Nothing is more frustrating than laying in bed, tossing and turning, and desperately wondering how to make yourself fall asleep.
Most of us know that sleep is incredibly important for our health. It keeps your heart healthy, reduces stress, and boosts your mood and immune system, among many other benefits.1
You need your sleep.
But what happens when you just can’t go to sleep, or you keep waking up in the middle of the night? First things first, try to relax. Worrying about your insomnia will only make it worse.2 Next, let’s take a look at how to improve your sleep habits, AKA “sleep hygiene,” to make yourself fall asleep faster.
What’s Keeping You Awake?
If you travel constantly, work the night shift, or have a newborn baby in your house – you likely already know what’s holding you back from a good night’s sleep. For the rest of us, it may be a bit of a mystery.
Here are some of the most common causes of sleep deprivation:
- Too much light at night
- Not enough exposure to daylight during the day
- Jet lag
- Shift work at odd hours
- An inconsistent sleep schedule
- Strenuous night time exercise3
- Alcohol too close to bedtime4
- Too much caffeine or caffeine late at night
- Sugary foods late at night5,6
What Can I Do to Fall Asleep Faster?
Having the occasional bad night of sleep is common – and it doesn’t mean you have insomnia. But that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try some of these quick, practical tips. Changing a few habits might help you get the rest that you crave.
1. Try Writing Down Your Thoughts
Worrying keeps us up at night. Perhaps you said a comment you wish you hadn’t that day… a big deadline is coming up… or you just got an unexpected bill. Worries like these can circle in your mind when you wish you were falling asleep. If your mind races when you’re trying to sleep, journaling may help.
Writing down anxious thoughts can help “release them.” If you struggle with this, write a specific to-do list for yourself right before you go to bed. Put all of those concerns down on paper and allow yourself to relax and deal with them in the morning.11
Positive journaling may help too. As part of your bedtime routine, take a moment to write down any positive events that happened during the day. Write down a few things that you are grateful for. This can help foster a sense of contentment and relaxation.12
2. Visualize Something Relaxing
Once you’ve banished negative and stressful thoughts, it’s time to replace them with something positive. Research shows that distracting yourself with positive imagery may help you fall asleep faster.13
To try this, visualize a place that makes you feel safe and calm. Fill in the details of your imaginary setting. Visualize yourself moving through that world. This technique allows you keep worries at bay so you get to sleep or fall back asleep.
3. Lower The Temperature
If you can’t sleep, try making your room colder – a lot colder. Some experts say that lowering your thermostat to an icy 60-67°F can improve your sleep.14 And no, it’s not just because you’ll have to bundle up when it’s that chilly in your room.
As you fall asleep, your core body temperature naturally drops. When you make your room colder, you help facilitate this drop in temperature. This can trick your brain into thinking it’s time to go to sleep.15
If 60-67°F just sounds too cold to be comfortable, experiment with a temperature that feels right to you. You can also try taking a warm shower or a bath before you go to sleep. Your core temperature will lower after your bathing routine, giving you the same effect.
4. Try The “4-7-8” Breathing Method
The “4-7-8” breathing method is a simple tool you can use to relax. It may help you fall asleep more quickly. The technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil.16
Here’s how to do it:
- Exhale completely through your mouth and make a “whoosh” sound.
- Inhale through your nose while you mentally count to four.
- Hold your breath and mentally count to seven.
- Open your mouth and exhale completely for eight counts.
- Repeat this process at least three times.17
This exercise helps quiet the mind and forces you to focus on your breathing. When you’re focused on breathing, you take your mind off of stressful thoughts that may be rattling around in your head. This may help you relax and get a good night’s rest, especially if you do it in the hours before bedtime.
5. Stick To A Sleep Schedule
Some people find that keeping a regular sleep schedule can help them wind down in the evening and wake up refreshed in the morning.
Your body runs on an internal clock called a circadian rhythm. This natural 24-hour sleep-wake rhythm helps your body feel sleepy at night and awake during the day.
Waking up and falling asleep at around the same time each night can help get your circadian rhythm on a regular schedule. Try not to sleep in too far past your normal number of sleep hours – yes, even on weekends. Once your body gets on a schedule, it becomes much easier to fall asleep.18
Here are some ways you can get on a better sleep schedule:
- Start waking up earlier, rather than going to bed earlier– it’s an easier adjustment.
- Get natural light early in the day.
- Avoid caffeine after lunchtime.
- Try not to nap. If you really need to, try doing so earlier in the day.19
6. Only Get Into Bed When You’re Ready To Sleep
Be honest – how often do you sit in bed, check your emails, and get just a little more work done before you call it a night? If you’re in the habit of working from bed, you’re far from alone. In fact, one recent study found that 80% of young professionals regularly work from bed.20
But sleep experts warn that this is a bad idea. It has to do with the association your mind forms around certain places and activities.
For better sleep, you want to establish your bed as a place for sleep only. That means no working in bed, watching movies in bed, or studying in bed – which are all associated with being awake.21
Following this logic, experts recommend that if you’re having trouble sleeping, you should get out of bed. Try reading quietly in a comfy chair or taking a bath. When you feel sleep coming on, head back to bed.22
7. Get The Screens Out Of Your Bedroom
Who hasn’t laid in bed, scrolling through social media for hours instead of sleeping? You probably already know that screen time is not helpful when you’re trying to get some rest.
Here’s why: The blue light emitted by the screen on your phone, tablet, laptop, and television limits your natural production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle.23 When your body makes less melatonin, it’s harder to fall asleep.
If you want to fall asleep faster, stop using your devices an hour before you wind down for bed.24 If that sounds difficult, you may want to try leaving them outside of your bedroom.
8. Make Sure Your Room Is Completely Dark
Make sure you turn off those lights when you hop into bed. Light has a strong influence on your internal clock.25 When darkness falls, your body produces melatonin and makes you feel sleepy.26
When your body detects light, it stops producing melatonin, and you naturally feel awake and alert. Light exposure at night can throw off your circadian rhythm and raise cortisol levels too.27,28
And yes, this applies even if you’re just getting a tiny amount of light exposure. Studies show that dim light at night can also make it harder to fall asleep.29
If possible, remove the sources of light in your room. Cover up the light from a clock radio, turn off your monitors, and turn your hallway light off. If you can’t get your room completely dark, try a sleep mask or blackout curtains.
9. Experiment With Aromatherapy
Scents are powerful – a simple smell can trigger a memory, evoke an emotion, and help a person relax. Aromatherapy uses the aroma of essential oils as a holistic treatment. If you’re feeling stressed, or finding it hard to relax and go to sleep, aromatherapy may be able to help.30
Essential oils that may have a positive effect on sleep are:
To try aromatherapy for yourself, pick up an essential oil diffuser. Dilute your essential oils and fill your room with relaxing scents.
10. Don’t Look At The Time
If you wake up in the middle of the night, you may be tempted to lean over and check the time. Don’t do it. “Clock-watching” will only make you feel frustrated about your situation. This will make your sleeplessness worse, denying you the hours of sleep you need.35
If you wake up in the middle of the night, try to relax rather than look at the clock. If you’re too tempted to peek, try moving your electronics out of your bedroom (if you don’t have to wake to an alarm).
11. Read A Book
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try picking up a book. Studies show that reading can really help you relax – and relaxation is your friend when you want to fall asleep fast.36
Just remember to pick up a real, physical book and step away from e-readers and tablets.
You don’t want that blue light messing with your melatonin production. Stay away from thrillers and horror stories too. You don’t want to read something that has you turning pages all night or checking under your bed for monsters.
12. Listen To Soothing Music
Listening to soothing music can cause real biological changes in your body. In fact, it can trigger the very same biological changes that your body goes through when it’s getting ready to sleep.
Music can help slow your breathing, lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, relax your muscles, and trigger sleep-friendly hormones like oxytocin and serotonin. Music can also ease feelings of stress and anxiety.37-39
If you’re ready to incorporate soothing music into your bedtime routine, keep these tips in mind:
Stick to a slow beat. Your heart rate will gradually adjust to the rhythm of the music, so save up-tempo songs for your morning commute. Pick songs with a rhythm of 60-80 beats per minute.
Instrumental is best. Avoid lyrics that you can’t help singing along to in your head. You’re trying to give your brain a rest.
Listen to your body. Many studies recommend classical music. If it stresses you out because you dislike it, try something else. Folk, jazz, or slow R&B can work too. Pay attention to how the music makes you feel.40
13. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
If you tend to stay awake because you’re anxious, you may be holding muscle tension without even knowing it. Relaxing your body may help – if your body is physically relaxed, you cannot hold on to anxiety.41
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that helps you slowly relax your muscles so you can fall into a restful sleep. Here’s how to try it:
- Divide your muscles into different groups: hands, wrists and forearms, biceps and upper arms, shoulders, forehead, muscles around the eyes and nose, cheeks and jaw, neck, chest, back, stomach, hips and buttocks, thighs, and lower legs.
- Make yourself comfortable.
- Breathe in. Tense the first muscle group for a count of eight seconds.
- Breathe out. Suddenly and completely relax the muscle group.
- Relax for ten seconds before moving on to the next muscle group.
- Work your way down the list, tensing and relaxing each muscle group.42
This is a great anti-stress activity that may help you relax and eventually fall into a deep sleep.
14. Listen To White Noise
Some people are bothered by even the slightest noise – a car passing by, a cell phone beep, a partner snoring – when they’re sleeping. Sensitive sleepers might hear the slightest noise and then the next thing they know, they’re wide awake.
When it’s completely quiet, it can be hard not to focus on every single little noise that fills the room. White noise works to mask these little noise inconsistencies so you notice them less.
Many people also find white noise itself soothing.43
To try this for yourself, find a white noise machine or download a white noise app on your phone.
15. Create a Personalized, Relaxing Bedtime Routine
A good bedtime routine – a simple, relaxing ritual that you stick to every night – can do wonders for your sleep health. Life is hectic. It can be challenging to switch your body and mind to “sleep mode” just because the clock says it’s time to go to bed.
A bedtime routine can help you wind down, relax your brain, and prepare your body for rest. Give yourself 30-60 minutes for your nightly ritual. Here are some ideas to try:
- Turn off or put away all electronics like phones, tablets, laptops, and TV.
- Take a warm bath.44
- Put on your coziest robe or PJs.
- Make yourself a hot cup of herbal tea – no caffeine.
- Write down positive thoughts and express gratitude.
- Make a to-do list for the following day.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Do a breathing exercise to relax.
- Read a (real, physical) book.
- Get in bed at the same time every night so you maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle.
Do you have to do all of these things every night? Of course not. You’re better off trying to focus on what is disturbing your sleep. Then you can develop habits to counteract these disturbances.45
Good Sleep Is Within Your Grasp: You Can Do This
If you’re consistently experiencing sleepless nights and you can’t find relief, be sure to consult with your doctor. You’ll want to rule out any potential underlying medical issues.
But if you know you have some bad sleep habits, try making a few simple changes to your routine. Take the time to relax – banish those electronics, and try out a new gadget, like a white noise machine.
Taking your sleep time seriously and setting yourself up for success may finally give you the ZZZs your body needs.
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