I went through a phase of many months in which I couldn't fall asleep.
I'd be completely exhausted, but once the lights were out and my head hit the pillow, my mind and body couldn't relax enough to fall asleep. It sometimes took several hours before I finally drifted off. A few times, I was awake all night.
The worse part of this “can't fall asleep” syndrome is the anxiety that develops as a result. When you've had several nights of wakefulness, you start feel panicky that you won't be able to fall asleep tonight.
Your anxiety makes it more difficult to relax and doze off. It becomes a vicious cycle that can lead to a full-blown anxiety disorder or depression. Exhaustion can be mentally, emotionally, and physically crippling.
Meanwhile, you may have a partner who is zonked out the minute they lie down in bed. They are sawing logs while you're tossing and turning and counting several herds of sheep.
Why do some people fall asleep at the drop of a hat while you are struggling for a few hours of shut-eye?
There are a myriad of reasons why people have difficulty falling asleep. Stress, an overactive mind, hormones, depression, and drinking alcohol can impact your ability to fall asleep quickly.
Anxiety and an overactive mind are the most common culprits undermining your ability to doze off.
Assuming you don't have a medical condition interfering with your sleep, you can train yourself to fall asleep faster with a few science-backed techniques.
Here are 10 surprising ways of how to fall asleep fast:
1. Force yourself to stay awake.
I know. That doesn't make sense. Why would you force yourself to stay awake when you're trying to fall asleep?
Have you ever seen those adorable videos of babies who are trying so hard to keep their eyes open, but they keep nodding off into their food or while sitting up?
When you “try” to fall asleep, it often has the opposite effect. So turn the tables and try to stay awake, and you'll find yourself nodding off.
A University of Glasgow study found that participants who had trouble falling asleep were able to fall asleep more quickly using “paradoxical intention” (PI). They were instructed to lay in bed and try to stay awake with their eyes open.
As a result, they fell asleep quicker than participants told to fall asleep without this technique. Participants in the PI group fell asleep easier and showed less sleep performance anxiety.
2. Use the “4-7-8” sleep method.
This technique was pioneered by bestselling wellness author Dr. Andrew Weil, it's purported to help you fall asleep in less than a minute.
The method creates a natural tranquilizer for your nervous system by increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood stream, slowing your heart rate, and releasing more carbon dioxide from the lungs.
Here's the method as described by Dr. Weil:
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
If you need to see a demonstration of this technique to ensure you have it right, check out the video below showing you how to perform it.
3. Use progressive muscle relaxation.
This method for falling asleep quickly is one recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.
As you are lying in bed, slowly tense and then relax each muscle in your body. Begin by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and feet, then progressively work your way up your body all the way to your neck and head.
Tense the muscles for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat the process as you move up your body.
You can also use a progressive relaxation audio or app to keep you on track and help you focus on a voice giving the instructions so your mind doesn't start to wander into negative or disruptive thoughts.
4. Listen to classical music.
Researchers have recently begun to explore what role music may play in helping people sleep.
Studies have shown that classical music, or any music with a tempo between 60 and 80 BPM, a regular rhythm, low pitches, and tranquil melodies, can help lull you to sleep.
In a 2008 study, students aged 19 to 28 who listened to relaxing classical music for 45 minutes before bed showed significant improvement in sleep quality.
Check out this MP3 collection to help you drift off: Sleep: 111 Pieces Of Classical Music For Bedtime
5. Wear socks.
What is the best predictor of falling asleep fast? Warm feet and hands.
Researchers from a Swiss study published in the journal Nature found that having warm feet and hands is the best physiological predictor for the rapid onset of sleep.
Participants in the study placed a hot water bottle at their feet, which widened the blood vessels on the surface of the skin, thereby increasing heat loss. This heat loss causes a redistribution of heat throughout body and is thought to cause changes that prepare people for sleep by working in concert with melatonin.
You can achieve the same result by wearing warm socks and even mittens when you go to sleep to jumpstart the sleep process.
6. Cool your room.
The recommended bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.
When you lie down to try to go to sleep, your body temperature decreases to initiate sleep. The 60 to 67 degree temps can actually help facilitate this.
A cool bedroom temp will make it much easier to shut your eyes for the night. Thermostat settings far lower or higher than what’s recommended can lead to restlessness and can also impact the quality of your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the stage of sleep with the highest brain activity.
During the REM stage, you have higher brain metabolism and often dream. There are spontaneous rapid eye movements and minimal body movement. It's usually difficult to wake a sleeper during this stage.
7. Turn off your digital devices.
As it gets dark outside, your body increases levels of the hormones which induce sleepiness. That's why we feel ready to crawl into bed shortly after it has gotten completely dark.
When you're on your digital devices, or even watching television, you are inhibiting the creation of these sleep-inducing hormones, keeping you in a state of wakefulness.
If you want to fall asleep fast, turn off all electronics with bright screens at least an hour before bed so it will be easier for your body to relax into sleep.
8. Keep your room dark.
In addition to turning off your digital devices, you want to turn off all sources of light in your bedroom. Try to get your room as dark as possible.
That means turning off the bathroom light, a night light, and covering the light from a glowing clock or other device in your room. If you have blinds in your room, close them.
You might even consider black out curtains in your room or wearing a sleep mask like this one: Bedtime Bliss Contoured & Comfortable Sleep Mask.
9. Take a melatonin supplement.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that is released in your body in cycles throughout the day. If you have trouble falling asleep, you may not have high enough levels of melatonin at night.
Melatonin supplements are safe in low doses for short-term and long-term use. However, it can cause some side effects like morning drowsiness and vivid dreams.
Talk with your doctor about the best dose for helping you fall asleep quickly, as the right dose varies widely from one person to another. In adults, melatonin is taken in doses from 0.2 mg to 20.0 mg, depending on the reason for its use.
10. Sleep on your side.
If you want to fall into a deep sleep more quickly, roll over onto your side.
Snoring and sleep apnea occur much more frequently when you're sleeping on your back. In fact, back sleeping is so closely linked to sleep apnea that doctors prescribe side sleeping as a treatment for the condition.
When you sleep on your back, gravity forces your tongue to relax into the back of your throat, blocking your airway and making it difficult to breath normally.
Put a pillow between your knees if you need to reduce strain on your hips and back. Also, be sure your head and neck are properly supported with a good pillow.
In addition to these techniques to help you fall asleep faster, you can also make a few lifestyle changes to support a good night's sleep. Here are some additional ideas to try out:
- Stick to a sleep schedule where you wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
- Cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink in the evening, particularly in the few hours before you go to bed.
- Don't consume caffeine after 3:00 pm.
- Avoid big meals within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Get regular exercise, but don't exercise right before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking too many fluids around bedtime so you don't have to get up to go to the bathroom.
- Avoid taking long naps during the day.
- Create pre-sleep rituals that are relaxing.
- Turn your clock so you can't see the time as you try to fall asleep.
- Don't try to fall asleep unless you feel really sleepy.
- Develop a meditation practice to help you reduce stress and anxiety.
If falling asleep quickly is a priority for you, don't wait until you are in a state of exhaustion and anxiety before you try these techniques. Begin practicing them now and learn which ones work best for you.
As English dramatist Thomas Dekker said, “Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” Please don't take it for granted.