12 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Improve Sleep

improve sleep

Have you ever had a completely sleepless night? Here are my favourite unusual techniques I used to improve sleep.

Until last year, my only experience of not sleeping for a whole night involved either copious quantities of alcohol or a crying baby.

Thankfully never at the same time.

My serious sleep problems began in June 2019.

It started with waking early. 3am, 4am then even 1am. Then as I got more anxious about sleep I started having problems falling asleep as well.

Definitely no fun.

But the good news is I now have 11 months of good sleep under my belt.

Here’s what worked…

12 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Improve Sleep

1. Decide to stop obsessing about sleep.

The worst part of my insomnia came from me feeling anxious about my sleep. The more I learned about the importance of sleep, the more sleep stress I experienced.

And the worse my sleep got.

Then I had a conversation with my doctor friend Agnes and she said, ‘Just stop worrying about it Jules. Bad sleep isn’t going to kill you.’

So I made the decision to stop worrying about my sleep. This was a massive turning point.

2. Stay in bed for my scheduled time.

The other pivotal decision was to disregard the conventional advice to get up and do something else if you can’t fall asleep.

I had 2 reasons.

1. Circadian Rythmn. At least if I was in bed with my eye’s closed I wasn’t exposing myself to light and messing with my internal clocks.

2. Extra Anxiety. Trying to figure out when I should get up was triggering massive amounts of anxiety.

So making the blanket decision that I was going to stay in bed until my alarm removed a huge huge source of sleep stress.

This was game changing.

3. Measure and track

I gave myself an Oura sleep tracking ring for Christmas. I was hesitant that tracking my sleep might make me more sleep anxious. But I found the opposite to be true.

Just last night I was up twice, once for my 4-year-pld and once because my Irishman was snoring. Woke up thinking I had had a terrible night, but my Oura ring (no affiliation) had different news.

I’d actually had 2.5 hours deep sleep and 6.5 hours total sleep. I immediately felt better.

There have been countless nights where I thought I was awake for hours but it was actually 25 minutes or less. So helpful to have an objective measurement.

4. Restrict time in bed.

One trap people with insomnia fall into is going to bed earlier to try and catch up on lost sleep. So they’re not super tired when they go to bed. Which means it takes longer to fall asleep. Which means more sleep stress.

Not good.

So I started going to bed later (10.30pm) and getting up at the same time (5am).

It really worked to stop me waking early. And help me fall asleep quickly.

And as a bonus I had more time in the evenings! I’ve since moved my bed time to 10pm. And it’s working for now.

5. Use positive affirmations as a lullaby.

Another trap is trying to fight a tug-of-war with sleep.

Forcing sleep to come doesn’t work.

The technique that works for me is to repeat positive affirmations or mantras to myself.

Here are some of my favourites:

  • Sleep will come when it’s ready.
  • I always fall asleep eventually.
  • I’m grateful for all that I have.
  • I always solve my problems.
  • I have everything I need right now.

6. Befriend stress.

When my sleep problems started my doctor defined the problem as stress.

So I made some radical changes to simplify my business. And reduce stress wherever I could.

I also found Kelly McGonigal’s concept that stress isn’t the enemy incredibly helpful.

7. Get up at the same time every day.

Even on weekends. Even when you’ve had a terrible night.

This keeps your circadian clocks in time. And makes it much easier to fall asleep every night.

8. Consider Magnesium supplements.

I used to think I should get all my nutrients from food. But I read so many things about magnesium and sleep, I decided to try it.

Magnesium made a huge difference to my random waking. I take 1 capsule of Magnesium Citrate + Magnesium Malamate at dinner.

You can read my supplement story over here.

9. Cut out blue light in the evenings.

Another circadian rythmn trick. Blue light suppresses melatonin production and thus inhibits sleep.

My Irishman and I went a bit over the top with this, putting stickers on any LEDs, changing our light bulbs in the lounge and bed rooms to red light. My Irishman has a pair of blue blocker glasses.

I’ve started cleaning the kitchen by candle light and I limit screen use 90 minutes before bed.

10. Stop eating 3 hours before bed.

Some people recommend eating a snack before bed to help with night waking. I tried it but it didn’t work for me.

For me it’s better to go to bed with my dinner digested. Luckily I’ve come to love our 6pm family dinners.

I’ve also noticed from my Oura ring that the nights I fast for dinner or have something really light like a big bowl of greens with some olive oil, I have better sleep. And more deep sleep.

11. Read fiction in the evenings.

This switches off my analytical mind.

I used to read business books or things from my business coach in the evening which just got me thinking (and stressing) more.

So fun to discover the world of stories. Especially listening to audio books as I clean the kitchen.

12. Exercise more.

You already know this one but worth mentioning that when I went from walking every day to running just for 30 minutes I noticed a big improvement in my sleep. And after a big day digging in the garden I always get high sleep scores.

What about you? Need to Improve Sleep?

Are you struggling with sleep? Have you tried anything that’s been helpful? Let me know in the comments below.

More Resources to Improve Sleep

Podcast: How to get better sleep with Andrew Huberman, Ph.D

With love,
Jules x

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  • This is a very interesting post, as I’ve had issues with sleep for years, from several sources. One major one is being a survivor of child abuse (I’ve done a lot of work in that area, which as really helped). Another is being postmenopausal. My understanding is that insomnia goes with the territory there. Stressors also affect my ability to sleep. I do usually get up when I can’t sleep, in part because staying in bed tends to be physically uncomfortable, especially if my stomach is acting up. Anxiety is another factor persuading me to get up. I usually figure that if I get tired enough I will fall asleep. I have started taking magnesium citrate with dinner, and I try very hard to make sure I don’t eat for 3 hours before going to bed. I hadn’t thought about circadian rhythms, so I will start trying to stay in bed. And will try using affirmations. Thanks for the good advice!

    • You’re welcome Susan. You’re right there are so many factors at play. And while it is common for menopausal women that doesn’t mean it’s necessary. Circadian rythmns are incredibly powerful.

  • I liked all of your good ideas about getting a better sleep, except for reading fiction. I had to laugh as I intentionally read nonfiction in the evening before falling asleep. Reading fiction leads to long delays in turning off the light for me !

  • Thank you for the advice. It was really helpful. I’ve been struggling with being WIDE awake after settling toddler when he wakes up in the middle night. I found the OCD reference difficult. My SIL has it and it’s debilitating. She struggles with it daily, we just came back from spending time with her and seeing her struggle with it was heartbreaking. Seeing it used here as a reference is difficult. I used to use the reference too thinking nothing of it. The thing is we aren’t OCD. We are pedantic and particular. I read an amazing chapter about it in Hugh van Cuylenburg’s book, The Resilience Project. It made me really shift my thinking on it.

    • Thanks Nina.

      I hadn’t thought about the OCD reference and had to read back to see where it was. Have changed it now. Really appreciate your insight there.

      Hope you found something helpful to help with your sleep. It is tricky with little ones.

      I find using my affirmations to quieten my mind really helps me fall asleep quickly if I’ve been up with my boys.

  • Thank you for your important comment on OCD, Nina. Our words are so important.
    Once, I said “I’m starving “, and a friend looked at me and said gently, “really?” Right. I was not starving
    I was very hungry. There’s a big difference.

  • If you are looking for really great advice on how to further improve your sleep, I highly recommend an awesome book : The Power Of When, by Dr. Michael Breuss. I found it incredibly helpful. Plus, it’s a fun read as well. Sweet dreams !

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