"I went from getting one hour of sleep a night to eight. Here's how I did it."

There was a time where I showed off my dark circles as if they were a badge of honour. 

"I can sleep when I’m dead," I would say whenever anyone would tell me I needed to sleep more. 

While most of the country was tucked away in bed, I was wide awake writing, working on assignments, or googling whatever random questions that popped up in my mind — there’s nothing quite like searching weird thoughts like ‘why do men have nipples?’ at 2am.

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There were many nights where I would only get one hour of sleep, but often I averaged approximately four hours during my many years as a voluntary insomniac. 

While working at a bookstore, my boss gifted me a copy of Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep. Looking back, this was definitely a subtle message that she thought I wasn’t sleeping enough rather than a random gift. 

Thinking that I was about to learn some interesting facts about sleep and dreams, I was instead met with morbid evidence that I was slowly sending myself to an early grave. 

According to Walker, sleeping less than six hours regularly obliterates your immune system, doubles your risk of getting cancer and puts you on the fast track towards cardiovascular disease, including congestive heart failure and stroke. Even one week’s worth of poor sleeping could lead to you being classified as pre-diabetic. 

Easy. I could rectify this damage. All I needed to do was get more sleep. 

Turns out I was wrong. 

The years I spent not sleeping by choice led to me developing chronic insomnia and even if I was tired, falling asleep was proving to be extremely difficult — there wasn’t a sleepy-time tea in the world that could fix the mess I was in.

However, that didn’t stop me from trying just about every solution I could get my hands on — whether it was sleeping tablets prescribed by my doctor, four different teas, essential oils, a weighted blanket, various eye masks, meditation apps, or even listening to playlists featuring ocean waves and rainfall, I tried it all. 

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My problem was that I despised sleep and had for many years. 

What I needed to do was learn how to fall in love with it instead. Sleep was my archenemy and I seriously needed to work on the negative relationship I had built with it during the majority of my 20s. The sleeping tablets prescribed by my doctor worked, but I knew this wasn’t a long-term solution. My attitude towards sleep desperately needed an overhaul. 

The first thing I did was reach for my journal and reflect on how I felt after a full eight hours with the help of sleep medication versus how sluggish I would feel on a regular basis after one to four hours of sleep. 

Seeing my thoughts in front of me reaffirmed that I actually enjoyed the effect sleep had on me. Instead of being up at a ridiculous hour working on a project, I could do it feeling refreshed in the morning. 

Having a deep and thorough assessment of my attitudes and acknowledging the many pros of sleep had a positive effect on my mindset. I began to look forward to switching off and not seeing the night as my enemy. 

Another thing I needed to work on was putting an end to the amount of effort I was spending trying to make it happen.  

Sleep is an involuntary physiological occurrence and it’s counterproductive to attempt to take control of it — if we do, it’s not going to happen and we're going to find ourselves back at square one.

When it hits 1am and you’re having an existential crisis or thinking about something extremely embarrassing you did years ago, the worst thing you could do is lay there amongst your thoughts and try and manage the crisis.  

Think back to when you reached a challenging maths problem at school. 

Was it more effective to stress and try to work it out while the minutes tick away and your anxiety levels soar? Or was it more productive to move onto another question that you could answer and then return to the difficult problem with a fresh mindset? 

The same can be said for sleep. 

If you focus too much on it, the hours will get away from you. Just like when you put effort into anything, it’s going to send a signal to your brain that it’s time to get to work.

If you still can’t switch off, get up and move onto something else that’s mindless or numbing — turn your thoughts off and put on Netflix instead. 

You’re going to feel tired and pretty ordinary the next morning regardless, so write it off as a bad night. The next night will be better.

It might not be what you want to hear, but the secret to falling asleep is to not try at all.

Feature Image: Getty.