Try These Unique Sleep Tips

Try These Unique Sleep Tips

Hands up if you sleep like a baby every night?

That you? 


Then don’t bother reading this anymore, and btw, I hate you (Joking - just very jealous!).


You see, I have never been a good sleeper. I can’t nap either. I used to toss and turn. I’d wake up frequently, and get frustrated at how it was too hot, too cold. Or that my legs would go numb, or my hands would be gripped into a fist so tight it was like I was about to punch someone in the face. 


I’d wake up feeling like a truck had run over me. I’d stumble to the bathroom, wake myself up with a shower, have my daily caffeinated coffee, and get on with my day. 


Running a fitness and pilates studio for women and running a household and doing kid duties, I was always just going. I never stopped. The only time I’d put my feet up was after dinner for our daily Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix (21 seasons - they just keep on coming!!). 


I have tried so many tricks to sleep better. Of course, I’ve read Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep”. So many things about that made sense, so I was quite disappointed to hear that a lot of other experts were discrediting it for poor science. 


Let’s see, what are the other tried and tested ways I’ve tried to sleep better? Join me as we rattle this off from memory :

  1. No caffeine!

  2. No alcohol!

  3. Don’t eat 2 hours before bed!

  4. Don’t eat a heavy meal!

  5. Exercise during the day!

  6. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime!

  7. Limit your screen time!

  8. Listen to some meditation apps ON your screens

  9. Meditate during the day!

  10. Meditate before bed!

  11. Drink Milk!

  12. Drink cocoa!

  13. Take melatonin!

  14. Have a warm bath!

  15. Have sex!

  16. Don’t have sex! (actually I think I just made that last one up). 


We have heard it all before right? And we have tried it all too. If you have tried any one of those ways and have solved your sleep problems, then from the bottom of my heart - I’m so happy for you. 


Because sleep can make or break you. Let’s see how. 


Effects of poor sleep


Okay let’s delve into the stuff we kinda know already. Because if you’re sleep deprived then I am assuming you are a semi expert on sleep! 


In my early 20s, while living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I was able to live on about 4-5 hours sleep a night. Because life was just too much fun! I had a 8-6 job, but that didn’t stop me from going to salsa clubs with my girlfriend the night before. We’d dance all night. And because I had to limit the amount of alcohol I drank so I didn’t fall flat on my face while doing the macarena, I drank soft drinks. 


We’d then get home when the clubs shut around 2-3 am, and have a quick sleep, then wake up and head to work. We did that about 3 times a week. 


I didn’t take any notice of any sleep issues I may have had in my 20s. 

But then, when I got pregnant when I was 33, that’s when I noticed that sleep wouldn’t always come easy to me. 


But, I had a good reason for that poor sleep. I was pregnant for goodness sake! Getting comfortable was hard, then I’d have to wake up to pee every 2 hours or so. Then the baby would kick and wake me up. I’d try to find a comfortable position to sleep in. Then I’d get too hot. 


But of course, after the baby is born it doesn’t get any better! That’s because you’re waking up to feed that lovely bundle of joy…… while also silently screaming inside. Because you would be so sleep deprived, and this would affect your day. 



I had on occasion walked around with a boob sticking out of my top (in a bra). Not realising that I had forgotten to pop the boob back in after breast feeding. 


This sleep deprivation for a mother can continue for many years. Until their children can sleep through the night. And when they do, what bliss. 


But then, I realised as I was approaching 40, that drinking alcohol at night would give me heart palpitations. So if I went out and had a few, that would turn into a rotten nights sleep. That is one of the reasons why I’m semi teetotal. I say semi, because I still love 1 glass of wine. But that’s it. I know if I have more then I won’t sleep well (see the sleep tips #2 above). 


When you hit your 40s, a lot of women will start to say that things have just “changed”. They can’t quite put a finger on it, but their tummies start to appear, and that they can’t handle their alcohol, and that they aren’t sleeping well. 


We then say “oh it must be menopause”. Because menopause is the cause of all bad stuff that happens to you right? 


It may and it may not be. 


Why sleep deprivation is bad!



Being sleep deprived can affect your health in many negative ways. Such as :

  1. It causes memory fog. You wake up groggy, and get by on large doses of caffeinated drinks. Sleep actually helps form connections that help a brain process information, and remember stuff. Lack of sleep can have an impact on short and long term memory. Explains why I’ll suddenly enter a room and stop short and think out loud “why the heck did I come in here??”. I’ll have to retrace my steps to remember what it was I was looking for. 

  2. You can have trouble concentrating. You may not notice this as much because it’s not like we are back at university or something. But perhaps it’s not being able to listen to conversations around you. Do you find yourself telling your husband “sorry I was totally not listening can you repeat that?”. 

  3. Your mood can change. Ooooooh Wheeee! Here we go with our moods. All us women can say that of course our moods change! I mean - periods! Estrogen, progesterone right? And as you get older, as menopause is hiding round a corner, your moods can also be affected. But why does sleep affect it? Well, it can cause depression. Because you’re just so darned tired. You find that you suddenly want to burst into tears. 

  4. Weakened immunity. You’ll be more susceptible to catching colds and other stuff like the flu. This is because the body releases cytokines when you sleep - which are proteins that tell cells to attack invaders. But when you sleep, these cytokines will strengthen our immune system by telling it how to recognise invaders! 

  5. Accidents. Luckily, I have never fallen asleep at the wheel. But many years ago, the brother of my then boyfriend in Australia fell asleep at the wheel and died after crashing into a tree. He was only 18, and he had just stopped for a coffee break with friends. But it wasn’t enough. If this alone isn’t enough to make us rethink our sleep, then I don’t know what it. It can also make you clumsy - take being in the kitchen for instance. The kitchen is the most dangerous place in the house, what with the fires, the heat, the knives. If you aren’t concentrating, then you could seriously injure yourself. Or - even forget to turn the gas stove off (see Point #2 on concentrating). 

  6. It can also cause us to have risk of heart disease with a higher blood pressure. Plus, diabetes is also a risk factor as reduced sleep affects insulin resistance. Which can in turn lead to an increase in blood sugar levels.

  7. Weight Gain. Lack of sleep affects many hormones in our bodies, and leptin and ghrelin are two that are linked to weight gain. Leptin tells your brain that you’re full so you’ll stop eating. Ghrelin is a hunger hormone. With poor sleep you’ll be hungrier and won’t realise you’re full until you’ve over eaten. 

  8. Poor balance. This isn’t something that seems to be linked to sleep. But think about it. When you’re tired, you’re groggy. And you can stumble. When you stumble, you fall and could seriously hurt yourself.  


So now we know that we need sleep for a host of health reasons, and we know what the common sleep tips are - ask yourself: 


How’s that working out for you?


I think if you’re still struggling with sleep then you need a sleep plan. 


And yes, the sleep plan will include quite a lot of the tips above. So instead of just trying 1 or 2 things, seeing that they don’t work, then giving up  - only to try another tip, think about combining most of them. Then test to see if they work. Be your own detective. Unless you go to a doctor who specialises in sleep disorders, the doctor you see will probably tell you to do all those tips above. Or, give you meds to sleep. If you want to avoid meds, then keep reading. 


So how about you try this on your own. Plan it out. Test it. See what gives you a better sleep, what didn’t work at all. 


The 1 Big Plan For Better Sleep


Get some exercise in the day time. Follow up with eating foods that do not give you tummy discomforts. Reduce or exclude alcohol that night. If you are going to drink, try to have 50% or 25% of what you’d normally have. Reduce the amount of screen time 2 hours before bed. Pick up a magazine or an actual book (with real paper!) and read that in a dim light. Create your bedtime ritual. Make it the same in the half hour before you plan on actually going to sleep. If you want a sleep story on an app like Headspace or Calm, then you face the conundrum of having your phone too close to you. Let’s keep that in the back burner for now. You can have the phone next to you, or place it slightly further away but with the volume loud enough for you to hear as background noise. 


That wasn’t rocket science right? 


But what happens if you go to sleep well but wake up at 3-4 am every night and can’t go back to sleep again? 

Night Wakings 

Night Wakings are more common than you think. Especially amongst women as they enter their 40s and beyond. Even though you aren’t being woken up by your children anymore, you find that suddenly your body jolts awake. 


What could be causing these night wakings? 


Photo credit : Ashley Byrd


One reason is that your body is suddenly getting a jolt of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress response hormone. In the caveman days, cortisol would give you a spike in blood sugar, increase your heart rate, and sharpen your senses so that you could be alert for danger and run away from predators. It’s commonly referred to as your “Fight or Flight” hormone. 


Because sleep and stress share the HPA axis (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal), when something disrupts your HPA axis functions, this can affect your sleep as well. 


Your sleep cycle follows a 24 hour cycle. Your cortisol normally drops to it’s lowest point around midnight and peaks an hour after waking. But, you get about 15-18 smaller jolts of cortisol which are released in the 24 hours.


This can cause insomnia, disrupted sleep. 


So you’d have to try to regulate your cortisol levels overall to prevent spikes at night which can wake you up. How can you do this? 

  • Eliminate foods that trigger cortisol (food that is high in animal proteins, refined sugars, salt and fat)

  • Take fish oil (omega 3s) and ashwagandha

  • Exercise regularly at moderate intensity. 

  • Practice mindfulness

  • Relax with deep breathing, calming music. 

  • Spend time stroking a pet


These are some science backed tips. 


But if you find yourself waking in the middle of the night, then it’s quite hard to get yourself into a calm state. I’ve been through at least 6 years of this. And while I try to stick to the tips given above, I  have honed my going back to sleep trick that works 90% of the time. Disclaimer - this is entirely anecdotal, not backed by any science, and is purely based on my own experience. 


A unique way to get back to sleep

When you wake suddenly, don’t panic and start to think it’s all over. Negative thoughts can come crashing down on you, causing even more stress because now you’re stressing over not sleeping and how it’s going to affect your day. Your heart rate and breathing quickens, which make any attempt at calming back down again nearly impossible, thus creating a domino affect. 


Here’s what I do :


I take a deep breath. I have an internal conversation in my mind, speaking calmly to myself. This is a typical inner conversation that I have with myself and my brain : 


“Hm. I’ve woken up again. Okay, this happens. It’s not a disaster. Hey brain, I’m going to need you to calm down because you’ll help me back to sleep again. I’m not going to stress about it, and I’m now going to count backwards, slowly, from 1000. I may time each count with a deep breath, so it will be nice and slow.  By doing this, falling asleep isn’t my goal, but the goal is to… just count backwards. Okay brain? I’m going to chill, and not get myself wound up at all”


Call me crazy. But that’s combining mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, and doing something that’s calming that won’t get your Thinky Brain to take over. Because overthinking will wake you up. And normally thoughts that occur at 4 am can be stressful. 


So try that. Talk to your brain and coach yourself to be calm and do something totally unrelated to sleep. As the goal is to lull yourself into a deep slumber again. 


Counting backwards from 1000 is the new ‘counting sheep’. 


Sweet dreams!


(Photo credits in this blog from Ashley Byrd, Tuva Mathilde, Kelly Sikkema, Dakota Corbin)


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