It’s been a year now since I finished my sleep challenge and most nights, I sleep well.
I thought it would be interesting to look back and see which habits I’ve kept and which have fallen by the wayside.
Consistency is not necessarily a strong point of mine but I think I have established some really good habits over the past 12 months.
I know they’re habits because I don’t really think about doing them anymore – they just come naturally.
In particular there are four things I do most nights that make the difference between a good or bad night’s sleep.
But they’re not trendy habits. Heck, I’m not sure they’re even socially acceptable habits. In fact, two of them are downright discouraged in polite society.
Happily, I shunned society a while back so the tips remain valid. Try them out for a week and see if you sleep better too.
Remember to check out my 10 Awesome Sleep Resources if you need some extra ideas to help keep you on track.
Sleep Well Tip 1: Give Your Feet A Bedtime Massage
If you struggle to relax before nodding off then try this: give yourself a foot rub before light’s out. There’s no right or wrong and no fancy techniques are required.
The simple act of massaging your feet is enough to help soothe the body and give it the signal it’s time to rest.
Our feet contain a bazillion (at the last count) nerve endings and when you give them a little TLC, they respond by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system.
AKA, they calm you down and help you to relax and sleep well.
There is no particular technique required. Depending on how you walk and where you carry your stress, concentrate around the tips of your toes, under your big toe or around your heel.
Wherever it feels really nice to massage then those are the areas to concentrate on.
Whilst the simple action of touch is known to promote a feeling of well-being, I think there’s also another benefit to taking a few moments at the end of a long day to do this.
That one or two-minute self-massage creates a conscious pause between the of the day and the start of the night.
If you’re somebody who reads or watches TV before sleeping then I would suggest the point at which to massage your feet is just before you turn the light out.
It’s a deliberate way of sending a signal to your brain to say, ‘Ok, it’s time to go to sleep now’ and allows your mind and your body to prepare for the slumber ahead.
Where’s the controversy?
I’ll admit, there probably isn’t one. Keep reading.
Sleep Well Tip 2: Use a sleep app
The second tip I would highly recommend to anyone who struggles with sleep (especially if it’s getting to sleep in the first place) is to use a sleep app.
This may require a little research – there are a lot of sleep apps around and it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.
Our sense of sound is a profoundly personal thing and a noise that is soothing for one person may be nothing but irritating noise to another.
But if you can find the sound that works for you, it’s another message to the brain that it’s now time to get ready for rest, repair and rejuvenation.
It’s difficult to recommend which app to try because it entirely depends on the individual. I personally use ‘Sleepo’ as I really like it’s rain option and is the one I use almost every night.
However, Mr Annette can’t stand the sound of raindrops (something about needing the bathroom) so it doesn’t work for him at all. Not that it’s a big deal as we’ll see in the next tip.
If rain isn’t your thing either, then see if the sea, wind, fire or even white noise do the trick. Of course, another option is to listen to your favourite band although I do think soft instrumentals or nature-inspired sounds work best.
But that could just be my bias. What works for me may not work for you and the only way to find out is to experiment. Download two or three apps and try them out until you find a sound that works.
Where’s the Controversy?
If you’re wondering why this may be controversial it’s because this tip promotes using technology at bed time.
Whilst I agree with the idea of ‘no screens’ before going to sleep, I also believe in making tech work for you wherever possible.
I don’t have any other electrics in the bedroom (no tv) and my phone has a cover so it reduces the blue light that can interfere with sleep patterns.
I just switch the raindrops on, tell the app to play it for 20/30/40 minutes and that’s it. No need to look at the phone again. 99% of the time I’m asleep well before the app has finished.
Sleep Well Tip 3: Sleep Alone
The third thing that is a habit I’ve stuck with since completing my sleep challenge a year ago and is the most contentious of the lot.
Most nights, Mr Annette and I sleep separately. As in, separate rooms.
I know this is controversial and I understand a lot of people just don’t get how you can be married and sleep separately.
However, this isn’t about our relationship with each other; it’s about our relationship with our bodies and our health.
For example, I naturally sleep diagonally and am a naturally light sleeper. Mr Annette is incredibly fidgety overnight and tends to have quite restless sleep.
The combination of the two means that when we sleep together we both wake up feeling grumpy, unrested and extremely tired.
So we don’t. We decided to ignore what ‘proper married couples’ do and allow ourselves the gift of good sleep. I get to sleep diagonally and he gets to fidget.
The end result is that we both sleep better, wake up more rested and generally feel healthier.
Where’s the controversy?
I understand that this isn’t for everybody. Lots of people really struggle with this idea of being in a committed relationship and sleeping separately.
However, I would rather feel healthy and well and sleep better alone than be irritable, tired and miserable just because I’m trying to please society.
Especially as I don’t think it’s any of society’s damn business what I do or don’t do in my personal life.
The reason I’m sharing this is because I know a lot of people do sleep separately from their partners but feel the need to hide it. Sadly, this is because they are scared of the judgement that comes with an admission of sleeping alone.
I’ve also met countless people who are in loving, committed relationships who would prefer to sleep alone because they know they would sleep better but are too afraid to raise the subject out of fear.
They worry their partner will feel offended or rejected because it’s not the ‘done’ thing. I’m hoping by sharing my experience that it shows you’re not alone if you feel this way.
I’m here to tell you that sleeping alone is ok, even if you’re in a relationship!
Sleep Well Tip 4: Go to Bed Earlier
One of the things that has helped massively in improving the quality of my sleep is altering the time I choose to go to bed. I now recognise that the earlier I go to bed the better my sleep is.
Also, as the old adage tells us, the earlier I go to bed, the easier it is to rise. When I say early, I mean ‘Lights Out’ by 10pm at the absolute latest.
Most nights I go to bed around 9:30pm and that works well for me. However, on the rare occasion that I am able to go to bed at 9pm, that’s when I feel my best the next morning.
I think the reason for this is because I am someone who needs a quite a lot of sleep and it’s now recognised that we sleep in 90-minute cycles.
Most people require 4, 5 or 6 cycles of sleep with the average recommended amount of sleep being 5 cycles (7.5 hours). I do better with 6 cycles, that’s just how it is.
Therefore, when I received 6 cycles/9 hours sleep then I can go to bed at 9pm, get up at 6am and feel a million times better than if I go to bed at 10pm and still have to get up at 6am.
Of course this isn’t for everybody and I’m not saying you should sleep more. Lots of people get by just fine with less sleep than me. But I do think that almost everybody would benefit from going to bed earlier.
If you are someone who doesn’t sleep well, or you wake up and still feel tired, then the one thing I would recommend is going to bed earlier.
Where’s the controversy?
Not for the first-time, society has something to say about this.
For some unknown reason, or at least unknown to me, the world seems to have gone in a direction that states the less sleep you have, the better person you are.
I think the reasoning is because if you are awake you can work more and supposedly be more productive. It won’t shock you to hear I completely disagree with this.
We have completely lost track of how our bodies work and how we are designed to work with nature. In different times we would rise when the sun rises and retire when the sun retires.
This is no longer the case and we are expected to be able to put it in anywhere between 12 to 18-hour days because … well, I’m not sure why, exactly.
I would argue that it means we’ve just lost our way and we are making ourselves sick, even if it’s not always conscious. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There is nothing wrong with taking time for your body to rest and rejuvenate and promote healing and letting your body do what it needs to do. That is what sleep is for.
Therefore, anything you can do to help your body to allow it to recover from the day stresses and worries is a good thing.
If that means going to bed early then go to bed early. If it means sleeping alone then sleep alone.
You must do what is right for you and not worry about what everybody else may or may not think about it. It’s your responsibility to look after your body in the way that is right and best for you.
Takeaway: It’s Your Choice
The key takeaway is there most of this, if not all of this, is within our control. For all the talk around sleep deprivation and people being constantly tired nobody talks about the simple things.
They might mention not drinking caffeine before going to bed or avoid watching Netflix. But they don’t say ‘go to bed earlier’. It’s just not popular. It’s a message most people don’t want to hear.
But when we take a moment to really think about things we intuitively know which ones are best for us.
We instinctively recognise the things we need to do to keep ourselves well and happy and healthy. Sleep is no different.
In this post I’ve shared the four things that have made a real difference to my sleep over the past year.
They’re not new, they’re not revolutionary and they’re not original. But they work.
If you struggle to sleep well, then I’d really recommend undertaking a sleep challenge of your own. It doesn’t need to be 3 months. 10-14 days will tell you the things that will work for you.
Experiment with the time you go to bed or use a sleep calculator to help you figure out what time you want to wake up.
Try sleeping separately if that’s applicable to you. Listen to different sounds at bedtime and be very mindful of what you’re doing immediately before going to bed each night.
Not only will you your body benefit from this but your mind will also be quieter and more rested.
The amount of sleep you get is only part of the equation. The quality of your rest is also as important if not more so.
You owe it to yourself to find a routine that works for you. It’s all about building positive habits that work to maintain good physical and mental, not to mention, emotional health.
These are the four things I continue to do to sleep well. What are your four? Let me know what helps you to get a good night’s sleep in the comments below.