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Getting enough sleep is essential to stay rested and maintain a healthy body. Sleep helps to regulate stress levels and aids the processing of emotional experiences to allow memories to be stored and integrated. Sleep can also help us to find inspiration and creative solutions to everyday problems.

For many survivors of rape or sexual abuse, sleep can be difficult. Nightmares and memories of traumatic experiences can surface, and, often unconsciously, some survivors avoid sleep as when we are asleep, we are in our most vulnerable state.

This section will look at why we need sleep and rest, what some common sleep problems are, and includes a toolkit of tips which may help you to overcome these sleep problems or get some better-quality rest.

If you find it hard to get to sleep, to stay asleep, or are plagued by distressing dreams or nightmares, it can help to find ways to improve your sleep quality and habits. Everyone is different – it can help to try a range of strategies to find those that work best for you.


1 – Sleep Problems – Survivor Stories

Click the video to the left to hear from survivors of rape and sexual abuse about their experience of sleep difficulties.


Click the links below to watch the survivor interviews in full on YouTube:

Click the video below to hear tips and advice from survivors about what helped them to manage sleep problems.

You may find that your experiences of sleep as a survivor are different from the ones we describe in this section, and that is completely normal.


You may find that you relate to all of the points below, some of them, or none at all. This guide may be a useful starting place for you to learn more about sleep and sleep problems and find some ways to learn to manage experiencing them, but it is not exhaustive. You may find the exercises and tips useful, or they might not be the right options for you at this moment in time. We are all unique in our experiences and where we are in our recovery journey, so take this section at your own pace, and explore the suggestions that feel right for you at this moment in time.

2 – Why We Need Sleep

The purpose of sleep

Sleep allows the body and mind to recharge, leaving you feeling refreshed and alert when you are awake. Sleep also helps the body to remain healthy and helps towards reducing physical and mental health problems. If we do not get enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. Sleep allows the body to get rid of toxic waste, repairs cells in the body, releases hormones, flushes out accumulated stress during wakefulness, and helps us to reorganise information which helps to consolidate memories and restore energy. It is also thought to be necessary in heat regulation.

You might find that the suggestions are too much for you now, and that is perfectly normal. Instead, you could set yourself a small achievable goal such as taking a moment in your day where you try not to compare yourself to others. Take it slowly – even the smallest steps can make a difference and help you on your journey of healing.

How much sleep do I need?


Your sleep-wake cycle is determined by your body’s internal biological clock and your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is made up of 24-hour cycles which regulate your sleep and wakefulness throughout day and night to create a stable cycle of restorative sleep that enables increased daytime activity. This sleep-wake cycle also ensures that during sleep essential repair can be carried out to improve mind, body, and brain functioning.

For more information about REM and non-REM sleep, click here to read WebMD’s article on the subject.

Click here to read more about sleep cycles:

When your sleep-wake cycle is in balance it allows for consistent and restorative sleep. When it is not aligned, it can result in significant sleep problems, including insomnia, as well as weakened physical and mental health.


If your sleep-wake cycle is disturbed your body’s internal clock is not able to send the right signals, which can cause can sleep problems such as struggling to fall asleep, waking up during the night, being unable to sleep for as long as you want, or feeling sleepy all the time. Not only does this reduce the amount of sleep you get, but it also means that your sleep is less deep and more fragmented, leading to lower-quality sleep.


Your circadian rhythm is unique to you and influences whether you are an early riser (lark) or prefer to stay up late (night owl). Your environment also plays a part in this including your daily routine, mealtimes, exposure to light and darkness, whether you work night shifts, or have jet lag. Too little natural light during the day, and too much artificial light at night, can have consequences not just for your sleep, but also your overall health.


People’s wake-sleep cycles vary, although generally people experience approximately 16 hours of wakefulness and eight hours of sleep, with most feeling sleepy between either 01.00pm and 03.00pm or 02.00am and 04.00am. While people also vary in how much sleep they need, on average healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, whereas older people over 65 tend to need less sleep with an average between seven to eight hours per night. You might find it helpful to identify how much sleep works best for you keeping a sleep diary.

Remember: It is not just the amount of sleep that is important, it is also the quality. The better the quality of sleep you get, the less likely you are to experience significant daytime sleepiness.

The benefits of getting a full night's sleep

Loss of sleep can make almost every other physical or mental health problem worse. The right amount of sleep gives you many benefits, including:

  • Boost your immune system
  • Strengthen your heart
  • Reduce stress and tension
  • Increase attention, concentration and focus
  • Improve memory
  • Increase performance and productivity
  • Improve your mood
  • Help prevent weight gain.

Not getting enough sleep can be bad for your health:

  • It can reduce concentration and focus
  • It can cause memory problems and reduce problem solving and decision making
  • It can affect your mood, make you irritable and fuel depression and anxiety
  • It can cause problems with motor control
  • It can worsen existing mental health problems and existing symptoms. Poor sleep can also trigger mania, psychosis, and paranoia.


Lack of sleep is linked to other physical and mental health problems:

  • Anxiety
  • Memory Loss
  • Agitation
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning difficulties
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Chronic pain
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

3 – Sleep Problems

While everyone needs to sleep, many people experience sleep problems or insomnia, including survivors of rape or sexual abuse. Here are some common sleep problems that you might experience (this is not an exhaustive list, and it is normal to experience other difficulties with sleep that are not mentioned here):

  • Find it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or wake up earlier than you’d like to. This is known as insomnia
  • Have problems that disturb your sleep, such as panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, night terrors or psychosis
  • Have difficulty getting back to sleep after a nightmare
  • Have frantic ‘brain spins’, or worry cycles in the middle of the night, when everything feels worse
  • Find it hard to wake up or get out of bed
  • Often feel tired or sleepy – possibly due to lack of sleep, poor quality of sleep or because of health problems
  • Sleep a lot including sleeping at times when you want, or need, to be awake.

This can lead to an endless cycle:

Audio guide – Sleep Problems – NHS Live Well


Please note: This link will take you away from The Survivors Trust Resources website. The link is being provided for informational purposes only. The Survivors Trust bears no responsibility for any advertising content shown on external websites and videos.

Remember: sleep problems and insomnia often improve if you are able to change your sleeping habits.

Causes of sleep problems

There are many things that can affect your sleep, and factors differ for everyone.

For many survivors of rape or sexual abuse, sleep can be difficult as when we are asleep or unconscious, we are in our most vulnerable state. Often, the mind can keep us awake as a protective factor, to stop us from being vulnerable and from re-living aspects of the trauma that we have experienced through nightmares when we are sleep.

Some other common causes of sleep problems include:


  • Feeling anxious, depressed or suicidal, or experiencing other mental health problems such as PTSD, dissociation, or psychotic episodes
  • Worries and anxieties in day-to-day life, such as money, work, or housing, or struggles with friends, partners, or family
  • Current or past psychological trauma
  • Racing thoughts and ruminations
  • Mental and physical health problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Health conditions relating to sleep (see below)
  • Feeling lonely and isolated
  • Being a parent or carer
  • Lack of energy and difficulties concentrating, or making plans and decisions
  • Lack of mental stimulation during the day, including new and novel experiences
  • Lack of exposure to natural daylight, or sunlight
  • Lack of daily routine in going to bed and getting up in the morning
  • Over exposure of artificial light and LED light at night
  • Working at night or being a shift worker
  • Being dependent on alcohol or drugs, especially recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
  • Taking medication, including starting or coming off medication
  •  If your bedroom or sleeping space is uncomfortable, too noisy, hot, or too light.


For more information about sleep disorders, see the Mental Health Foundation and Royal College of Psychiatrists websites.

Remember: if problems with sleep are worrying you or affecting your day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to see your GP to help you to access treatment and support. It can help to take along a sleep diary to show your doctor.

How mental health problems can affect your sleep

Mental health problems can affect how well you sleep in a variety of ways. In addition, poor sleep can worsen mental health problems and symptoms.

Click here to read more about mental health problems and sleep:
  • Anxiety can cause you to be over-stimulated and lead to racing or repetitive thoughts, or worries that prevent you from sleeping, or wake you in the middle of the night. Some people experience panic attacks while trying to sleep
  • Mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can cause you to sleep for longer, or more frequently, and make it harder to get out of bed. Depression can also cause insomnia
  • Psychological trauma can affect your sleep as it can cause flashbacks, nightmares or night terrors which can disturb your sleep. Trauma can also make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the dark or in your bedroom
  • If you experience paranoia or psychosis, it may be harder to sleep, especially if you hear voices, or see things you find frightening or disturbing
  • Mania can lead to not feeling tired or wanting to sleep due to feeling elated or increased energy levels.
How nightmares and vivid dreams can affect your sleep

Nightmares and vivid dreams are common aftereffects of experiencing a traumatic event, such as sexual assault. Nightmares are the night-time equivalent of flashbacks and therefore represent unprocessed aspects of the traumatic experience. The intensity of the nightmare can cause increased heart rate, sweating and palpitations similar to the actual experience that you went through. Nightmares also symbolise emotional aspects of the trauma and are an attempt by your mind to sort through your experiences in order to file them away in your memory bank. You may find that your nightmares are more terrifying than flashbacks. This is because while you are asleep your resources and coping strategies are ‘offline’, making it harder to manage them.

If nightmares and dreams remain unprocessed, they can keep recurring, making you fearful of going to bed, or find it hard to go to sleep. If you are able to fall asleep, and have a nightmare, your sleep will be interrupted, and you might have difficulties falling asleep again. The fear of nightmares can make it difficult to go to bed, or fall asleep, leading to insomnia. Even if you are able to fall asleep, the constant waking up from the nightmare can make for very fitful, unsatisfying sleep. This interrupted sleep will leave you feeling tired and exhausted when you get up. When nightmares occur several times per night, every night your energy levels and resilience will be reduced, making it extremely hard to function during the day. Lack of sleep is not only exhausting but also leaves you feeling tired, irritable, and lacking in energy. Fear of going to sleep means that there is no opportunity to recuperate or process new experiences. This can lead to poor concentration, confusion, and a sense of not being able to manage even the simplest of tasks.

Some people also experience night terrors, or sleep terrors, while they are asleep. While nightmares are unpleasant or frightening dreams that cause emotional distress, night terrors are when you appear to wake up, and call out, cry, move around, or show other signs of fear and agitation. Unlike night terrors, nightmares usually occur during rapid eye Movement (REM) sleep and don’t involve physical or vocal behaviour. For more information on night terrors, visit this
NHS webpage on the subject.

Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a condition that causes a person to be unable to move their muscles as they wake up or fall asleep.


If you experience sleep paralysis, you may feel:


  • Like you are awake but unable to move, speak, or open your eyes
  • Like there is something (a person or presence) in the room with you
  • A pressure in your chest
  • Intense fear.


Sleep paralysis is more likely to be experienced by someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Complex-PTSD. Click here for more information about these conditions.

Video – Sleep Paralysis – YouTube

Click here to watch Demystifying Medicine’s video explaining some of the core elements of sleep paralysis.

Please note: This link will take you away from The Survivors Trust Resources website. The link is being provided for informational purposes only. The Survivors Trust bears no responsibility for any advertising content shown on external websites and videos.

Though it is not dangerous, it can be very scary to experience sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis can get better with adjustments to your sleep routine and schedule, but if you regularly experience sleep paralysis and feel tired or anxious as a result, it might help to discuss your concerns with your GP.

Click here to read more about health conditions that can affect your sleep:
  • Anaemia which is a deficiency of red cells or haemoglobin in the blood, and often impacted by intake of iron
  • Sleep apnoea which can occur when your throat narrows or closes during sleep, leading to a drop in oxygen levels and loud snoring. This interrupts your breathing causing you to wake up repeatedly in the night, leaving you feeling exhausted during the day. Sleep apnoea is more common if you are middle-aged, overweight, smoke and drink alcohol. For more information on sleep apnoea, visit the NHS webpage
  • Underactive thyroid which can make you feel tired
  • Coeliac disease which is caused by your immune system’s reaction to gluten
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME)
  • Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
  • Glandular fever
  • Restless legs syndrome which can cause the urge to move your legs and can keep you awake at night. For more information, visit this NHS webpage on the subject.


For further information on the above health conditions, visit the NHS website.


If you regularly have sleep problems, you may have insomnia. If your insomnia lasts for a short time (less than three months) it’s called short-term insomnia. If insomnia lasts longer than three months, it is called long-term insomnia.

Remember: insomnia usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.

How to check if you have insomnia

You may have insomnia if you regularly:

  • Find it hard to go to sleep
  • Wake up several times during the night
  • Lie awake at night
  • Wake up early and cannot go back to sleep
  • Still feel tired after waking up
  • Find it hard to nap during the day even though you’re tired
  • Feel tired and irritable during the day
  • Find it difficult to concentrate during the day because you’re tired.
How a pharmacist can help

You can buy tablets or liquids (sometimes called sleeping aids) from a pharmacy that may help you sleep better. Some contain natural ingredients (valerian, lavender or melatonin) while others, like Nytol, are an antihistamine. They cannot cure insomnia but may help you sleep better for one to two weeks. They should not be taken for any longer.

Some of these products can have side effects, for instance, they may make you drowsy. This could make it difficult for you to do certain things like drive. Check with your doctor before taking anything for your sleep problems.

If changing your sleeping habits has not worked, or you have had trouble sleeping for months and your insomnia is affecting your daily life in a way that makes it hard for you to cope, you should consider going to your GP who will try to find out what’s causing your insomnia so you get the right treatment.

4 – Sleep Toolkit

It can be really distressing and frustrating to suffer from sleep problems but remember that you are not alone and there are things that may help. As a survivor, it is likely that you have built up a lot of resilience and skills that form part of your survival strategy – and these may help you to overcome any sleep problems that you have. While this section offers some suggestions which may help you, it is important to listen to your instinct and to explore what methods work best for you. These might not look like the ‘traditional’ methods that work for others– and that is okay.

Sleep Journal

To help you understand your sleeping pattern and to find out what affects your sleep it is helpful to keep a sleep journal for at least two weeks. Your GP, or any sleep expert you are referred to, may also recommend keeping one in order to help them to diagnose your sleep problems. Keeping a sleep record is a good way to find out and keep track of any activities or lifestyle habits that can contribute to poor sleeping as it allows you to record information about your sleep habits or any underlying conditions that can explain and understand what is affecting you. You can find a sleep diary template on the NHS Live Well website, or by clicking here.

A sleep journal could include information about:

  • What time you go to bed and what time you get up
  • Total number of hours of sleep, or a rough idea if you’re not sure
  • Overall quality of sleep, ranked 1–5
  • How many times you wake up in the night, how long you’re awake and what you do while you’re awake
  • Whether you have nightmares, night terrors or sleep paralysis, or have sleepwalked during the night
  • Whether you sleep during the day and for how long
  • Any medication you’re taking, including the dose and what time you take it
  • The amount of caffeine, alcohol or nicotine you have taken
  • The amount of physical activity you do
  • What you eat and drink
  • Your general feelings and moods, including any anxious or repetitive thoughts
  • Degree of chronic pain.
Dream Journal

Dreams and nightmares often disrupt sleep, causing you to wake up and making it harder to fall asleep again. If the dreams and nightmares are very distressing, you might feel scared about falling asleep in case they reoccur. To manage and understand your dreams it is helpful to keep a dream journal to record your dreams, either in a notebook, or as a voice record on your phone. Keep this by your bed so that you can record the dream without having to get up.


A dream journal is particularly useful to record distressing dreams or nightmares as trying to fall asleep after a nightmare in the hope that the nightmare will not return is often extremely difficult. Recording your dreams or nightmares can help you to process these when you feel less distressed and safer, or with a trusted friend or a counsellor. This can help you to understand their hidden or symbolic meaning and how they might link to terrifying experiences, or trauma in childhood. As you process these you will be able to make sense of them and integrate them into your memory, which in turn will reduce the nightmares.

Looking after yourself to improve sleep

Different habits work for different people at different times. You may find it helpful to try a few of these tips to find out what works for you but try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If something doesn’t feel possible or comfortable, try something else, or leave it for a while and try again at a later point. Sleep is an incredibly personal thing. You are the best judge of what works well for you, so try not to worry about what other people are doing.

Looking after yourself, including eating a healthy diet and taking regular physical exercise, not only improves your overall wellbeing, but can also improve your sleep. Here are some tips which might help:

  • Try to cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, or carbonated or energy drinks, especially in the evening as caffeine interferes with falling asleep and going into deep, restorative sleep. Try to opt for a herbal tea, or a warm, milky drink
  • Try to eat regularly and at least three hours before going to bed as food is a strong signal to the brain that it is time to be awake. Avoiding food three hours before bed will also help to aid digestion
  • Try to identify and cut down on any foods which give you heartburn or indigestion, or which affect your sleep and dreams. Try to be mindful about your diet, especially your sugar intake, as sugar can disrupt the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of your sleep cycle
    Try to reduce your alcohol intake as this can disrupt sleep. Like sugar, too much alcohol, especially late at night, can interrupt your REM cycle. Although alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, it can disrupt your sleep later in the night
  • Try to reduce or stop smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant, making it take longer to fall asleep, and you are more likely to wake up more frequently, and thereby have more disrupted sleep
  • Exposure to natural light, especially early in the day, helps to regulate your circadian rhythm. Walking outdoors in natural light and green spaces, can help you to relax and improve both wellbeing and sleep
  • Regular physical activity or exercise can help relieve some of the tension built up over the day. This is especially important if you have found yourself working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and are not getting as much exercise and time outside as you used to. But remember to avoid vigorous exercise such as running or going to the gym too close to bedtime as this is likely to keep you awake.
Improving Sleep Patterns

To improve sleep, it helps to regulate your sleep pattern. Try to have a set, regular time that you go to bed, along with a calming bedtime ritual, and try to wake up at the same time every day.


Keeping sensory stimuli in the bedroom to a minimum aids sleep, so try to avoid having phones or devices, such as a TV, in your bedroom. They emit a blue light which can disrupt the brain’s natural signals that it is time to go to sleep. It is essential that you make the bedroom into a safe place, or sanctuary, especially if any abuse took place in a bedroom.


To avoid being triggered it is helpful to change any sensory cues that remind you of the room in which abuse took place. This could include having a distinctly different colour scheme and lighting, a relaxing smell such as lavender not associated with the past, and type of bedding (duvet or blanket) or bed clothes (pyjamas or nightdress). It is also useful to have a comforter, weighted blanket, or a stuffed toy from the present that can be used in moments of distress to soothe you and remind you that you are in the present not the past.


It can help to think about sleepiness as a ‘wave’. Like a surfer, try to ride the ‘sleep wave’ at a time when you feel naturally sleepy. If you miss the ‘wave’ and feel alert, don’t panic. Do something else until the next ‘wave’ comes along and try again.

Try to make your sleeping area more comfortable

Try to make your bedroom or sleeping area a restful and peaceful place. To make it more comfortable you may want to try a variety of things to find what works best for you. If you are in temporary accommodation, in hospital or share your sleeping space, you might not have much control over what can be changed, but there might be small adjustments that can be made.

It is worth considering the following:


  • Try to make sure your sleeping area is as relaxing as possible and try to keep it tidy with the bed made so it is more inviting when you go to bed
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable with the right mattress for you, not too hard or soft. Make sure that the bed is not too small or old
  • You might find it helpful to try different bedding – for example, a warmer or cooler duvet, and the right pillows for you (soft, hard or medium, or memory foam)
  • Use a scent diffuser or pillow spray that has a relaxing scent, such as lavender
  • Try different temperature, light and noise levels to see what works for you
  • The temperature of your bedroom should ideally be between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius – whatever feels most comfortable to you
  • Many people find dark, quiet and cool environments best, but everyone is different
  • If you prefer a dark room, make sure you have curtains or blinds to block out light, or additionally you could wear an eye mask
  • Some people find darkness too frightening or triggering and need to have some light, try keeping a light or bedside lamp switched on, or have a torch within easy reach
  • Some people prefer a quiet room and like wearing sleep headphones, or earplugs that can help screen out any noise
  • If silence makes it harder to sleep, listen to music, nature sounds, a podcast, or the radio. Listening to a soothing podcast can help to keep the mind occupied and stop it from spiralling into rumination
  • Try to avoid using phones, TV, or other devices while in bed. However, some people feel safer having a mobile phone in the bedroom for additional safety. Try to put it on silent, or do-not-disturb mode
  • Try to keep your bedroom as a place just for sleep, relaxation, and sex or masturbation
  • If you have a pet that sleeps in the room with you, consider moving it somewhere else if it often disturbs you in the night
  • If you’re affected by issues with a partner – for example, snoring or problems sharing a bed – the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association has information on its website and a helpline (01284 717688).

As a survivor, you may find it difficult or uncomfortable to sleep in a bed if this reminds you of the trauma you have experience. You might also prefer not to lie down if you experience dissociation, as this position might make you dissociate further. If either of these apply to you, instead of lying down, you might find it easier to sleep on a sofa or in a chair.

Try to find a sleep routine that works for you

A sleep routine is essential to help you sleep as it sends signals to your brain that it is now time to sleep by releasing a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones that prepare our brain and body for sleep. The nature of your routine depends on what works best for you, but the most important thing is working out a routine and sticking to it.

  • Try to sleep at regular times as this helps the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine
  • People vary in how much sleep they need. On average most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night. To follow a regular bedtime schedule work out what time you like to wake up and how many hours sleep you need. Try to go to bed at a time when you naturally feel tired and sleepy
  • Try going to bed at the same time and wake up at around the same time every day. Alternatively, try going to bed only once you feel ready to sleep, but still get up around the same time
  • Trying to catch up with sleep after a late night, or interrupted sleep on a regular basis can disrupt your sleep routine. Try to stick to your regular sleeping hours
  • Try to avoid napping during the day
  • Do not drive when you feel sleepy.
Relaxing and winding down

Winding down is the first step in preparing for sleep, and it is important to start calming down about one hour before bed. There are lots of ways to relax – try and find one that works best for you.

There are a number of apps designed to help with sleep (see the 
Sleepstation website) or visit the NHS website and Mental Health Foundation for a range of useful articles and resources designed to aid sleep.

If you have insomnia for more than 4 weeks, contact your GP.

Reduce stimulation and use of devices

Try to avoid stimulating activities such as vigorous exercise, playing games or screen time for at least an hour or two before you go to bed. Using devices such as tablets or mobile phones in the evening can negatively impact your sleep. It can help to think about how you use screens, and their setting. You could try:

  • Reduce the amount of screen time before you try to sleep
  • To reduce the negative impact of the screen light, try to use a blue light filter, ‘night mode’ or ‘dark mode’ by changing the settings on your device
  • If you feel safer with a mobile phone near, you could adjust the setting to silent, do-not-disturb, or flight/airplane mode.
Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can be really helpful to relax your body and stop your mind from racing.

You can try conscious breathing which will help to calm you when you are over-thinking, feeling anxious or over-doing, as well as revitalise and improve brain function as it harmonises the left ‘thinking’ brain and the right ‘feeling’ brain and soothes your nervous system. It not only encourages a calmer emotional state, but it also improves your temperature regulation, boosts your energy, and enhances your rest, relaxation and sleep.

Video – Conscious breathing – YouTube

Click here to watch a video demonstrating a calming, conscious breathing technique.


Video – Mindful breathing – YouTube

Click here to watch an introduction to and exercise in mindful breathing.


Please note: These links will take you away from The Survivors Trust Resources website. The links are being provided for informational purposes only. The Survivors Trust bears no responsibility for any advertising content shown on external websites and videos.

Remember: some people find breathing exercises distressing or triggering and may not find deep breathing relaxing.

Relaxing the Body
  • Find a calming routine that works for you and begin to wind down one hour before going to bed
  • Listen to calm relaxing music or background noises. Spotify and YouTube have lots of playlists of sounds such as birdsong, rain, and white noise.
  • Take a soothing, warm bath with scented candles. Make sure it is not too hot so that your body reaches the ideal temperature for rest
  • Wrap yourself in a warm towel or bathrobe, and rub your favourite scented moisturiser or body oil onto your skin
  • A soothing drink such as herbal tea can also help you and your body to wind down
  • To help relax the muscles, light relaxation exercises such as yoga stretches can help. However, vigorous exercise will have the opposite effect
  • Try gentle stretching before going to bed. Stretch with one hand stretched upward and inhale, and then stretch your other hand toward the ground and exhale. Repeat this three times
  • Have the bed ready made up to save time and make it look more inviting.
Muscle relaxation
Some people, although by no means all, find that progressive muscle relaxation helps them to fall asleep. Doing a body scan from toe to head and consciously breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system and helps you to get out of your thinking mind.

Video – Muscle relaxation – YouTube

Click this link for a video providing a short, guided exercise for muscle relaxation.


Please note: This link will take you away from The Survivors Trust Resources website. The link is being provided for informational purposes only. The Survivors Trust bears no responsibility for any advertising content shown on external websites and videos.

Remember: if you feel uncomfortable in your body, or don’t like certain parts of your body, you might find focusing on the body distressing or triggering and this may not this beneficial.

Click here to read more about muscle relaxation exercises:

If you feel comfortable being in your body, you could try some of the following:

  • Make yourself as comfortable in bed as you can with soft pillows on both sides of your body and under your head to make a cosy cocoon where you can feel safe and protected
  • Make sure you have just enough covers (or none) to feel warm but not too hot
  • Consciously tense and relax your muscles, one after the other, starting with your toes and working up your body until you reach the top of your head
  • Loosen your jaw, unclench your teeth, and let your jaw and mouth relax
  • Some people find tapping on meridians on the body helpful to relax and improve sleep
  • Some people find it helps to try meditation techniques, like mindfulness. There are a number of mindfulness meditations to aid sleep available as apps or on YouTube, such as Headspace (please note, Headspace charges a subscription fee after trial period ends).
  • Alternatively, some people prefer to relax using visualisations. Try picturing a scene or landscape that has pleasant memories for you, or that you imagine would be a calming or peaceful place to be.

Video – Relaxation – Meridians – YouTube

Click here for a video on EFT Tapping, which may help with insomnia.

Please note: This link will take you away from The Survivors Trust Resources website. The link is being provided for informational purposes only. The Survivors Trust bears no responsibility for any advertising content shown on external websites and videos.

Click here to read more about exercises to relax your mind:
  • To clear your mind from distractions and organise your thoughts, it is helpful to set time aside before you go to bed to write a ‘to-do’ list for the next day as this may help you to stop worrying about tasks during the night
  • It is also useful to write down any worries you have so that they do not intensify during the night
  • Sleep or relaxation apps that have a soothing narrated script, gentle hypnotic music, songs, hymns or sound effects can help to relax the mind
  • Reading or listening to the radio can also help relax and distract the mind. Some people find listening to an audible book or poetry can help them to fall asleep
  • Try to find a mantra that you can repeat slowly and silently until you go to sleep such as “I am safe”. Placing your hand over your heart as you say the mantra can aid your relaxation
  • You might find it helpful to keep a familiar object near your bed which you can use to practice grounding techniques
  • Try to think of three things that you did well during the day and that that you feel good about
  • Express your gratitude. Think about different people, things, places, and events that you are grateful for
  • If you are spiritual, praying can be helpful.
If you cannot sleep
  • Try not to lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing but not too stimulating, like light reading, until you feel sleepy again
  • If you are unable to go back to sleep after a nightmare, get up and make a warm drink or distract yourself before going back to bed
  • If you have several nights of interrupted sleep it might help to take a ’bedroom holiday’ and sleep in another room or on the sofa until a better sleep pattern is restored
  • If your lack of sleep is persistent and affecting your daily life, then try and make an appointment to see your GP.

If you are struggling to fall or stay asleep, taking time to rest can still help you to feel refreshed. Try doing something that you find enjoyable, restful and relaxing.

5 – Support for Sleep Problems

Support during the night

If you’re awake and you need support with difficult feelings or worries, here are some options that are available 24/7:

Find support for other things that contribute to poor sleep

If your sleep is interrupted due to other factors in your life, try and find some support for these or go to your GP. These can include:


  • Anxiety or other mental health problems
  • Trauma related nightmares and PTSD
  • Worries, especially money worries
  • Dependency on recreational drugs or alcohol
  • Chronic pain
  • Specific health conditions
  • Some prescribed medication can affect sleep, such as steroids. If you feel that medication might be the cause of your sleep problem, seek advice from your GP or pharmacist.
Treatments to help with sleep problems

Any treatments you’re offered for sleep problems will depend on what type of problems you’re having and any likely causes of these.


Your GP may refer you to a therapist who can help you change the thoughts and behaviours that keep you from sleeping. Alternatively, you may be referred to a sleep clinic if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea or night terrors.


GPs may prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia, although these can have serious side effects and you can become dependent on them. Sleeping pills are only prescribed for a few days, or weeks at the most, and only if your insomnia is very bad or other treatments have not worked.


Be mindful that taking sleeping tables can lead to dependency and are designed to help you sleep, but do not help you to process the experience contained in the dreams. If you have no alternative but to use prescribed sleeping tablets, then make sure you use these as a short-term measure to relieve exhaustion.

Referral to a sleep clinic

Sleep clinics are used to assess sleep problems, which can include using equipment at home or staying overnight for an assessment. To access a sleep clinic, you’ll usually need a referral from your GP.

Talking therapies

Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a type of CBT designed to help with insomnia. You may also be offered talking therapy to help with mental health problems that are affecting your sleep.

6 – Useful Resources for Sleep Problems

Useful Contacts

The Survivors Trust

Umbrella agency for over 120 member organisations which provide specialist support to men, women and children who are survivors of sexual violence.
Helpline: 08088 010818



Mental health charity.
Helpline: 0300 123 3393, info@mind


British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association


Information and support for people affected by snoring and sleep apnoea.
Helpline: 01284 717688


Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L.)


Provides information and support for people experiencing a mental health problem in Wales.
Helpline: call 0800 132 737, text 81066


Mental Health Foundation

Provides information about mental health problems, including personal stories, podcasts and videos.


Narcolepsy UK

Supports people with narcolepsy, their families, carers and others interested in improving their quality of life.

Helpline: 0345 450 0394.

NHS Live Well

Advice, tips and tools to help with health and wellbeing.

NHS website


Information about health problems and treatments, including details of local NHS services throughout the UK.



24-hour emotional support for anyone who needs to talk.

Helpline: call 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org

Royal College of Psychiatrists


Professional body for psychiatrists. Includes information about mental health problems and treatments.


The Sleep Apnoea Trust Association

Information and support for people who experience sleep apnoea, and their partners and families.



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