A young person alone and looking down at the ground.

Sleep problems

A girl wearing glasses sitting on the end of her bed while using her laptop.

There is a close connection between sleep and your mental health. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, this can make coping with daily life hard, and if you’re struggling with your mental health, you may find you can’t sleep.

Lots of people struggle with sleep problems, but there are things you can do to help improve your sleep and reduce restless nights.

How much sleep do I need?

Everyone needs different amounts of sleep, but the NHS recommends an average of:

  • 7 to 9 hours for adults
  • 9 to 13 hours for children

If you find that you always feel tired through the day, you are probably not getting enough sleep and should think about how you can improve your sleeping habits.

Causes of sleep problems

If you’re having problems with sleeping, you’re not alone. Most of us have trouble with getting enough sleep at some point. There are many reasons why you might not be able to sleep, and the things that affect our sleep are different for everyone. Below are some possible causes of sleep problems.

You may find yourself waking up in the night, or having difficulty getting to sleep in the first place, because you’re feeling anxious or stressed about something. You might have difficult feelings about something that’s happening now, something from the past, or worries about the future.

This could include being stressed or worried about:

  • friendships or bullying
  • school work and exams
  • problems at home
  • divorce, separation or other changes in your family
  • changes in routine such as a new school or moving house
  • money or work

You may also be anxious or worried about being alone, being in the dark, or about something bad happening during the night. You might feel you want someone there with you as you drop off to sleep or if you wake in the night.

Find out more about anxiety

Not having a set routine and set time for when you go to bed can cause sleep problems. You may find it difficult to manage your sleep routine around your daily life commitments, for example if you have carer responsibilities, if you’re a shift worker or if you work at night.

If you like to stay up late watching TV, gaming or scrolling through your phone and talking with friends, this may also alter your sleep patterns. The light from screens can keep you awake for longer and make it harder to fall asleep.

The environment where you sleep is also important for getting a good night’s sleep. If you sleep somewhere uncomfortable or noisy, for example, this may disturb your sleep or keep you awake.

Taking certain medications, or coming off medications, can lead to a lack of sleep. For information about the effects of specific medications, take a look at our medication advice guides and glossary.


If you’re struggling with your mental health, this can cause difficulties with sleeping. For example:

  • Anxiety can cause worries that keep you awake or perhaps cause panic attacks at night.
  • Depression can make you sleep more or less than you need.
  • Current or past trauma can cause nightmares or night terrors. You may also feel unsafe in the dark.
  • Psychosis can make sleep difficult – you may hear voices or see things that scare you.
  • Mania may give you feelings of energy meaning you don’t feel tired.

A lack of sleep can also make it more difficult to cope with the symptoms of a mental health problem. Being sleep deprived, for example, can make it more difficult to go about your daily routine or deal with difficult emotions. You might:

  • feel more anxious or stressed during the day
  • feel lonely or isolated because you don’t have the energy to see people
  • struggle to concentrate in school or at work
  • feel more irritable
  • be more affected by other mental health problems such as depression or mania

Tips and support

There are lots of things you can try to help improve your sleep, but remember, different things work for different people. You should only try tips and suggestions that you feel comfortable with and try not to put too much pressure on yourself to try these.

Take a look at some of our tips below, including suggestions from our bloggers and Activists.

Having regular sleeping habits may help you if you are experiencing lack of sleep. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, or you might find it helps to only go to bed when you really feel tired.

Having a wind-down routine can also help. Try doing something calming before bed or as you go to sleep to help you to relax. This could include breathing exercises, grounding techniques, journaling such as writing down your worries, or listening to calming music or sounds.

Do something relaxing before you go to sleep, that doesn’t involve your phone.

Rather than looking at a phone until you're tired, relax by reading a book, writing a journal entry or listening to music.

You may not have much control over where you sleep, but there are small changes you can make to improve your sleeping area. Think about the noise, the temperature, the light and the bedding.

Put a soft blanket on top of your mattress as this can help you relax. You could try and wrap yourself up in the duvet as this can help with sensory issues.

Using screens in the evening can negatively affect your sleep. Try to avoid using your phone or laptop before bed. You can also adjust your device settings to change the brightness, add a night filter or set it to do not disturb mode.

If like me you're on your phone right up until you sleep, it’s a good idea to download a blue light filter.

Our Activists and other young people share their experience of dealing with sleep problems.

Take a look at some of their tips:

  • I recommend turning your phone off and simply practising some simple breathing exercises to relax before sleeping.
  • If you experience anxious thoughts when you're trying to sleep, remind yourself that there will be plenty of time to think about those things in the daytime.
  • Give yourself time to wind down before bed. Try to do something relaxing or boring so that you’ll feel tired.
  • Things that help me are, listening to relaxing music, trying to stick to a time to go to bed and get up, smells you associate with calmness, limiting screen exposure and a notebook to jot down any worries.

Sleep disorders and treatments

A mother and daughter having a serious discussion at home in front of a radiator

If your sleep problems continue for a long time, the things you try at home are not helping, or if you are worried about an emotional or physical problem, you should speak to a GP. It may be that you have a sleep disorder that you need treatment for. Severe sleep problems can also be a sign of a mental health condition, such as depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Below are some examples of sleep disorders.

Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for enough time to feel refreshed in the morning. It can usually get better by changing your sleeping habits and routines, but if your sleep problems persist, you can see a GP who will help you find the cause of your sleep problems and provide the right treatment.

Take a look at our blogger's experience of taking zopiclone when they had difficulty getting to sleep.

What it’s like to take zopiclone for extreme emotional distress

Dreams help us process what is going on in our lives, including any fears and worries. These may manifest themselves as nightmares and are usually nothing to worry about. It helps to talk about bad dreams (or even draw them) to identify what may be causing them. Causes of nightmares could be as simple as something scary you saw in a film to more serious things such as bullying or abuse.

Bedwetting is common and nothing to be ashamed of, but can be upsetting and cause sleep deprivation if it wakes you up in the night. This might have a physical cause or be linked to worries and anxiety. Talk to your GP who can advise you about getting help.

This is when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep. It needs to be treated as it can lead to more serious problems. Treatments for sleep apnoea include lifestyle changes such as losing weight, giving up smoking, drinking less alcohol. You may also be referred to a sleep clinic where they could suggest other types of treatment such as a gum shield or a machine to help with regular breathing through the night.

Treatments for more severe sleep problems might include counselling and therapy, medication or referral to a sleep clinic. For tips and advice on how to speak to your GP, take a look at our guide.

How to speak to your GP
Don't be scared to reach out. Insomnia is heavy and overwhelming. Not sleeping can affect your everyday life, even simple tasks. Wanting help, whether it's therapy, medication, or anything else, is perfectly okay.

Where to get further help

If something is keeping you up at night, even if you're not sure what it is, here are some services that can support you.

  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:

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