Sleep and mental health webinar - 6 August 2024

Join us for our upcoming webinar event 'How to sleep well and improve mental health: A Beyond Blue sleep webinar' with Dr Norman Swan and the Sleep Health Foundation. 

Sleep and mental health

Getting enough 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 sleep can have a negative impact.

If you’re regularly struggling to get a good night’s sleep and feeling the impacts the next day, you’re not alone. About 40% of Australians regularly experience poor sleep. There are things you can try that will help.

Why can’t I sleep?

Many things can impact how well you sleep at night. Some habits and activities can increase the likelihood of a good sleep, but there are also things that come up outside of our control that can leave you unable to sleep well.

Things that could cause a negative impact are:
  • difficult life events or stress caused by things such as financial pressure, work demands or unemployment, and relationship issues
  • upcoming events you may be excited or nervous about
  • how much exercise you had that day
  • your diet, including alcohol, caffeine and nicotine intake
  • a noisy, hot or disruptive environment in the night
  • physical discomfort or pain caused by injury or illness
  • pregnancy and caring responsibilities

  • shift work
  • menopause and ageing
  • mental health conditions
  • sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea
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

Good 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 9 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.
Conversely, a lack of sleep over time can lead to significant health risks, including cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, and mental health conditions.
A good night's sleep is the best form of defence I can have against any attack. It's a key factor of keeping well and keeping mentally sharp."

Read Richard’s mental health journey.
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Signs of poor sleep

When you are trying to sleep

Poor quality sleep can present in many ways, such as:
  • difficulty in getting to sleep (30 mins or more)
  • waking frequently during the night
  • waking very early in the morning and being unable to get back to sleep.
  • achieving less sleep than you need to feel rested

During the day

When you don’t sleep well, you may experience the following:
  • feeling tired, flat or exhausted
  • difficulty managing your emotions
  • poor concentration
  • irritability or increased sensitivity
  • 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, including the negative impacts of not getting enough sleep
  • 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 achieve better sleep.


1. Regular physical activity

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

Find more information and tips on staying active

2. Morning sunlight to set your body clock

Sun exposure in the morning, and dim lights in the evening, can help align our body clocks to the day-night cycle. This helps us to feel alert during the day and sleepy at night.

3. 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.


4. 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 reduce the quality of sleep you have and lead to disruptive sleep.


5. 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.


6. 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.


7. 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, as can engaging online content.

Learn about routines and mental health

8. Make your bedroom your sanctuary

Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and cool will create a healthy sleeping environment. Remove televisions from the bedroom so you're not spending time in bed awake.


9. 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.


10. 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.


11. Try not to watch the clock

Taking clocks out of the room can help reduce your stress. It’s will prevent the counting down of hours until morning, adding to your anxiety. It can help to remind yourself that you’ve managed on poor sleep before. This can also help you relax which makes sleep more likely.

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.

Explore guided breathing and relaxation exercises

Seek professional support

If you are experiencing ongoing trouble getting to, or staying asleep, support from a 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

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Sleep and anxiety or depression

Sleep and mental health are two sides of the same coin - each influences the other.  Getting enough 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 significantly 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.

Further resources

General information

Sleep programs for adults

For children and young people

  • Raising Children Network – Sleep problems and solutions for children and teenagers.
  • Sleep Ninja - a free, smartphone app by the Black Dog Institute shown to be effective in helping young people with sleep problems.
  • Reach Out – tips and peer support for getting a good night’s sleep
  • Smiling Mind Sleep for Families program – evidence-based activities and strategies to establish good sleep routines and support a better night’s sleep for the whole family.
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