Get more sleep — a goal that’s on everyone’s to-do list. And after a busy, fulfilling day, it shouldn’t be so hard to fall asleep.
But many of us find a good night of restful sleep elusive.
In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep on weeknights and 39 percent of the population needs 30 minutes or more to fall asleep.
While occasional nights of sleeplessness result in exhaustion the next day, chronic sleeplessness results in health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Even though we need to rest, it seems that we just can’t get the shut-eye we need.
The trouble with falling asleep might stem from a problematic bedtime routine.
In an increasingly connected world, it’s become more and more difficult to disconnect. Whether it’s from technology, work, people, or other personal problems, it is harder to wind down and drift off to sleep.
The stress of it all causes your nervous system to be on high alert long after the stimuli have passed. Stress causes the amygdala to send out a distress signal that puts your central nervous system into high alert. Your fight-or-flight instincts are then initiated, and it’s difficult to trigger your relaxation response.
When this happens, counting sheep simply won’t do to relax your mind and convince yourself that you’re not in danger. You must fix your bedtime routine instead of relying on natural exhaustion to take over.
If you take the time to include relaxation techniques before bed, you can train your body that it’s OK to release tension and discover calm. The trick is to create good sleeping habits. You can start by using these techniques on a regular basis.
1. Embrace the Dark
Sunlight signals your body that it’s time to wake up, so it makes sense that darkness alerts your body for bedtime. In fact, the nightfall tells your body to make melatonin — a necessary hormone in the sleep cycle.
Try to eliminate as many light sources as possible in your room, especially those that seem to seep through even after you close your eyes. If you can’t get your room completely dark, employ the use of an eye mask.
2. Turn Off Electronic Devices
Technology has made waking life much easier for many of us; unfortunately, it has made getting good sleep much more difficult. In addition to making it hard for us to disconnect our minds, it also floods our eyes with blue light.
Studies have shown that the blue light that cell phones, laptops, and TVs emit have a negative effect on your nighttime routine. While the blue light can boost your attention span and mood during the daytime, it’s disruptive to your circadian rhythm at night.
Natural daylight helps keep your circadian rhythm intact; blue light acts as an artificial substitute that can trick your mind into staying wide awake for much longer than you planned.
The best thing you can do? Turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime.
3. Stay Cool
Your body temperature changes as you fall asleep — your core get colder while your extremities warm up. As your body temperature drops, your body starts to produce more melatonin.
To help accelerate the rate at which your body temperature changes, you should set your room temperature to somewhere between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This will signal to your body that it’s time to relax.
4. Unwind in the Bath
Indulging in a bath might seem like too much time out of your night. But if you really want to fall asleep fast, a warm bath is the perfect step towards deep sleep — it’s another great way to lower your core temperature. Though the heat from the bath increases your core temperature initially, your exit from the warm water cools your body down rapidly due to the moisture and change in environmental temperature.
Soak in a warm bath two hours before bedtime to properly unwind. The warm heat should improve blood circulation, which will help sore muscles heal and tight muscles relax. Warm baths and spas have also been linked to lowering blood pressure, which helps relax your internal systems.
If you have no time for a bath, a warm shower can do a similar trick.
5. Smell Your Way to Calm
Our sense of smell is a powerful tool in memory and emotion. Why not use it to your advantage during bedtime by scenting your environment with a relaxing aroma? You can use any scent that reminds you of calmer times, but we recommend lavender. A recent study found that participants who smelled lavender oil before bed fell into a deep sleep much quicker than those who didn’t.
6. Take a Deep Breath
So you’ve set up your sleep sanctuary and established a relaxing bedtime routine. Your body’s tired but your mind and central nervous system are still wide awake.
Luckily, your breath is an excellent tool for resetting your central nervous system and activating your relaxation response.
While you’re in bed trying to fall asleep, try the 4-7-8 breathing method. This method involves counting the duration of each inhale and exhale.
Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, behind your upper front teeth. Then breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7, and exhale for 8. Repeat as many times as needed.
For even more controlled breathing options, try one of these everyday meditative breathing techniques designed to relax both mind and body.
7. Try a Natural Sleep Aid
Lifestyle changes will help you to fall asleep faster in the long run, but sometimes we just need immediate relief. Luckily, you can find help in natural sleep aids like melatonin and valerian.
Your body naturally produces the hormone melatonin, which plays a key role in your sleep cycle. It causes your body to feel less alert. As the darkness falls, your body’s melatonin levels should rise. Those who find falling asleep when the night falls difficult might be suffering from low levels of melatonin. Taking a small dose every so often can help.
Another helpful sleep aid is the natural herb valerian. The herb acts like a sedative to the brain and nervous system. It’s been long used as a way to combat insomnia, improve overall sleep quality, and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
8. Assess Your Relationship With Sleep
If you find yourself restless every night and relying on a sleeping aid, you should talk to your doctor about a possible sleep disorder. They can work with you to create an optimal sleep schedule and even conduct tests that help pinpoint your REM cycles.
9. Don’t Let Stress Follow You to Bed
One of the biggest ways to fall asleep faster is to leave the stress and anxiety of your day in the daytime. Managing your stress levels throughout the day means that you can have a worry-free mind in bed.
We can manage our stress during the day by incorporating meditation, exercise, and mindfulness in our routine.
Get Better Sleep Faster
It can be frustrating to lay in bed and wish for sleep to come. Instead of waiting, you can lay down the groundwork by incorporating these methods into your bedtime routine to fall asleep faster. And instead of dreading the sunrise, you can wake up feeling full of energy to face another day.