Need tips on falling asleep faster? Some people fall asleep the moment their heads hit the pillow. Most of us don’t. While it’s not uncommon to lie awake for a while, waiting for the veil of sleep to descend, it’s no fun lying awake for hours, getting progressively more anxious about the fact that you can’t sleep.
Sleep is obviously essential for emotional and physical wellbeing, resilience to stress, maintaining energy during the day, capacity for learning and memory, and so on.
But, as you probably know if you’re reading this article, the act of worrying about not being able to get to sleep makes it much harder to get to sleep, and creates a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.
So, rather than focusing on the dangers of sleep deprivation, let’s look at some simple techniques and tips that may help you bypass that period of restlessness and fall asleep faster.
Some of these suggestions can also be used to get back to sleep, if your main problem is waking up during the night and not being able to go back to sleep.
Tips on falling asleep faster
- Keep your room cool. It’s better to have cold air and a warm duvet, than sleep under a light blanket in a room that’s too warm. When you fall asleep your body temperature drops slightly. Research suggests that 15-20°C is the ideal ambient temperature for sleep.
- Sleep with the lights off, and block any light entering your bedroom with thick, dark curtains. It’s important to have total darkness for melatonin production (the sleep hormone) and cut out extraneous light from street lamps, moonlight – or even sunlight if you need to sleep during daylight hours. Don’t have any illuminated electronic devices in your room – switch these off or, even better, take them out of the bedroom.
- Sleep naked, or in loose, comfortable clothing. Several studies have shown that sleeping naked is better for your health and can improve the quality of your sleep.
- Get exercise and sunlight during the day. Exercising regularly increases serotonin and reduces stress hormones. It also helps to make you feel physically tired at the end of the day, so you are less restless. Researchers suggest it’s better for quality sleep to work out in the morning rather than later in the day. Sunlight helps reset your sleep/wake routine. Just as it’s important to make sure you have complete darkness to signal sleep and stimulate melatonin, it’s vital for your body to get natural light during the day as part of the cycle.
- Don’t eat too much too soon before bed, but don’t go to bed on an empty stomach. Eating rich foods soon before you go to bed can also make it harder to get to sleep. Aim to eat a light meal at least two hours before bedtime.
- Try to have a regular sleep pattern (easier said than done, we know!). For example, if you’re getting up at 6am every weekday, but then stay up late and sleep until late morning on the weekends, it will be harder for your body to settle into a regular pattern and fall asleep quickly.
- Don’t try to fall asleep in front of the TV or computer. You mind think of this as a good way to unwind and switch off the thoughts of the day, but the blue light from digital devices suppresses melatonin production. Try turning them off two hours before bed. The other problem with digital devices at bedtime is the temptation to stay connected, or to keep working or stimulating ourselves with information, games and other distractions that simply postpone sleepiness.
- If you find it hard to get comfortable, try a memory foam pillow or orthopaedic pillow to support your neck and shoulders.
- Cut out any caffeine several hours before bedtime.
If you’ve followed the above steps and still find yourself lying in bed, anxiously staring at the ceiling, here are some easy interventions you can try.
- Submerge your face in ice cold water for about 30 seconds, just before getting into bed. Apparently this stimulates the ‘mammalian dive reflex’, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and can help reset an overwrought nervous system.
- Progressive relaxation can help relax the mind and body. Slowly tense and relax all the muscles in your body, starting with your toes and gradually working your way up to your face. Or you can start at the top and work your way down. Tense for five seconds, then relax for 30 seconds, breathing slowly and deeply.
- Try the 4-7-8 breathing method. This works by increasing oxygen in the blood and releasing more carbon dioxide. It also helps reduce anxiety levels, by distracting your thoughts, and slowing your breathing and heart rate.
Touch the tip of your tongue to your gums behind your top teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise. Exhale all the air from your lungs, through your mouth. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds. Repeat three times.
- We all have times when the stresses in our lives keep us awake at night. To stop these thoughts racing around in your head when you’re supposed to be sleeping, try emptying them onto the page. Writing in a journal can be a helpful way to process the worries and concerns of the day and offload them.
- Read something just for pleasure – but nothing too thought-provoking or intellectually stimulating.
- Do some yoga stretches before bed (or get up and do them when you find you can’t sleep). Incorporate breathing exercises to help you relax.
- One school of thought says that, rather than tossing and turning, you should get up for 10 minutes and do something, then go back to bed and try again. The idea is that lying there trying in vain to get to sleep makes you anxious, which makes it harder to sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally. It regulates the sleep-wake cycle, but its production is signaled by regular exposure to light and dark, which can be interrupted by external factors. Shift workers typically have problems with melatonin production. Other factors include exposure to artificial lighting and the blue light from computer screens and other devices, at times when your body would normally be preparing for sleep. Lack of melatonin and lack of regular sleep can also have an impact on your immune system and overall health. There are melatonin supplements you can take to redress the balance. However, the effect is subtle, and it won’t work if you are overstimulated, for example. Best taken in conjunction with the suggestions above.
Magnesium deficiency can also lead to sleep problems. Magnesium is required for numerous biological functions, and one of these is relaxation. It helps the muscles contract and relax, and deficiency can lead to sore muscles and joints, spasms and cramps. It is also important for healthy nerve impulses, healthy heart muscle function and healthy responses to stress. So it has a big effect on both physical and mental tension. If you are deficient in magnesium, this could be part of the cause of your insomnia. Magnesium can be taken as a supplement on its own or as part of a multivitamin. About Health offers ‘Element 12’, a magnesium relaxation formula that helps relieve muscle tension, manage stress, and promotes healthy sleep, nervous system and mood.
5-hydroxytryptophan is a natural amino acid, which plays a role in the production of serotonin. It is often recommended for mild depression, anxiety and insomnia. Not to be taken if you are already on anti-depressants or SSRIs. It’s best to consult your doctor first if you are on any other medication.