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Surprising Unconventional Tips for Better Sleep

Our previous post shared ways to improve sleep by optimizing the quantity, quality, regularity, and timing – the QQRT factors – of sleep. Sleep is critical to health and wellness, and research shows optimizing all four of these factors will keep you well-rested. We learned about these factors from research on the work of Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor and Founder of the Center for Human Sleep Science. This post will focus on additional factors that impact your sleep and includes several surprising unconventional tips for better sleep recommended by Dr. Walker.

Before we mention the unconventional tips, here are some basics to cover first:

Sleeping with an eye mask - better sleep

Now on to the unconventional tips – we bet some of these will surprise you.

Adjust Your Bedroom Temperature

Walker explains that humans prefer to be warm when they fall asleep, stay cool during the night, and wake up as it gets warmer. The general temperature target for sleeping is 67F (18.5C) – much cooler than many of us keep our bedrooms at night.

When falling asleep, Walker suggests you keep your extremities warm and cozy. He recommends a warm water bottle on your feet or using an electric blanket to warm your bed. When you get into bed, turn it off so that you can cool down to stay asleep.

“Warm up to fall asleep, stay cool to stay asleep, and warm up to wake up.”

After a Bad Night of Sleep…Do Nothing

We’ve all had nights where we only slept 2-4 hours due to a red-eye flight, jet lag, a sick child, a late party, early morning wake-up, sickness, or just insomnia.

Taking a nap - better sleep

My normal response has been to either take a nap during the day, sleep in, or go to bed much earlier the next night. Walker instead suggests we avoid making any adjustments. Just fight to stay awake to our normal bedtime and maintain our other normal routine.

If we sleep in or even nap during the day, we are affecting our sleepiness the next night. We also lose our regularity – making the short-term benefit from the adjustment a long-term loss. Regularity and maintaining habits are key!

Your Bed is for Sleeping

Do you have issues with waking during the night and not being able to fall back asleep? Or do you sometimes fall asleep in a chair or in your child’s bed? Walker suggests you make changes to better associate your bed with sleep.

Walker suggests you break the habit of sleeping somewhere besides your bed (on the couch, with a child, etc.) and make your bed the normal place where you fall asleep.

He also wants you to break the habit of staying awake in bed.

  • If you wake up during the night and still aren’t back to sleep 20 minutes later, get out of bed and repeat your bedtime routine. Do not develop the habit of lying awake in bed!
  • Don’t spend too much time working, watching television, or even reading in bed unless this is part of a short bedtime routine. Do those things elsewhere.

The key, Walker notes, is to associate your bed with sleeping – not lying there awake.

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol Before Bed

Avoiding caffeine before bed isn’t a surprise. The half-life of caffeine varies in adults but is typically 4-6 hours. The general recommendation is to avoid caffeine in the afternoon, especially within about 8 hours of your bedtime.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is thought to help one fall asleep – hence the idea of having a nightcap just before bed. If you are older, your parents may have even given you a bit of alcohol before bed when you were a child. It is hard to believe that this used to be recommended!

Walker explains that although alcohol is a sedative, it will affect your REM sleep – hurting the overall quality of your rest. Avoiding alcohol completely is best, but even Walker admits that the social benefits of a drink may outweigh the benefits of better sleep. If you do have a drink, earlier in the evening is better than just before bed.

I personally enjoy both caffeine and alcohol and have developed a tolerance to both. While I will often have several cups of coffee, I make it a point to only drink decaffeinated coffee in the afternoon and avoid all caffeine after 5 PM.

I seldom have more than two alcoholic drinks in a day and try to consume any alcohol 3-4 hours before bedtime. This seems to work for me and does not bother my sleep; I suggest you experiment to see what works for you.

Don’t Do Drugs

Walker suggests you avoid taking any sleeping pills or supplements, even melatonin. Melatonin, while naturally occurring in the body, affects sleep timing, not sleep quality. Walker notes that most melatonin supplements have much more melatonin than anyone would need and are not well-regulated and safe.

Other sleeping pills are likely sedatives that knock you out while eliminating the high-quality Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycles you experience in healthy sleep. Develop good sleep habits instead of relying on a pill.

I have a friend who takes edibles (with a small dose of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis) every night to help him fall asleep. He was experiencing insomnia and found this to really help. Unfortunately, Dr. Walker points out that cannabis, like alcohol, might help you relax and fall asleep, but will decrease or eliminate your healthy REM sleep.

The bottom line is don’t rely on drugs unless they are prescribed by a doctor for a specific sleep condition.

Don’t Count Sheep

Counting sheep has long been recommended if you can’t sleep, but a 2002 study found that counting sheep is useless. If you are struggling to sleep, instead think about a mental image of a relaxing place like a beach or a waterfall.

Walker suggests you close your eyes and dream about going for a walk in your neighborhood. The key is to imagine this regular walk-in hyper-detail. Imagine clicking the leash on your dog, opening the door, walking down the stairs, seeing the car or garbage can in the road, observing the flowers outside, etc.

The next time you can’t sleep, try this tip and let the Personal Kaizen community know how it works!

Remove Clocks and Phones from Bedrooms

Not sleeping with your phone is part of an effective bedtime routine. Recently I followed Dr. Walker’s advice and removed all the clocks from my bedroom. I found it to be very beneficial.

I almost always wake up during the night and go to the bathroom. Before, I would look at the clock and begin to strategize on how much time I had been asleep, how long before my day began if it was worth staying up, what I had to do the next day, etc., etc., etc.

Now, with no clocks around, I keep the room dark and just hop back into bed and try to get back to sleep quickly. Try this simple tip and see if it helps you like it helped me.


We hope you try these counterintuitive suggestions for improving your sleep. Please leave a comment about which tips work best for you.

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