Getting a Better Nights Sleep - The 3 Week Challenge: Principle One

It all began a month or so before lockdown when I noticed how many sleep aids there were in the chemist.  That same week I had four people contact me for help with sleep problems. This made me ask myself:

“What does psychological research and Hypnotherapy tell us about getting a good nights sleep?”

A positive psychological approach focuses on what makes people healthy rather than unhealthy. Instead of looking at the behaviour of someone who is struggling to get a good nights sleep, we should focus on the person who frequently sleeps well. How is the behaviour different? Can we copy it?

I began teaching people to use these psychological techniques alongside Hypnosis to nudge their sleep pattern. I was pleased to see the differences that could be made…but more people are needed to really see how effective it could be.

Fancy a challenge?

  • You need to apply the principles for the next three weeks and review the changes to your to sleep. 
  • Each principle usually takes only seven days to apply and you add the next principle the following week.
  • Working through each stage you acquire the skills to undo the unhelpful behaviour you have been battling with and replace it with a positive alternative. 

The 3 Better Sleep Principles

Wait… to maximise your success pick a time when you feel motivated. The more determined and focused you are the better. Grab that moment when you feel positive and determined and go for it! 


Task: Challenge the expectation that you will not sleep.

Expectations are made up of our thoughts, experience and external information. In other words, what you think will happen, what has happened before and what other’s tell you is going to happen.

We prime our behaviour based on previous experience: I couldn’t get to sleep last night.  The experience creates a narrative in our thoughts to explain what happened: It must’ve been because I had coffee before I went to bed. The thought is justified by external information: That website said that drinking coffee in the evening can keep you awake.

The explanations we create for ourselves are our thoughts. Those thoughts become a template for our mind to use the next time we are in a similar situation.

Imagine our sleep-deprived person has, for example, a cup of coffee in the evening; they have a sinking feeling. The template created in their mind last time is activated: Oh no, I shouldn’t have had coffee. I won’t sleep now.

The thought and the template act as a powerful suggestion: they are not going to sleep. When they struggle to sleep, that template is reinforced for next time.

Unconscious suggestion and conditioning are achieved because an individual expects that something is going to happen. Each time that expectation is proved correct (through experience) it is reinforced and they behave in ways that maintain the expectation.

For example, they avoid drinking coffee in the evening to prevent it from affecting their sleep.

Unconscious and Auto-Suggestion

The unconscious mind is listening out for instructions (suggestions). It desires that you should have optimal functioning and is busy making sure that happens. All those automatic functions are controlled by your unconscious. We don’t consciously think about our heart beating or our kidneys working, it just happens.

Even though your unconscious has millions of tasks to complete every fraction of a second, it still has one ‘ear’ on the suggestions you create. It is paying attention to the instructions you give it. The thoughts we have and the behaviours we engage in, become the instructions (suggestions) for future automatic behaviours.

There is a problem… it is too busy for the nuances of language. It is very black and white in the suggestions it acts upon. There are no grey areas. It either does or doesn’t.
But…that’s okay our thoughts are always clear and our experience is never ambiguous, right? Hmmm, maybe not.

Our unconscious also doesn’t process negative suggestions. Negatives don’t stick in our unconscious mind and have a rebound effect on us, regardless of what we consciously desire.

The Law of Reversed Effort proposes that when there is a mismatch between what we want to happen and what we imagine will happen, the imagination always wins. So… you want to sleep well but you imagine (expect) not to and the imagination wins; you struggle to sleep.

The task is to change your expectations to a strong belief that you will sleep well. Remember the person who routinely sleeps well does not spend time thinking about whether they will sleep tonight, they know they will. What they want to happen matches what they expect/imagine will happen; so it does.  

Proactive Thinking

While challenging your expectations you will spend quite a bit of time considering the suggestions you give your unconscious. This happens in a number of ways, but there are a few that you will need to consider closely:

  • What we think informs the way we feel and the actions we take. The language that we use needs to be given careful consideration. It makes sense that if you tell yourself you are going to struggle to sleep, then chances are you will. The idea gives birth to the idea. So … 

Task: Catch the thoughts you have about sleeping and check they are not fuelling the idea that you will struggle to sleep 

  • You will also need to reword the thought. Negatives are a no-no! Any time you think about sleep, the thought should be a positively phrased statement of what we expect to happen. It is important to think about what is going to happen rather than what isn’t. A subtle difference but it makes all the difference. Have a look at these examples: 

“I don’t want to be awake all night again.” 


 “I won’t keep waking up tonight.” 

At first glance, both thoughts seem positive but these thoughts are focused on what we don’t want to happen. It would be more useful to think about what we do want to happen.

“Tonight I will enjoy a deep, sound sleep.”

“I will sleep through and feel refreshed in the morning”

Task: Change the thoughts into proactive, positive language. You may find you are doing quite a bit at first, but catch and edit as many as you can

Once you are thinking more proactively and positively about sleep, you will need to check that external things are not adding to a negative expectation of poor sleep. This is as subtle as the language and one that most of my clients find the most useful.

Sticking with the idea that we are aiming to imitate the behaviour of the person who does not have a problem sleeping, challenge yourself to put all sleep aids in the draw for the duration of the challenge.

An Exception: If you have a condition such as sleep apnoea and use aids to assist with that condition, then you must continue to use that aid.

However…if you usually put essential oils on your pillow to help you sleep, leave it in the draw for the next three weeks. If you have been reading a self-help guide (this one excluded!) on better sleep put it back on the bookshelf for the time being. If you would have avoided coffee or that glass of wine in the evening then enjoy a cup or glass if you want one for the next few weeks.

The challenge is to behave in the same way as someone who sleeps well. They don’t read books about sleep or use sleep aids, because they don’t have a sleep problem.  

I would argue that engaging in those behaviours is a very powerful suggestion to the unconscious that you are not going to sleep. Why would you use those sleep aids unless you struggled to sleep? By inference, they suggest that you are going to struggle to sleep.

Task: Put away the usual sleep aids unless they are for a medical condition

Many clients have reported an improvement simply by applying this first principle to their behaviour. For many, it was a relief to just behave how they wanted to rather than feeling they were controlled by their sleeping habits.  

So...that's the first step!

Work on the first principle for approx the next seven days. When you feel that you do well catching and challenging negative thoughts that lead to unhelpful expectations about sleep, then move on to principle two.

Need personalised help? Drop me a message!

Feel like you have mastered this most of the time? Add the next principle...


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