It was the week before my best friend’s wedding, and my anxiety (nerves plus excitement) had reached epic levels. I wasn’t sleeping, to say the least. Part of that had to do with the maid-of-honor speech I would be giving. I was terrified and could not shut off my brain to fall asleep at night.
After day three of lying awake until the wee hours of the night, I decided it was time to find ways to fall asleep. I searched the web and spoke with a number of sleep experts to come up with ways to fall asleep faster. If you're struggling with snoozing, chances are, they'll help you too. So, what are you waiting for? Below, discover 20 ways to promote your deepest sleep yet.
1. Avoid trying to fall asleep when you get into bed.
This might seem counterintuitive, however, clinical sleep educator and registered nurse Terry Cralle says that, instead, you should make your goal to unwind and to relax, knowing that sleep will follow. This will put less pressure on falling asleep and help you get some rest sooner rather than later.
W. Christopher Winter, MD, a fully board-certified neurologist and double board certified sleep specialist, agrees and makes a valid point stating, "the word 'try' is remarkably problematic. 'Thanks for the dinner invitation. I'll try to get hungry before I come over at 7,' said nobody ever. You will either be hungry or you won't." He goes on to add, "we generally don't try to control things that are not really under our control. Doing so is very distressing. As a corollary: "Don't go to bed when you are not sleepy. It's okay to stay up as long as you are keeping to a regular wake time and routine," he says.
2. Enjoy being in bed.
This might seem simple (and obvious), but Winter says it's the best tip. "Be awake, and don't worry about it," he states. "You are awake reading this and don't seem to mind. Why is being awake in bed such an awful thing? If you embrace it, the whole insomnia thing quickly loses its teeth."
Instead, focus on how comfortable you're feeling in bed. The soft pillows and warm blanket. Soon you're likely to drift off to la-la land.
3. Put your devices down… or protect your eyes.
As much as you might like to unwind by scrolling through Instagram or even reading an article or two, exposing your eyes to blue light can actually prompt you to feel more awake. "Phones sleep in the kitchen, not in the bedroom with you," adds Winter. The National Sleep Foundation recommends to discontinue using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before you hit the hay.
Clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, says that, "if you absolutely can't imagine parting ways with your devices, you should wear blue light glasses while using them."
4. Take a warm bath or shower.
Recent research found that taking a warm bath or shower, preferably one to two hours before bedtime, can help people fall asleep faster—36 percent faster, to be exact.
"Sure, it's nice to be clean and a bath/shower is relaxing. Also, the temperature change can be sleep promoting," says Winter. On the other hand, "don't fall victim to thinking that you can't fall asleep without your nightly bubble bath though."
5. Remember that rest is important too.
Even if you're not fully submerged in the darkness or dream state of sleep, your body is still resting. Winter says, "don't judge success or failure in bed by unconsciousness."
The National Sleep Foundation often refers to this as "quiet wakefulness." You're awake and aware of what is going on around you, but you are letting your muscles, organs, and even your brain relax. Although you won't get the significant cognitive boost that deep sleep gives, you are still giving yourself a break from everyday stimulation.
6. Utilize the hour before bed for meditation and relaxation.
Breus says that taking time to meditate and intentionally relax will help you unwind. If you feel like you're the worst at both of these things, consider using an app or device to help. Headspace has endless options for short and long meditations and will help you gradually build up to being able to meditate for an hour (or more, if you dare).
Research has shown mindful meditation may be the answer (or at least a contributor) to overcoming insomnia. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis found that mindful meditation may be effective in treating aspects of sleep disturbances, therefore it could be a promising option for insomnia.
7. Make sure your hands and feet are cozy.
"Cold hands and feet can make it difficult to fall asleep," Cralle says. While wearing gloves to bed would likely be uncomfortable, fuzzy socks are sure to be comfy and warm. "Swiss research has demonstrated that warm feet and hands are the best predictors of rapid sleep onset," she adds.
Not into the idea of wearing socks to bed? The National Sleep Foundation recommends layering extra blankets at the bottom portion of your bed so you create extra warmth for your feet. You could also invest in a heating pad to warm up the foot of your bed before getting in. Don't sleep with a heating pad on though, as it is a fire hazard.
8. Keep consistent bedtimes and waketimes that accommodate sufficient sleep.
"Your body clock likes routine," Cralle says. "Constantly adjusting to wildly fluctuating bed and wake times makes falling asleep and waking up much more challenging."
"Wake time especially," says Winter. "The bedtime should be consistent in that you do not fall asleep before that time. I always say a bedtime is defined as the earliest you are allowed to go to sleep. You can always go to sleep later if you like, it does not change the wake time if you do."
9. Allow yourself to snack.
But not just any snack. Breus says that a light 250-calorie snack with 70 percent carbs can help you unwind and potentially fall asleep faster. Make sure that your carbs are coming from good quality sources though. Foods such as whole grain bread and crackers should be picked over sugar-sweetened beverages and other confectionery items.
Research has shown that milk, fatty fish, cherries, and kiwi are all sleep-promoting foods thanks to their nutrient profiles.
Don't get too stressed about choosing the perfect before bed snack. Aim to eat something that will give your body beneficial nutrients. For example, yogurt over ice cream, fruit over candy, and whole-grain crackers over chips.
10. Get some exercise.
It's no secret that moving your body is the premise of a happy, healthy life. But, according to Cralle, it promotes better sleep, too. "Exercise does wonders for sleep and sleep does wonders for exercise—you will have more energy and be more motivated," she says. Even if you can't make it to the gym or out on a long run, remember that even a short walk or two throughout the day is a step in the right direction to a better snooze.
11. Expose yourself to natural light during the day.
Sunlight is something of a cure-all. While it's more difficult to get direct light in the winter, Cralle says you should still try your best to get some, as it helps reset your body clock. Research shows that exposure to daylight helps increase sleep duration and even sleep quality.
"[This is] very important," adds Winter. "And start diminishing the light after dinner." The same research backs up that claim, stating that participants with later exposure to light had more awakenings through the night and less slow-wave sleep.
12. Keep a gratitude journal on your bedside table.
Intentional gratitude has been having a major moment lately and, if ever you were to add it to your routine, Cralle says bedtime is a great time to do so. "Write down three things you are grateful for—and while you’re at it—jot down three good things that happened during the day," she instructs. "Doing this can help get you in a good mindset for relaxing and falling asleep."
13. Avoid caffeine six hours before bed.
Look, we love coffee as much as the next person, but when it comes to aiming to fall asleep fast, Breus says it's imperative to lay off the java for an extended period of time before trying to hit the hay.
Research shows the more caffeine you drink, the shorter sleep you're going to get. It also claims that adults who consume more caffeine report poor sleep quality.
Try out a calming herbal tea, like chamomile or lavender, if you're seeking a warm beverage before lights out. If it really is the coffee flavor that is calling your name at night, have decaf available.
14. Try to ease your worries.
Whether you have anxiety or are simply anticipating everything you have to do the next day, sometimes it's easier to worry once your head hits the pillow, than relax. However, Cralle points out that the bedroom is not the time or the place.
"Remember, you have 16 hours during the day to worry, so make the bedroom your 'worry-free zone,'" she suggests. "Make a to-do list every day and write out your worry list as well. The mere act of writing down things can make them seem more manageable than leaving them to swirl around in your head at night."
15. Read a book.
Unwinding at the end of the day is a must if the goal is to fall asleep fast. One way to do so is with a good read. However, Cralle says that, in order to promote sleep, light, non-engaging, non-fiction is likely best to help you relax—otherwise you might want to stay up all night to find out the ending.
16. Make a bedtime routine.
While you might think such a thing is only for children, Cralle wants you to reconsider. "Adults need bedtime routines, too," she insists. "Follow the same routine every night before bed—be sure to include something pleasant: soft music, reading, yoga, etc. Your mind and body need that transition time between wake and sleep. The routine itself will serve as a cue that it's time to sleep."
If you think creating and sticking to a set bedtime routine will be too much of a task, let Google help. With Google’s Digital Wellbeing tools available on the Nest Mini ($49) your voice can activate your own customizable bedtime routine. With it, you'll be able to set an alarm, dim the lights, lower your music, get tomorrow’s weather, and fall asleep faster just by saying “Goodnight Google!”
17. Focus on your breathing.
People who are stressed or anxious are actually under-breathing because stressed people breathe shortly and shallowly, and often even unconsciously hold their breath. That said, to help yourself relax, work on breathing deeply while imagining a figure eight in your head. While it might seem a bit out there, doing so in unison will almost always help you slow down and unwind.
18. Try the 4-7-8 method.
If the figure-eight trick doesn't work, try the 4-7-8 method. When you feel stressed or anxious—which often is a reason for not being able to fall asleep—adrenaline courses through your veins, your heart beats at a rapid rate, and your breathing becomes quick and shallow. By extending your inhale to a count of four, you are forcing yourself to take in more oxygen, allowing the oxygen to affect your bloodstream by holding your breath for seven seconds, and then emitting carbon dioxide from your lungs by exhaling steadily for eight seconds.
The technique will effectively slow your heart rate and increase oxygen in your bloodstream, and may even make you feel slightly lightheaded, which contributes to the mild sedative-like effect. It will instantly relax your heart, mind, and overall central nervous system because you are controlling the breath versus continuing to breathe short, shallow gasps of air.
19. Switch up your sleeping arrangements.
Have you ever considered that you might not be able to fall asleep because subconsciously your body thinks that your bed isn't comfortable? It's a very real thing and you might just find that adding a mattress topper, fluffy pillows, and cozy sheets are all you need to get your snooze on.
You may also need to consider the entire sleep environment. "Especially if your current arrangements include, old mattresses, snoring dogs, and cover-hog partners," states Winter. Maybe that means two separate blankets, ear plugs, and a new mattress.
20. Don't be afraid of lowering the temp.
Since soundly sleeping is associated with optimal comfort, the idea of lowering the temperature in your room might seem off-putting. However, according to Sleep Advisor, it's easier to fall asleep (and stay asleep) in slightly cooler rooms.
"65 is best!" states Winter. Who would've known?
Shechter A, Kim EW, St-Onge MP, Westwood AJ. Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. J Psychiatr Res. 2018;96:196-202. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.10.015
Haghayegh S, Khoshnevis S, Smolensky MH, Diller KR, Castriotta RJ. Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2019;46:124-135. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2019.04.008
Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison L. M., et al. "The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." 5-16. June 2019.
Kräuchi K, Cajochen C, Werth E, Wirz-Justice A. Warm feet promote the rapid onset of sleep. Nature. 1999;401(6748):36-37. doi:10.1038/43366
St-Onge M P, Mikic A, Pietrolungo C E. "Effects of diet on sleep quality." 938-949. 2016.
Blume C, Garbazza C, Spitschan M. Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Somnologie (Berl). 2019;23(3):147-156. doi:10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x
Blume C, Garbazza C, Spitschan M. "Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood" 147-156. 2019.
Watson E J, Coates A M, Kohler M, et al. "Caffeine consumption and sleep quality in Australian adults." 479. 2016.
Michigan Medicine University of Michigan. Stress management: breathing exercises for relaxation. Updated December 15, 2019.