Sleep is necessary for good health and wellbeing. It is important for your brain function, emotional wellbeing and physical health.

Importance of sleep

Getting enough quality sleep helps support healthy brain function and maintains your physical health. For children and teenagers, sleep is important for their growth and development.

The amount of sleep you need will depend on your age. Most adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Babies and toddlers will need about 11 to 17 hours of sleep.

Not getting enough sleep can affect how you think, behave and get on with other people. Ongoing poor sleep can affect your mental health and increase your risk of some health conditions.

Causes of poor sleep

Poor sleep can be linked to several conditions, such as:

  • pain
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • restless legs syndrome — a cramp or creeping feeling in the legs in the evening or at night
  • sleep apnoea — when you have pauses in your breathing during the night
  • insomnia — trouble getting to or staying asleep
  • circadian rhythm disorders (for example, jet lag and shift work sleep disorder).

Sleepwalking and snoring are also common sleep problems.

Self care for poor sleep

Bedtime routine

Maintain a regular sleep pattern by going to bed and getting up at around the same time each day, including on the weekends.

Take some time to relax and unwind before going to bed. This will help destress and send signals to your body and mind that daytime activities are over and it is time to prepare for sleep.

Do not watch the clock or stay in bed if you are wide awake. If you are still awake after 20 to 30 minutes of trying to get to sleep, try sitting in another room for a short time.

Sleeping environment

Make your bedroom as restful as possible. Remove distractions like televisions and portable electronic devices from the room.

Keep the bedroom quiet and dark, at a comfortable temperature. This is different for everyone, but generally falls within the range of 15 to 20°C. Make sure your bedding is comfortable too.

During the day

Keep active. Moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity is best, but even light activity can help you sleep better at night. Try to avoid activities just before bedtime.

Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes can disrupt your sleep. Try to avoid these, and avoid eating large meals within 2 to 3 hours of going to bed.

Getting sunlight in the morning and avoiding bright lights in the evening can help your body to get into a better sleep routine.

If you work night shifts

If you regularly work night shifts, you may find it hard to get enough sleep during the day. In this case:

  • try wearing dark sunglasses to reduce the sunlight on your commute home
  • keep to the same daily routine if you can
  • use ear plugs and eye masks to reduce noise and light in your bedroom
  • use blackout curtains or put boards over the windows in your bedroom to block out sunlight
  • avoid caffeinated drinks and food, and avoid alcohol close to bedtime
  • having short naps can help.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia is a short course of treatment. CBT is a type of talking therapy, or kōrero. It identifies thoughts, feelings and behaviours that cause poor sleep, and tells you how to change them. You can access this treatment from:

When to see a healthcare provider

See your healthcare provider if you:

  • have ongoing trouble sleeping after trying the self care options above
  • wake a lot during the night
  • consistently feel very tired during the day
  • have trouble staying awake during the daytime
  • snore severely.