I Can't Sleep
I Can't Sleep
I Can't Sleep
I Can't Sleep
I Can't Sleep

I Can’t Sleep

Sleep is something that people experiencing depression and anxiety often have difficulties with. Disturbed sleep patterns in themselves are also a vulnerability factor for depression. There are some simple strategies that you can use to gradually improve your sleep habits – but the most important thing is to avoid rigid expectations or getting too stressed about sleep disturbance, as this will only compound the issue.

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Why Does Sleep Matter?

Sleep is essential for maintaining normal bodily function, both physically and mentally, as well as emotionally. Once sleep disturbances begin to set in, they can very quickly spiral into a vicious cycle that feeds the depression that’s causing them.

Sleep disturbances can happen due to:

  • anxiety about your studies, relationships, or health
  • medication side effects
  • not getting enough exercise during the day
  • over- or under-eating
  • working too late in the evenings

It can take just one night of disrupted sleep, which causes you to sleep in late or nap during the following day, and in turn makes it harder to fall asleep the following night as well. Suddenly, you start to feel exhausted, and your body is trying to sleep at all the wrong times of the day, making it extremely difficult to meet your commitments throughout the week.

Diagram showing the vicious cycle of depression and its impacts on sleep


Sleep Hygiene

This refers to the use of good routines, rituals and practices to help regain and maintain a good sleep pattern.

The information here will help you plan and make small, gradual changes to work towards better sleep hygiene.


Keep a Sleep Diary

The first step is to keep a sleep diary for a week or two, so that you have a realistic snapshot of your current sleep habits.

Note down:

Sleep diary to tackle depression and insomnia

Then consider what you have learnt from keeping your sleep diary. Roughly how many hours of sleep are you averaging per night? What quality is your sleep, and how well rested do you feel? Have you noticed any patterns for when sleep is better or worse?

It is also possible to buy sleep monitors, or download an app to your phone that connects with a suitable smartwatch, which can also monitor the general parameters of sleep.

Things to Avoid

It is also important to note things you do that might prevent you from sleeping well. For example, such things might include:

  • Using smartphones or tablet computers late at night, or in bed before going to sleep
  • Working right up to the last minute before going to bed
  • If sleep is disturbed, lying awake in bed running through thoughts
  • Drinking too much, and particularly before going to bed
  • Not getting enough exercise or fresh air during the day
  • Not getting enough relaxation in, especially just before bed
  • Some drugs (prescribed and not prescribed) might disturb sleep (always speak with your GP if you are not sure)
  • Taking a nap during the day
  • Not eating well during the day, or eating too soon before going to bed
  • Not establishing a suitable sleep environment in your room – temperature, light, noise, and so on

My New Sleep Routine

Continue to use your diary to monitor your sleep patterns, making adjustments as you go along that best suit your own needs and living patterns. The aim here is to develop a good routine where you actively prepare for sleep each night. Once you have a better idea of your quality of sleep, and where problems may exist, consider how you might be able to make changes to achieve your goal. Eventually you might aim for these changes to become habit.

Taking Active Steps for Better Sleep

Write down your intentions for how to improve your sleep habits. This can help you keep a clear record of what you intend to do, and also to review how things are going – what is working, and what isn’t:

I will get up by ____8am____ every day, including weekends. I will aim to go to sleep by____12pm____ but only if I am sleepy by then.

One hour before bed I will____switch off my laptop, close the curtains/put on my lamp, have a bowl of cereal or a milky drink and have a chat with my housemates, read a novel or listen to my relaxation CD for 20 minutes____

I will only go to bed when I am feeling sleepy.

If I am having trouble getting to sleep I will ____get up and turn on the lamp, write down any thoughts that are bothering me so that I can sort them out in the morning, carry on reading my novel until I am sleepy again____

Things I need to change/do to give me the best chance of sticking to this plan:

____Put my alarm clock on the other side of the room, and ask Josh to bang on my door if I’m not up by 8.15____
____Get up and get dressed straight away, and plan an activity to get up for every day____
____Buy some ear plugs so I don’t worry about being disturbed if my housemates come in late____


Don’t set yourself overly rigid expectations – the aim is to make sure you generally give yourself the best chance of a decent amount and/or quality of rest. It won’t always go to plan, but that is not the end of the world. Work on other aspects of your daily routine, like exercise and relaxation strategies, to support the changes you are trying to make in your sleep habits. Use the diary to check your progress after a while.

This information is also available as a downloadable worksheet for you to keep your notes.