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 20 ways to fall asleep faster. That way, if one didn't work, I'd still have 19 left to rely on. If you're struggling with snoozing, chances are, they'll help you too. So, what're you waiting for? Below you'll find 20 ways to promote your deepest sleep yet.
1. Avoid trying to fall asleep when you get into bed.
This might seem counterintuitive, however, Fairfax, Virginia-based sleep educator 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.
2. Enjoy being in bed.
This might seem simple (and obvious), but the President of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, W. Christopher Winter, says that it's often overlooked. "Stop caring how fast you fall asleep and enjoy the moment of being in bed... comfortable, quiet, and responsibility free," he urges.
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. Sleep expert Michael Breus 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% faster, to be exact.
5. Remember that rest is important too.
Winter says that success or failure in bed should not be judged by unconsciousness. "Resting is not failed sleep," he explains.
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).
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," Cralle adds.
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.
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.
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.
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. And hey, we're not one to argue with a sleep expert.
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 its 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 chronically under-breathing because stressed people breathe shortly and shallowly, and often even unconsciously hold their breath. That said, to help yourself relax, work on deeply breathing 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.
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. Who would've known?