What I Do To Sleep Better

photo of a man sleeping

I dedicate a lot of time to testing and reviewing sleep products, both here on this blog and on my YouTube channel.

But no matter how much sleep ‘stuff’ I now have crammed into every cupboard, wardrobe, and drawer in my house, I still need to get the basics right if I want to consistently sleep well.

It’s no good having an expensive mattress if I’m just not tired. Fancy sleep tech won’t help if I’m wired from too much coffee.

And the latest breathing exercise on a mindfulness app probably won’t knock me out if my anxiety levels have been rising for an entire year because of a global pandemic (it might help a bit though, so don’t be put off trying).

Yes, it’s great to have effective solutions to specific problems. Earplugs for noise. A big enough bed. An appropriate mattress style. The right bedding for extreme temperatures.

But at the end of the day, thousands of pounds, dollars, or euros worth of sleep tech and bedding will only get me so far. I still need to ‘do things’ to sleep better.

So I wanted to put together a list of the points that I feel are most important for me personally. They might not all be right for you, but I think they are worth thinking about – maybe there will be something here you haven’t tried before.

And keep in mind that I try to do all of these, as often as possible. And that’s the secret for me – it’s not a case of ‘trying something’. It’s a case of working out what things help, and then doing all of them.

1. The bedroom cave: cool, dark and quiet

I sleep best when I think of my bedroom as a cave. Not a ‘man cave’ with an Xbox. Just a cool, dark and quiet cave. So I pay particular attention to how the bedroom and bedding are set up as the seasons change, and even on a daily basis.

I turn off anything that makes noise, assuming it’s ok to turn off. For all other noise, I use well-fitting earplugs with a high noise reduction rating (around 33 dB).

I turn the heating off in the bedroom long before going to bed, and never use warm bedding in the summer (I’m mindful not to be too cold in the winter though).

I always have a very quick shower before going to bed, even if I had one in the morning. It feels good to freshen up, and it also feels cooler when you get out of the shower and go to bed.

And I always make sure the sunlight is blocked out, especially in the summer when it rises early.

Cave.

Remember that word, if nothing else from this article.

2. Tired body + tired mind = better sleep

My insomnia was at its worst in my early 20s. I had a simple desk job and was more interested in video games than sports. Ok, I still like video games – I’m just not an addict anymore.

In my later 20s, I started a much more mentally challenging job and got into weight training and swimming. What I found was that on the days when my brain and body were both tired, I would usually sleep well.

So to this day, I try to tire out both my brain and body every day. Even if I’m having a rest day from more strenuous exercise, I’ll at least go for a long walk and spend plenty of time outside. It makes a huge difference.

Even when I was in lockdown for months on end during the pandemic, I did my best to exercise at home most days. Sure, some days I just couldn’t be bothered because it’s kind of hard to consistently motivate yourself to do exercise when you’re stuck indoors in such stressful times. And it’s okay if you just can’t find the energy some days.

But for me, it always helps to remind myself of a simple concept that’s deceptively easy to forget:

If I don’t put the work in to tire myself out, I can’t expect easy sleep for free.

photo of a man running at night

3. Less lazy Sundays

A key technique for better sleep is to maintain a regular sleep pattern. For many years, I’d get up at a regular time during the week to go to work. However, I had no set bedtime – it could be anything between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

And at the weekend, like many young people, I’d often stay out late on a Friday, Saturday or both. And then have a long lie-in on Saturday, Sunday or both.

It wasn’t unusual for me to wake up on a Sunday with a hangover, watch movies and eat pizza (like a normal person). But then I wouldn’t be tired enough to sleep well on Sunday night, which in turn would knock my whole week out of sync.

The answer? Unless I’m feeling particularly sleep-deprived and need to recharge my batteries, I go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day of the week.

And if I do stay up later at the weekend one night, I still set my alarm for a reasonable time the next day, making do with a bit less sleep but keeping my schedule on track.

“Boooooring!”, I hear you say. And I get it. If your social life is more important than your sleep right now, then so be it. But if you’ve just slipped into the habit of staying up late for no particular reason and then sleeping in late too, this might be an adjustment that reaps real rewards.

4. Read yourself to sleep

It’s simple, but this is one of my favorite techniques. Every night, I read until either I can’t even focus on the words, or I wake myself up with the book dropping out of my hand.

It’s important to note that whilst in an ideal world you’d go to bed at the same time every night and fall asleep instantly, it doesn’t usually work that way.

Instead, it’s better to do one of two things:

  • Only go to bed when you feel tired, or
  • Go to bed at a regular time and read until you feel tired enough to sleep.

The first method can work well if you have bad insomnia, and are fed up of lying in bed tossing and turning. However, I personally prefer the second method. At least you’re in bed relaxing, and letting your body and mind know that it’s bedtime.

If you’re not a fan of reading books, there are a couple of other options you could try:

  • Do a relaxation exercise in bed until you feel sleepy.
  • Play a simple game on the phone or tablet until you can’t focus on the screen. I know it goes against the standard advice of not using electronic devices in bed. However, if you have the screen dimmed and use a blue light filter, it might work well for you.
A book on a bedside table

5. Keep calm and carry on

For many years I was my own worst enemy when it came to dealing with insomnia – and I didn’t even know it.

I used to think I should be able to fall asleep immediately (20 to 30 minutes is actually quite normal). And when it didn’t happen within a few minutes, I’d start stressing about being awake.

Even if I did fall asleep, I’d often wake up in the night or long before my alarm was due to go off. This would then trigger anxiety that the next day would be awful because of a lack of sleep.

My self-defeating stressing was pointed out to me one night by my partner. She was fed up with being woken by my constant position changing and random grumbling noises.

I eventually decided to try what she suggested – just stay calm. By making the decision to change my attitude, I believe there was a positive shift in my mind. And I started falling asleep a little quicker, no matter what time of the night it was.

By accepting the fact that sometimes I won’t sleep right through the night, and by understanding that the next day won’t be as painful as I feared, it’s much easier to keep the late night anxiety at bay.

6. Watch what you eat and drink

cup of coffee

I don’t think anybody really knows what the perfect diet for sleep looks like, despite ongoing research into what does or doesn’t affect our sleep.

Nevertheless, there are a few key factors which seem to help me:

  • I don’t drink caffeine after lunch.
  • I try not to drink alcohol on weeknights or on Sundays as it affects my sleep even more than caffeine. That leaves Friday and Saturday for a cold one (or two).
  • I try to eat a big lunch and a lighter dinner.
  • I try not to eat chocolate, sweets, or cake late at night. Obviously, I use the word ‘try’ somewhat loosely. I’m not suggesting you live like a monk – just keep an eye on how much junk food you eat too close to bedtime maybe!

7. Don’t take stress to bed

Stress, anxiety, worry, thinking. Whatever you want to call it, switching your mind off at night isn’t always easy. But I think it’s good to find a (healthy) way to do so.

I believe that it’s important not to allow your bed time to be your thinking time, especially if you have major worries at the moment.

Here are a few of the things I do to keep this in check:

  • I try to allow time earlier in the day to sit quietly for a moment and think about important stuff. It’s also another really good reason to go for a walk if I have a lot on my mind. That way, I don’t feel I have to solve all my problems in the dark with my eyes closed.
  • If I have lots on my mind, I write a quick list of things I need to do, plan or even think about – before getting into bed. Then I can relax knowing that I can pick it all up again in the morning with a fresh outlook.
  • When my mind is overactive, I do simple breathing exercises in bed to distract myself.
  • My partner and I renamed our bedroom ‘The Temple’ (feel free to laugh or rolls your eyes!). In the temple, no difficult or emotionally charged conversations are allowed. It’s a place for relaxation and sleep, not a place to fix personal problems or argue about dog training.

8. Allow enough time for sleep

Sleep is crucial to our physical and mental well-being, yet we so often sacrifice it for other activities.

I used to push my bedtime right up until the start time of what would be my ideal amount of sleep. So if I felt I needed eight hours to be at my best and had to get up at 8 a.m. for work, I’d go to bed at 12 a.m.

The problem, however, is that this can then trigger that feeling of stress if you get into bed and don’t fall asleep straight away. You’re setting yourself up to fail.

Nowadays, if I want eight hours sleep, I go to bed at least eight and a half hours before my wake up time. If I’m watching a film, I pause it. If I’ve got work to do, I leave it until the morning.

Don’t allow unnecessary things to erode your precious sleep time. Give yourself a chance to go to bed feeling relaxed about how long you have to sleep.

9. Big bed or sleep alone

A few years ago, my partner and I experimented with sleeping in separate bedrooms. Not other people’s bedrooms – just separate rooms in our house.

And it made a significant difference to our quality of sleep. We both had loads of space in bed, we didn’t disturb each other when we had a bad night’s sleep, and we could have the room temperature and covers exactly how we wanted.

After a year, we decided that it was a bit sad to sleep apart. So we decided to buy a king-sized bed and squeeze it into the bedroom. And it made a massive difference.

So my theory now is that if you have any suspicion that you and your partner are disturbing each other’s sleep, try getting a bigger bed. If that doesn’t work, have a backup spare bed you can slink off to if their snoring is driving you crazy.

And failing all that, just have separate beds. You won’t be the only couple saving your sleep that way.

10. Stay positive

It’s easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle of worrying about not sleeping well. So often we go to bed dreading that our sleep problems will happen again.

I think it’s important to recognize that this can happen, and do your best not to fall into the trap of worrying about sleep. Try to see every night as a fresh start and tell yourself that you’ll sleep better tonight. Even if you do sleep badly again, don’t give up. Keep that positive thought in your head every time you go to bed.

If you have problems sleeping night after night, it can be good to shift your focus. For me, if I’m not feeling that tired when I go to bed, I just read my book and try to think about how cozy, warm, and relaxing it is to just be in bed.

And if I wake up in the night, or early in morning, and can’t fall asleep again, I try not to worry. I just relax, think about how nice my bed feels and focus on the pleasant physical sensations instead of being at the mercy of my endless thought train.

I know it’s easier said than done. But perhaps just be planting the thought seed in your mind that it’s even possible to think happy thoughts when you can’t sleep, you might find that it slowly but surely starts to happen.

Final word

It’s important to get a professional opinion if you have ongoing problems with your sleep. If, for example, you snore or have any kind of breathing irregularities in your sleep, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it.

If your sleep problems are impacting on you or your family’s well being, it’s worth seeking a medical opinion and advice. There could be an underlying health condition that needs treating, and there could be a sleep disorder that can be managed.

Your views

Do you have any experience of the tips in this article? Do you have any techniques of your own that you’d like to share?

Feel free to share your story and thoughts in the comments below.

28 thoughts on “What I Do To Sleep Better”

  1. Great article!

    I usually jog around the neighborhood for a few minutes and then take a nice warm bath. I also do the 4-7-8 breathing technique for relaxation and it works!

    Stay safe and healthy!

    Cheers!

    1. Thanks Rose, glad you liked the article. It’s good to hear from someone else who has tried that breathing technique.
      Stay safe too
      Ethan

  2. Last year I had a blood draw done to check my levels, my iron, calcium, and magnesium were a little low, so I added those suppliments and my sleep was greatly improved, also helps with restless leg. Added a little yoga. On full moon nights what has helped was to just get up and eat a small bowl of cereal with a banana, this gave me a little tryptophan in the milk and potassium in the banana. A little more yoga or stretching and the crazy thing that works for me is a gel ice pack wrapped in a thin towel placed at the back of my neck and bingo I fall asleep for 3-4 hours.

    1. Hi Shirley
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your ideas. I also find yoga makes a difference to my sleep. I like to do a little yoga at night, and then follow it with just 5 mins meditation. Seems to help a lot!
      Regards
      Ethan

  3. I have a good idea about insomnia. You are very cautious about the causes and symptoms and tips of insomnia. Thank you very much sir

  4. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. This article was really helpful. There are many reasons why people have a difficult time staying asleep. The good news is that common problems with sleep are often easily addressed without the use of medication or pharmaceutical sleep aids. There are no guaranteed natural cures for insomnia, but there are effective steps you can take, including natural sleep aids

    1. Hi John
      You’re welcome, good to know the article was useful. You’re right in that there are often practical steps which will solve sleep problems. If only it were easy for everyone to find the right steps and then do them!
      Regards
      Ethan

  5. Hi Ethan
    I have suffered with sleep problems fo 20 years, it started when I was 50 in menopause and at the same time the break up of my marriage. Since then I have taken Zolpedine prescription sleeping pills which I am now addicted to and cannot seem to live without, but don’t always work, I often wake up after 4 hours sleep. The doctor is always telling me I should stop taking them but offers no alternative remedy and feel my life is dominated by these pills. I have tried practically every remedy on the market but nothing works as well as Zolpedine, but only take half of a 5ml tablet per night. It has got slightly better since retiring 18 months ago, now if I wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning I take a couple of paracetamol read for an hour and go back to sleep for an hour or so, but obviously not ideal. I read an article saying that sleep problems are inherited which was interesting as my Mum also suffered sleep problems and took sleeping pills for years, do you think this is true?

    1. Hi Jean
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand your frustration about your sleep problems. There is evidence that some sleep conditions can have a genetic factor, but it’s not always clear cut, nor the only potential cause of your sleep problems.

      I think a problem is that no natural remedies will ever feel as reliable as a strong prescription sleeping pill. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to try to get used to milder sleep aids, if any at all.

      Obviously, your situation is for you and your doctor to decide. But the fact that you’re reading an article like this tells me you’re looking hard for alternatives. I’d say stick with that quest! Make it a personal challenge to try to get on top of your sleep naturally if you can.

      One final personal recommendation is to avoid paracetemol as a sleep aid. Pain killer, sure. But not a sleep aid.

      Regards
      Ethan

  6. My insomnia started a lil over a month ago. In the past I have suffered from a couple of panic attacks that caused some type of chemical imbalance in my brain according to a psychiatrist. I took medication for this for a couple years and then quit without a problem. Well maybe almost 2 months ago I went to bed and and felt my heart racing a lil not knowing at that time that it was due to something I ate that caused me bad to my stomach. I started getting worried and had a panic attack which kept me up all night. From then on my sleep got worse with time. I was sleeping well two day one day not and so on until now it has become a problem. I can usually fall asleep but get up to the bathroom like I wallaby’s have and then can’t go back to sleep no more. Sometimes there are days when I can’t sleep at all. There are times when I do fall back asleep after going to the restroom but it’s so light sleep I wake up to the slightest noise. I have tried clonazepam which helps put me to sleep but it is not a refreshing sleep. Another weird thing is that even when taking clonazepam right at about 6am my body feels anxious like if I have slept enough all though I have not which is not a nice feeling. When I wake up and can’t go back to sleep I feel as if a lim anxious with my heart beating a lil oddly. I feel that due to this problem I might be starting some form of depression. I don’t enjoy or feel like doing the things I used to do before like working out and just living a normal life. I don’t feel like myself and even if I do get a few hours of sleep I know they ain’t deep sleep. I usually stay in bed till like 9 even though I can’t sleep and just worry and stress. About 2 years ago I struggled with sleep as well but that was due to medication I was taking for a virus I picked up. My sleep returned to normal on its own but this time it’s different and don’t know what it is. Could my own worry about not sleeping have caused and keep causing all this?

    1. Hi Salvador
      Thanks for your comment. I think it’s hard to know for sure what causes sleep problems sometimes. Maybe the panic attacks led to you worrying about not sleeping, as it’s easy to get into a vicious circle of worrying about sleep. I would recommend asking your doctor for help with the panic attacks and anxiety in general. Perhaps they can recommend you to see a therapist who can help you develop better coping mechanisms.
      Regards
      Ethan

  7. Hi Ethan,

    I started having insomnia symptoms back in February over stress, which usually doesn’t affect my sleep but couple that with the inability to fall asleep when I needed to because of noise (I live in the dorms so it’s loud randomly). It resolved itself eventually because it only happened for 4 nights and then spring break happened so I reverted back to my old habits, even if they were terrible sleep hygiene rules, and sleep came easily. Then I came back to school and it started again. I know the reason why which was daylight savings time happened, I wanted to shift my awake time and sleep time earlier by an hour and a half, and again my hall was loud. All of those things contributed to me not being able to fall asleep one night where I was tossing and turning all night. Then I thought I would sleep early again to make up for sleep, and I got myself into a vicious cycle of insomnia even when I gave up on the shifting my sleep time and the noise was no longer a concern.

    Fast forward present day, I’ve tried prescription drugs, relaxation methods, and was so frustrated I couldn’t sleep. I’m now on sleep restriction, which I saw you wrote about in one of your previous articles. So far, it’s okay as I’m getting much better sleep than I was in March into mid April although the setbacks do make want to give up, but I’m trying to stay determined. I’ve figured the best thing is to stick to a regular sleep and awake schedule. Additionally, I think I finally came to terms yesterday that I can’t call myself an insomniac as that bothers me a lot. I started telling myself that I’m just going through a phase where I’m still in college where I developed a lot of bad sleep hygiene. I think getting a TV this semester for my room was a huge mistake as I’ve never had bad sleeping issues until I started watching TV while in bed. Also, I’ve never tried to adjust my sleeping time that dramatically over one night either. Hopefully, these are all true and will let me break my insomnia symptoms as soon as I can retrain my brain to sleep normally again, and I can return to some of my habits such as reading for hours in bed.

    My questions for you are: did you ever try sleep restriction and how did it work for you? A part of my sleep restriction is I can’t nap, but do you think I’ll be able to nap again one day as long as it’s before 3pm and be able to sleep that night? I used to be able to nap for 3+ hours straight and wake up at 5-6pm and fall asleep again that night fine. This was just 3 months ago so I’m hopeful my bad sleep habits haven’t affected my brain that much yet and I’d be able to again in the future. Do you get sleepy at the same time everyday now that you have a consistent sleep schedule? I used to go to sleep anytime from 11pm – 3am even when I didn’t feel sleepy and slept just fine, so you can imagine I’m upset I can’t do that anymore. Also, when you do have bad nights again, how easy is it for you to get back on track? I remember I used to lay in bed worry about finances for school and wouldn’t be able to sleep but my sleep was fine until another stressor came. Now, I’m worried that since I got myself into a cycle that once I do have a sleepless night due to some random stressor, I would get back into a cycle.

    Thank you for writing all of these articles! I’ve read so many of them, but it’s especially helpful to read it from someone who’s experienced it.

    1. Hi Brianna
      Thanks for your comment and questions. It’s nice to hear you’ve read more than one article and enjoyed them!
      Sorry to hear you’ve had such trouble sleeping and that it’s become a source of stress for you. Worrying about sleep can annoyingly become a serious contributor to bad sleep itself.
      It sounds like you’ve done a good amount of research and are on the right track. I think stopping watching TV in bed and reading again would be a positive step.
      To answer your questions:
      1. Yes, I have tried sleep restriction. It’s painful at times, but it did help me.
      2. Napping might be possible again, but I think 3+ hours is way too much. Maybe a little siesta if you really need it, but not so many hours would be my opinion. But I’d stick with the current plan before introducing another sleep variable again.
      3. I definitely don’t feel sleepy at the same time every day. It depends on a lot of other factors, like exercise, work and if it’s monday or friday! But I still try to stick to my window of timings.
      4. When I have bad nights, again it varies as to how quickly I get back on track. Sometimes the next night is fine, sometimes there’s a small run of bad sleep. The main thing is to stay positive and remember that it will get back on track eventually.
      All the best
      Ethan

  8. Hi !
    I am a 25 year old struggling with messed up sleeping patterns !
    It is not like I can’t sleep it’s the fact that I fall asleep LATE! and my sleeping time is backwards.
    I’ve tried almost everything to sort this out and when I do get the chance to go to bed early at night I wake up in the middle of the night ( or something wakes me up) and I cannot go back to sleep and then i end up falling asleep at 6 or 7 am again and so the cycle continues.
    When I go to bed early at night after suffering all day for beIng sleep deprived my sleep becomes very light and anything would wake me up but if I go to bed let’s say at 8 am in the morning the sky can fall down I won’t wake up at all until 4 pm .
    It is really driving me crazy and I do not know what to do .
    When I asked the doctor he said he couldn’t do anything as it was my own responsibility to have a good sleep hygiene and didn’t see the need of giving me sleeping pills since I was able to sleep but just not at the right time .

    If you could really help me with this I’d really appreciate it .
    PS : when I only sleep 3 hours and I end up going to bed at 8 pm or so even my boyfriend’s movements would wake me up but if it’s in the afternoon then nothing at all would do even the phone ringing .

    1. Hi Ann
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand your frustration with that sleep pattern. In some ways your doctor is right in that sleep hygiene might be what you need to focus on. But it would have been nice if they’d given you some support with what to do exactly.
      Have you seen my article about fixing your sleep pattern? That might be a good start for you.
      Regards
      Ethan

  9. Hi Ethan I desperately need your help if your reading this then please answer my question.For the 9 days I am not getting regular sleep 4 of those I did not sleep at all and 3 of the days I slept very well.what is the problem how can I fix this?please help.

    1. Hi Kaushik
      Thanks for your comment, and sorry it’t taken so long to reply! Has your sleep improved now? If not, and it continues to bew that bad, I’d speak to your doctor about it. Going 4 nights without sleep at all over a 9 day period is something which needs to be looked at.
      Regards
      Ethan

  10. I’m from Brazil, 39 years old and i always had relatively good sleep. However a couple of months ago i discovered i had an eye condition called central serous retinopathy, it’s a rare disease which basically causes distorted and poor vision in one eye, has no treatment and usually gets better by itself in about 6 months. So the doctor just suggested me to ‘wait’ but is very difficult because i’m literally seeing the problem all the time. Since then i’m having bad sleep almost every night because anxiety due to my eye’s problem. I go to bed and start to think about this, that it’s not getting better yet, why i had this and so on, and i’m caught in a vicious circle of tons of thinking that always result in nothing, just more anxiety and i just can’t sleep. I reached the point that i had almost no sleep in 3 consecutive nights. So recently i looked for help and went to a doctor that prescribed me Xanax and the medication is helping for a while. I started taking one pill, reduced to half and now i’m taking one quarter every night. I know the problems and risks to take this every night and i’m really trying not to take it (that’s why i reached out this site), but usually if i don’t take one quarter of it, i can’t sleep. I’ve been taking the pills for more than one month now, but because i don’t take an entire one, my box with 30 pills are lasting longer than 1 month. I’ve read a lot of hints in your site and will follow some of them and hope it will work for me, specially the one that says to go to bed only when you are really tired / asleep. This is one thing i’m doing wrong, because i go to bed always at the same hour, tired or not, and i will struggle to fall sleep no matter if i’m asleep or not. Thanks for your articles, i wish all the best !

    1. Hi Paul
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story, and I’m glad you found the site helpful. Sorry you’ve been struggling with your sleep with the anxiety due to your condition. I can totally understand – I also find that when I have serious worries on my mind, I struggle to sleep.
      There are good techniques for dealing with recurring thoughts at night. I highly recommend mindfulness. I wrote an article a while back describing some specific mindfulness exercises for sleep that you might find interesting and helpful.
      I agree that it might help you to go to bed when you’re tired – but do try to keep a stable waking time. But if you do find yourself in bed stressing, just spending some time doing those techniques can really help take your mind off your anxiety.
      Regards
      Ethan

  11. Hi Ethan,
    Just started having bouts of Sleep Maintenance Insomnia a year or so ago. Definitely related to many issues in my personal life, not entirely in my control. Also, I am a super-light sleeper. I couldn’t really read or get out of bed either because my guy needs his sleep, too! Somehow, I found a podcast through Google Play (it’s free) called, “Sleep with Me”. I download two episodes at a time and it has been a miracle. I just hit play in the middle of the night and it pipes through a pillow speaker. He basically tells boring, silly stories and you just drift off to the sound of his voice. He lists the things he is going to talk about in his synopsis and in the morning I look at it and just laugh–“Well, I sure don’t remember that!” It has been a game changer. Check it out!
    Cheers,
    Janis

    1. Hi Janis
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve tried a few different sleep apps before, with varying degrees of success. I’ll have a look at the one you mention.
      Regards
      Ethan

  12. I have had bouts of insomnia throughout my 62 years, even as young as 12. I also have various kinds, the normal is when you wake up and cannot go back to sleep be because you don’t feel tired, that one no longer bothers me since I am retired; if I get 4 or 5 hours sleep I no longer care, just have an easy day after it.

    However the one that does bother me, and I have always had bouts of this since I was young, is when I waken up but I still feel tired and when I begin to fall of back to sleep I awaken again immediately. This continues for maybe an hour or so before I eventually fall back to sleep or sometimes not at all; worse is when it’s accompanied with body irritation, an itch on my nose moves quickly to one on my back from there to anywhere else, then after 20 minutes I think I need a pee, but I don’t really but cannot ignore so I go. Get back into bed and thinking that’s it this time I am going back to sleep, only for it to start all over again; in the space of two hours I scratched myself about a hundred times been to the loo around eight to ten times, moved from my left to right-side umpteen times. Eventually I fall back to sleep unfortunately I sometimes wake up one or two hours later and go through the whole procedure again; that’s really challenging when that happens, sometimes it last for a few days but sometimes its weeks and then it disappears as quickly as it comes.

    Over the decades I have tried various things, going to bed early 9.00 and getting up at 7.00, accepting broken sleep but accumulating sufficient hours so that I don’t feel tired when I get up, or going to bed late and getting up still early at seven, thereby forcing a tiredness on myself so that I have longer sleep episodes but less hours.

    Truth is you have to just wait it out and try not to worry about it, easier said than done though. One thing that does help is having an iPad and playing an audio book at a low volume but the screen switched of; basically a lot of the time you cannot go back to sleep because you end up thinking about it or you are worrying about something. Listening to a story stops you thinking and you fall off to sleep easily, it has to be low though or you waken back up, unfortunately it doesn’t really work on the insomnia when you fall to sleep easily but immediately waken again. The only good it does for that type of insomnia is that it stops you from panicking; basically you just keep trying to listen to the story and in my experience although it takes a while you will eventually fall back to sleep even if it is three hours.

    If you get a couple of hours early on and you manage to salvage another two or three before you get up, well Churchill and Thatcher survived on four each night for their entire lifetimes, but oh how I am envious of those who can sleep right through even on top of broken glass, it still wouldn’t bother them.

    1. Hi Steve
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. There are a few things that sprung to mind when reading it, so I’m going to list my thoughts in response:

      1. Have you ever looked into restless legs syndrome?

      2. Do you have any allergies that you know of? I say this because I’m allergic to house dust mite. For many years I struggled with itching in bed, which sometimes wouldn’t come on until a while after I’d gone to bed. Once I realised this, I made sure I washed my bedding on a very regular basis, never used a fabric headboard, used hypo-allergenic pillow cases when possible and generally kept my house and bedroom squeaky-clean. No more itching in bed!

      3. I’ve also suffered a lot in the past with waking up in the night for an hour or two. I think your attitude towards it is absolutely right – the important thing is to not panic, accept it and try to do something relaxing until is passes. Some call this sleep maintenance insomnia, others argue that it’s actually perfectly normal and sleeping in two phases is very natural.

      4. I think that you might have been getting close to the best course of action with your experiments about bed time. My advice would be to work out how much sleep you really want and need, then be very strict about your wake up timings, as I suggested in the article.. You might find that by restricting your quantity of sleep you can reduce the broken sleep. And as you say, it’s often better to get a good solid few hours sleep than a bit longer but broken up through the night.

      All the best
      Ethan

  13. Thanks a lot Ethan. Number one has to be the best. Often my body’s super tired but my brain just won’t shut down. I really appreciate you sharing this. Cheers

    1. Hi Joanne
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m very happy to hear you found the article useful. I agree that number one is the most important in many ways. I guess for you, the trick now will be to find ways to calm your brain down. And for that I suggest either taxing it as much as possible during the day and/or doing some relaxation techniques before going to bed, or even once in bed.
      Regards
      Ethan

  14. I have tried sleeping tablets and herbal remedies for the last 3 and a half years and my insomnia has never changed… i have an irregular work pattern and can’t keep a steady sleep pattern, also my work hours can finish around 3 am which is difficult is i am off the next day without sleeping in or being exhausted to do anything with family or friends! What can I do to change this?? I am running out of ideas and doctors refuse to help as I am only 21 years old. Please give me advice to progress and make life manageable!

    1. Hi Kim
      Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’re struggling to get the sleep you need. I can completely understand your frustration because of this. Unfortunately, shift work is known to be really difficult for many people to cope with due to the disruption it can cause to sleep patterns. Medical staff, police men and women, airlines pilots and stewards, for example, all know this too well.

      Obviously some of my tips aren’t going to be practical for you. It’s not going to be possible to go to bed at a stable time if sometimes you don’t get home until well after 3am.

      Short of accepting that shift work isn’t for you and changing your job if possible, it’s often a case of trying to cope as best you can. I’d suggest on the days you do get home late, try not to sleep in too late. If you can bear it, sleep for less hours, but get up at a time closer to a normal rising time so that you reset your sleep pattern.

      It’s also helpful to ask family and friends to understand and respect your unusual sleep patterns and to try to let you get at least a few hours of undisturbed sleep. And if you can, have them stay quiet while you sleep, even if it’s daytime for them. Unplug your phone and put a note on your door asking people not to disturb you.

      Additionally, try to make sure your bedroom is blacked out and quiet. Perhaps use earplugs or a white noise machine to block out external sound, which is always louder in the daytime than the night.

      All the best
      Ethan

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