11 Unconventional Sleep Tips: How to Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep

I have a lifelong difficulty with falling asleep at night, and staying asleep, which is even more problematic. I don't have a medical cause for insomnia, or any sleep disorders, just a brain that likes to go into overdrive when my body finally has a chance to lie down and rest.

Chronic Pain and Difficulty Falling Asleep

It has taken lots of trial and error, but over time I've found several things that really do work to help me get to sleep and stay asleep long enough for sleep's restorative effects to set in.

I call these sleep tips "unconventional" because I haven't seen them in the typical sources. In fact, I often see the just the opposite recommended.

These 11 tips will help you wake up rested and refreshed:

  1. Nap every single day
    Contrary to all the sleep sources that say to avoid napping, I believe daily naps are definitely a good idea. But in order to make napping work, it is vital to stick to 3 rules:

    • Keep to a schedule. Napping at the same time every day will allow your body to regulate itself to fall asleep more quickly at that time.
    • Keep it short. Only nap for 10-20 minutes. A 20-minute power nap provides enough sleep to help you feel refreshed and more alert, yet it won't interfere with falling asleep at night.
    • Make it in the early afternoon. The optimal time for napping is 20 to 30 minutes after lunch, which is when your body is naturally inclined to feel sleepy, and it's early enough in the day to not interfere with falling asleep at night.
Power Napping at Work

  1. Force your worries
    If worrying kicks in just after you close your eyes, schedule a daily "worry time" well before you go to sleep. Choose a 15 minute period at the same time every day when you try to think of every possible worry, and then tell them to a trusted confidant or write them out in a journal.

  2. Get out in the sunlight soon after waking up in the morning
    When you wake up, don't lounge around in bed. Don't even stay inside. Get out in the morning sun soon after getting up. The bright sunlight (or any bright light) tells your body's natural biological clock that it's time to wake up, and that same clock will then be set to tell your body it's time to go to sleep about 14 to 16 hours later.

  3. Avoid taking a hot bath
    There is a lot of advice that says to take a hot bath to relax yourself, but since the body needs to lower its temperature in order to fall asleep, a hot bath will actually keep you up. If you enjoy a soak in a hot bath, just be sure to finish your bath at least 2 hours before bedtime so that your body has enough time to cool down.

    That being said, I do enjoy a hot pack applied to my neck and shoulders before going to bed. It doesn't warm up my whole body, but does help reduce any built-up stress or tension in my neck and shoulders.

  4. Make your room colder
    Your body needs to cool down in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, so do what you can to make your room cool. For me, a cool bedroom has the added benefit of allowing me to nestle into a heavy comforter, and I find the heavy warmth very soothing.
Bed with dog in it
For better sleep, keep your room cool and pile on the blankets.

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  1. Exercise intensely
    Don't just "exercise," but do so intensely, to the point of feeling physical exhaustion. At the end of the day, intense exercise is probably the single best way to induce deep, restorative sleep. When I say "intensely," I mean intense relative to your capability. For some this may mean running 5 miles, for others it may mean a brisk 20 minute walk that elevates the heart rate. Physical tiredness is essential to getting a good night's sleep.

  2. Block out noise
    White noise is restful, and even more importantly, it means that I won't be woken up with every little thump that the house makes. A fan is ideal because it does double duty of providing consistent soft background noise as well as keeping my room cool. Similarly, an air cleaner will serve to help keep your room free of dust and provide white noise.

    Fan for white noise
    Fans drown out noises and keep the room cool.

    You can also buy a white noise machine or download an app that will provide several white noise options like the sound of rain, wind, and more. Many people prefer pink noise, which includes more varied sounds such as a waterfall or babbling brook. One popular app is Sleep Genius.

  3. Manage your physical health
    For many of us, physical discomfort or pain can be the main problem when it comes to getting a restful night's sleep. While it may seem like an all or nothing problem, sometimes a few surprisingly small changes can go a long way.

    For example, something as simple as getting a different type of mattress or pillow, or trying a new sleep position may help.

    Pillow for back and neck pain
    Finding the right pillow for you can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep.

    After a recent neck strain, I tried a new sleeping position using pillows. I slept on my back with a pillow supporting my knees. I also propped a pillow behind and to the side of my lower back. I didn't think it would work, but it proved much more restful than sleeping on my stomach.

  4. Find a bedtime ritual that works for you
    Warm milk? A cup of herbal tea? No, thank you. Even though these drinks are commonly recommended to help fall asleep, I have never found them helpful. I say find the routine that works for you, whatever it is. Get in the habit of sticking to the routine every night.

    For me, it's the simple act of shutting the house down by turning off all the lights, picking up the clutter, reviewing the next day's schedule, and planning breakfast for the morning rush. Feeling organized about the house helps me feel less anxious. This simple routine tells my body that it's time to close down for the day. Find what helps you feel less anxious at the end of the day and own your nightly ritual.

  5. Empower yourself to reduce stress
    At some points in our lives, we are burdened by a great deal of stress. It may be chronic pain, a family or work situation, financial stress, or all of these combined. Many believe that they just need relaxation to reduce stress. However, the opposite of stress is not relaxation, it's empowerment.

    So do what you can to empower yourself. Daily meditation works best for me. It forces my mind to focus on something, thereby freeing up all the clutter to float to the surface, be recognized, and be gone. For others it is guided imagery, either with the help of a professional or with CDs, regular massage, yoga or tai chi, calming music, or a therapeutic run or bike ride to get powerful endorphins flowing. Some turn to self education to manage their source of stress with more knowledge.

    We all have different preferences. Try one that sounds appealing, and if you find it difficult to stick with, then try a different one.

  6. Keep a pen and notebook next to your bed
    Often when I'm lying in bed, or even while I'm sleeping, I'll think of a new idea for work. Or I'll remember something important that I forgot to do during the day.

    Stop worrying and stop insomnia
    Getting your worries out and raising them to a conscious level can keep them in their place and not creeping into your mind at bedtime!

    Rather than try to remember it, which causes anxiety (which is stimulating), I write it down so it exists on paper and doesn't have to stay in my head. And, if I keep a notebook for these things right next to my bed, I find I'm more likely to write it down.

For those who are curious, I have tried sleep medications and other sleep aids as well, but the above combination has worked the best.

I think the bottom line is to re-condition yourself to positively associate the process of going to bed with sleep, which ultimately is an act of letting go and getting your brain to stop stressing.

The preceding tips worked perfectly for me and I hope will give you at least some ideas of what will work for you, too. Sweet dreams!

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