How To Sleep Better

Advice from Occupational Therapists

As winter turns to spring and the nights get shorter and lighter, some people might find it harder to get to sleep, or back to sleep, at night. This World Sleep Day, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) has compiled expert advice from some of its members for getting a better night’s sleep.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), around a third of adults in the UK aren’t getting enough sleep and have problems sleeping at least once a week. Sleep is essential for physical and mental wellbeing. It benefits your mood, concentration, weight and stress management. Sleeping well can reduce your chances of getting ill and stop the development of some health conditions. Not getting enough sleep can mean you become tired and irritable. You may find it difficult to nap, even when you’re tired. You may find it difficult to concentrate or have difficulty getting to sleep and wake regularly throughout the night. Sleep problems can be caused by an overstimulated body and mind. Stress, lifestyle changes, work pressures, health conditions and environmental issues, such as too much noise or light, can all contribute to difficulties sleeping.

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages who have a wide range of conditions, helping them overcome challenges completing everyday tasks or activities, also known as occupations, including sleep. They work with the person as an individual, look at their environment, and may suggest equipment, lifestyle changes or relaxation techniques to help someone improve their sleep quality and patterns.

Helen McNamara, an occupational therapist specialising in sleep and insomnia at the Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust and Flourish Therapy, says: “Sleep problems affect people of all ages and backgrounds. The people I see feel low, overwhelmed and sceptical that they can be helped when they arrive at their first appointment, so it’s important for me to listen and acknowledge their experience. The changes I recommend can feel daunting to someone who is already sleep deprived, so I try to work creatively and empathetically to help them establish new behaviours and thinking patterns that will improve their sleep. I make sure that whatever I suggest feels doable and sustainable to give them the best chance of success. It’s so rewarding when someone tells me they worry less about sleep and are feeling more refreshed thanks to occupational therapy.”

Suhailah Mohamed, Head of Practice and Workforce at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, says: “Sleep is a vital daily living activity. It’s as important as eating well and is fundamental to our physical and mental health. Without sleep, our body doesn’t get a chance to reset our hormone levels. This reset is crucial to helping us regulate our mood, appetite, energy, memory and concentration. Without sleep, we may struggle to carry out everyday occupations, from getting out of bed to making decisions about what to eat and even being able to do tasks that we normally find easy at work.

Occupational therapy plays an invaluable role in improving sleep quality. Sometimes this is done by providing personalised, practical advice relating to sleep itself. More often than not, it’s about identifying the root causes behind the sleep disruption and addressing that first. With our training in both physical and mental health, occupational therapists are uniquely equipped to work with individuals to identify what’s affecting their sleep and help them establish more effective sleep routines.”

If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough sleep, speak to your GP to rule out any underlying conditions. A GP will also be able to put you in touch with an occupational therapist to help you develop a personalised, realistic and practical plan.

The expert advice for sleeping well, which is part of RCOT’s ongoing Lift Up Your Everyday campaign, is available at