of breath.

If you are experiencing anxiety at night consistently, addressing the root cause of the issue will help you sleep.

Learn about the treatments for anxiety

My mind would be ticking over all night, and I would just lay there and stare at the ceiling and then wake up even more exhausted the next day. And when you're exhausted, you can't process your emotions or keep yourself in check.

Read Nicole’s story

How to improve your sleep

Tips for a good night’s sleep

There are many techniques you can try to help you fall asleep faster and achieve quality sleep.

1. Regular exercise

Being active throughout the day can help tire your body to prepare it for sleep. Although make sure to leave 1-2 hours between vigorous activity and bedtime to allow your body to wind down.

2. Limit naps

Taking naps outside your normal sleep hours can disrupt your sleep routine and make it harder to go to sleep when you need to.

3. Reduce caffeine, alcohol and smoking before bed

Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can keep your body and mind alert up to seven hours after they're consumed. Alcohol may send you off to sleep faster but can cause later disruptions and will affect the quality of sleep you have.

4. Allow yourself to wind down

Give your body and mind a chance to relax. In the 1-2 hours before bed, unwind through a calming activity like reading, watching TV, or having a bath – whatever works for you.

5. Be consistent with your bedtime

Going to bed at a similar time each night reinforces to your body that it's time to wind down.

6. Set a digital curfew

Avoid screens by turning your phone off or on 'do not disturb' at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. Consider leaving your device in another room. Screen light and apps are designed to trigger hormones in your brain that keep you alert.

7. Make your bedroom your sanctuary

Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and cool will create a healthy sleeping environment. 

8. Leave your worries out of the bedroom

If you find you're overthinking things, it may help to write down the thoughts you're experiencing to get them out of your head. Make a time to revisit them the next day so you know they will be dealt with, but not when you’re trying to sleep.

9. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep

If you’ve been trying to sleep for 30 minutes, but don’t feel sleepy, get up and do a relaxing activity. Try to avoid looking at your phone or watching TV. Go back to bed once you’re feeling sleepy again.

Sleep meditation and mindfulness exercises

Sleep meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques can help you fall asleep faster by calming racing thoughts, letting go of daily stress and easing you into sleep.

The Smiling Mind App offers free sleep meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Download the Smiling Mind App

You can also download breathing and relaxation exercises from our website.

Find breathing and relaxation exercises

Seek professional support

If you are experiencing ongoing trouble getting to, or staying asleep, support from a mental health professional can help. Visiting your GP can be a good place to start, or you can check out the list of mental health professionals on our website.

Find a mental health professional

Sleep and anxiety or depression

Quality sleep is a great way to support your mental health and can reduce the risk anxiety and depression. People who don’t get enough sleep are around 10 times more likely to experience depression than people who do.

Struggling to fall asleep, difficulty staying asleep and oversleeping can also be symptoms of anxiety or depression.

  • Anxiety can make it difficult to calm down, can cause you to feel more tired than usual and is a known cause of sleep disturbances.
  • Depression can cause you to feel constantly tired and can also lead to oversleeping.

If you're concerned that poor sleep could be a symptom of anxiety or depression, our Anxiety and Depression Test (K10) will help you understand what kind of support you might need right now.

Take the K10 test

Supporting someone else

If you've noticed a friend or partner has trouble sleeping, or sleeps all the time, it’s worth talking to them about your concerns.

Find tips on talking to someone you're worried about

Journey to recovery – personal stories

Three million Australians are living with anxiety or depression. Hearing their stories of recovery can help you imagine your own journey. 

Read and watch more personal stories

When depression and alcohol meet – Richard’s story

Richard's alcohol addiction and battle with depression took a massive toll. After battling for years, he took action to turn his life around.

Trauma and losing my coping strategy – Nicole’s story

After suffering an injury while dancing, Nicole struggled to deal with the impact of losing her greatest outlet.