Trouble falling asleep? These tactics might help.
Struggling to fall asleep at night can feel exasperating, and can have serious impacts on your mood, work, and social life in the days following. If you’re here because you’re desperate for a solution, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. In just the United States, approximately 40% of adults report either short term or chronic insomnia, or inability to sleep, according to the American Sleep Association. This article is meant to help you pinpoint the source of your sleeplessness and provides some science-backed solutions to help you finally get some satisfying, restful shut-eye.
What’s causing your inability to fall asleep?
For the average healthy person, it should take between 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep – any less might indicate that you’re sleep deprived, and more may suggest that you suffer from insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are various reasons why you might suffer from insomnia. A number of medical conditions could be causing your inability to sleep, including allergies, acid reflux, endocrine problems such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, arthritis, chronic pain, and lower back pain. If you think you might be afflicted with any of these conditions, it’s important to consult your doctor.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the vast majority of adults are losing sleep due to stress and anxiety. While it’s normal for many adults to have trouble falling asleep during times of unforeseen pressure or strain, feelings of persistent worry or anxiety can begin to interfere with sleep on a more regular basis. If you think that anxiety might be the cause of your sleeplessness, some symptoms to watch for, apart from inability to fall asleep, include:
- Muscle tension
- Rapid heart rate
- Feelings of apprehension or excessive worrying about past and future events
- Feeling overwhelmed by duties and responsibilities
- A general feeling of anxious dread and/or overstimulation
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s important to consider your health and think about what the underlying cause might be. If you’ve been feeling stressed and are fairly certain that the symptoms of anxiety above explain your sleeplessness, stress hormones in the body are primarily to blame. When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which work to keep you awake and alert. The associated sleeplessness is likely to cause more anxiety during the day, and consequently more sleeplessness—a cycle that can feel difficult to break. In addition, anxiety and sleep deprivation can have a number of other negative consequences, and are associated with long-term health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and even heart attacks, so it’s important both to get your anxiety under control and get your sleep in.
Twelve of the Best Ways to Fall Asleep Faster
While eliminating stress and anxiety completely from your life is an unrealistic solution, learning to properly deal with that stress, especially before bed, can help you go to sleep faster.
1. Lights Out
Light is one of the key signals for your body’s internal clock, which regulates sleep and wakefulness. In the morning, exposing your body to light tells it that the day has begun and that it is time to be alert and wakeful. Having any lights on when you’re trying to sleep, including the light from your phone and computer screens, could disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Recent studies suggest that exposing ourselves to the blue light from our screens and smartphones is disrupting our quality of sleep, and that turning off these devices an hour or two before going to bed can help us fall asleep faster.
2. Try Guided Meditations
There are a number of meditative techniques that have been shown to help with sleep, but none have gained as much steam as guided mindful meditation. Guided meditation involves following the audio directions of a meditation instructor in the comfort of your own home, and takes you through the steps of focusing on moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, emotions, and breathing. Different programs and audio recordings for guided meditations are widely available for free online and through meditation apps, and this technique has been shown in studies to fight insomnia and improve sleep.
3. Try the “4-7-8” Method
A breathing method first introduced by best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil, the ‘4-7-8’ method is said to promote calmness and relaxation, purportedly putting you to sleep in minutes. The breathing pattern is said to relax the nervous system, and can be used anytime (day or night) when you’re feeling anxious or stressed out. Here are the steps in brief:
1. Exhale completely through the mouth, touching your tongue to the back of your teeth to make a whooshing sound.
2. Close your mouth and slowly inhale through your nose while mentally counting to four.
3. Hold your bread to the count of seven.
4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making the whooshing sound again, to the count of eight.
5. Inhale again, and repeat the cycle at least three more times until you’re feeling calm and ready to fall asleep.
Read our detailed article on the 4-7-8 method here.
4. Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Another meditative technique, progressive muscle relaxation can help you reduce the symptoms of anxiety and get to sleep faster. Beginning at the top of your head, tense your muscles just enough to start to feel the tension (and not so much that you’re in pain) and subsequently relax, working your way all the way down to your toes. Repeat the process of tensing and relaxing 3 or 4 times or until your body feels relaxed and ready for sleep. Read our full article about progressive muscle relaxation here.
5. Lower the Temperature in Your Room
Your body temperature changes as you fall asleep, and a slightly lower internal body temperature is an important part of regulating your biological clock. As your core temperature decreases, the temperature of your hands and feet increases, and this process is believed to help along the process of falling asleep. This suggests that if your room is too warm, it might be impeding your ability to fall asleep. Setting your thermostat to a cooler temperature between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 16 to 19 degrees Celsius) can help you fall asleep faster. In addition, covering your feet with warm socks can also help speed your body’s necessary temperature changes and help you sleep sooner.
6. Watch What and When You Eat
There are specific foods that can help you sleep better, from a cup of warm milk or tea, to a dinner including fatty fish like salmon. Additionally, keep in mind that high-carb, low-fat diets have been shown to negatively impact sleep. No matter what you eat, it’s important to give your body plenty of time to digest after you’ve eaten dinner, so try to eat at least four to six hours before going to bed.
7. Listen to Classical Music
Studies have shown that classical music, or any other music with a slow rhythm (60-80 beats per minute), may help put you to sleep. One 2008 study showed that among students 19 to 28 years of age, sleep quality was improved and depressive symptoms were reduced as a result of listening to classical music for one hour before going to sleep. If classical or relaxing music isn’t available, blocking out all noise could also help you fall asleep faster and promote uninterrupted sleep.
8. Exercise Earlier in The Day
Exercise provides a host of benefits, from feeling happier to reducing your risk of chronic disease and memory loss. It is also often cited as being beneficial to regulating healthy sleeping patterns, as it boosts the production of serotonin in the brain and decreases cortisol levels.
However, when it comes to falling asleep, when you exercise matters. Exercising right before bed can boost energy levels and keep you buzzing. It also has the effect of increasing metabolism and your core body temperature, which inhibits sleep. To help you fall asleep faster, the best time to exercise is in the morning. If morning isn’t an option, you should exercise no later than 4-6 hours before bed.
9. Try Lavender Oil or other Aromatherapy
The use of aromatherapy or essential oils from specific plants has been shown to help in a number of health ailments, including insomnia and anxiety. Lavender is a popular essential oil that has been shown to promote relaxation and have positive effects on sleep, acting on your brain and central nervous system to release feel-good endorphins and allowing your body to relax. Rub a dime-sized amount of oil on your temples, or use an essential oil diffuser in your bedroom to reap the benefits of this amazing plant.
10. Avoid Napping During the Day
No matter how tempted you might feel to nap during the day, especially after a sleepless night, there seems to be a consensus among researchers that long naps (exceeding 30 minutes) can upset your sleep cycle and prevent you from falling asleep at bedtime. If it’s absolutely necessary, try to limit your nap to 30 minutes, which some studies suggest may not interfere with your regular sleep-wake cycle.
11. Take a Warm Shower or Bath
Warming your body up in a hot shower or bath around one hour before bed can help you fall asleep faster. Similar to lowering the temperature in your room, taking a hot shower and subsequently stepping out into the cooler air will drop your body temperature and prepare your body for sleep. In addition, showers and baths can be relaxing, which may help you loosen up and get a better night’s sleep.
12. Write or Read Your Worries Away
If you’re having trouble falling asleep because you can’t stop cycling through tomorrow’s long to-do list, consider wring it down. Processing your feelings and responsibilities on paper can help you relax and ease your mind. In the same vein, reading has been shown to be a calming activity, helping you to wind you down before bed. It’s important that you read a good old paper book or ereader without backlighting, and not on your phone, ipad, or computer, which will emit blue light and make it harder to fall asleep.
We recommend Spire to help you remain calm and peaceful from the time you wake up, to the time you fall asleep.