Sleep Research

8 Ways to Fall Asleep Fast and Naturally

By Liam Hinton, January 22, 2021

Most of us know how important a good night’s sleep is to our overall health and productivity. However, it can often feel impossible to relax and fall asleep quickly. This typically occurs when we are stressed about a big event or plagued by worry and uncertainty. Anxiety can make it difficult for us to “turn off” the mind and get to sleep.

The inability to fall asleep right away can be frustrating, and it often leaves us feeling groggy and unfocused the next day. However, according to sleep experts, certain practices can increase our chances of falling asleep within the first 5 to 10 mins of laying down. To help you get the rest you need, we have compiled the top 8 ways to fall asleep fast and experience better quality sleep.

1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), also known as Jacobson’s technique, involves tensing the muscles throughout the body and then actively relaxing them. A PMR exercise typically starts with the muscles in the face and ends with the muscles in the feet. The goal of PMR is to alleviate physical tension and promote deep relaxation, so you can fall asleep quickly.

Although PMR may not work for everyone, experts agree that it is a safe, non-invasive way to relax before bed and prevent insomnia.

Below, we outline the step you can take to practice PMR at home.

  1. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  2. Tighten each muscle in your face (forehead, eyes, nose, lips, cheeks, and jaw) for 5 to 10 seconds.
  3. Relax, take a deep breath, and pause for 10 seconds.
  4. Next, repeat this process with the shoulders. Continue tightening and relaxing the muscles throughout the body, moving from the shoulders to the arms, back, stomach, buttocks, tights, calves, feet, and toes.

When practicing PMR, be sure not to strain the muscles—the goal is to tighten and tense them for 5 to 10 seconds max. If you notice any pain or discomfort in a particular muscle group, skip this area and move on to the next.

As you work your way down the body, you will notice your muscles will feel heavy and more relaxed. Through the process, continue to breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth. Deep breaths will help calm the central nervous system and increase relaxation.

2. Controlled Breathing

When we lay down at the end of the day, our to-do lists, work, and family responsibilities, and other worries often play on a loop in our minds. These anxieties often trigger the stress response, also called fight or flight, a physiological and hormonal response that causes the mind to remain active and alert, the heart to race, and the muscles to tighten.

Fight or flight is the body’s way of overreacting to a perceived or real threat. Often, fear of the unknown and daily worries can trigger this response before bed, making it impossible for us to sleep.

Experts agree that one of the best ways to calm the nervous system, lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and lower the heart rate is by performing a controlled breathing exercise. These exercises are safe, convenient, and can be performed anywhere at any time.

Although there are several different breathing exercises, the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, originally coined by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., is one of the most popular.

To perform this exercise, start by placing the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. Then, breathe in through your nose to a count of 4, hold the breath to a count of 7, and slowly exhale to a count of 8—repeating this cycle 4 times.

Practicing a controlled breathing method, like the 4-7-8 exercise, can help you relax and alleviate stress before bed so you can get to sleep quickly.

3. Visualization (Imagery)

Counting sheep is often recommended to those who have trouble falling asleep each night. The purpose of counting is to distract the mind and prevent you from focusing on worries and stresses. This general distraction can calm your thoughts long enough for you to fall asleep.

However, studies have shown that those who practice imaginary distraction could fall asleep faster than those who practiced a general distraction, such as counting. Visualization involves engaging your imagination and holding in your mind images that promote relaxation.

When practicing visualization, you should focus on particularly calming images—for example, a meadow, waterfall, beach, or forest.

4. Paradoxical Intention (Tell Yourself to Stay Awake)

For those who have an intense preoccupation with sleep and the consequences of sleep loss, the pressure to fall asleep can trigger anxiety. Paradoxical intention is the act of telling yourself to stay awake to increase drowsiness. Rather than focusing on falling asleep, this practice helps sleep occur naturally by attempting to stay awake.

Recent research has shown that those with frequently experienced insomnia could fall asleep quicker when practicing paradoxical intention.

5. Upgrade Your Mattress

A calm, tranquil mind can help you fall asleep quickly. However, if you are resting on an unsupportive mattress, your muscles will remain tense and rigid, making it difficult for you to relax fully.

Furthermore, a lumpy mattress can force you into awkward sleep positions that put pressure on the spine and cause you to wake with pain and stiffness during the night. If you are sleeping on an old, broken-down mattress, it may be the cause of your insomnia.

Upgrading to a high-quality mattress that provides a balance of comfort and support will keep your spine neutral and help ease muscle tension. If you and your partner are feeling cramped and unable to get comfortable, you may also want to consider upgrading to a larger bed, such as a king or California king size mattress.

6. Get Regular Exercise

Your core body temperature helps control your natural sleep-wake cycle. For example, during the day, your core temperature is higher than at night, helping you remain active, alert, focused, and energized. In the evening, when you are exposed to less sunlight, your temperature begins to drop, and you start to feel sleepy.

Exercise helps regulate our core body temperature, so this cycle remains consistent, helping us wake at the same time each morning and fall asleep at the same time each night.

Studies show that just 30 to 40 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week can help you fall asleep faster and experience better quality sleep.

7. Maintain a Consistent Sleep-Wake Schedule

As we mentioned above, our sleep-wake schedule, or circadian rhythm, is connected to our core body temperature. However, this cycle is also connected to the production of certain hormones, namely cortisol (the stress hormone) and melatonin (the sleep hormone). When we sleep in opposition to this natural schedule, we can cause a hormonal imbalance that makes it difficult to fall asleep quickly.

However, when we keep our sleep schedule consistent by going to bed and waking at the same time each day, these hormones are more likely to remain balanced—making it easier for us to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.

8. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to the steps we take before bed to ensure we get the best sleep possible. This includes your bedtime routine, sleep environment, and things you do throughout the day that impact your sleep quality.

Below, we provide some tips for improving your sleep hygiene so you can get the rest you need.

  • Avoid blue light exposure at least 2 hours before bed: Studies show the blue light exposure from electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, can interfere with melatonin production and make it hard for us to fall asleep. To prevent this, try to avoid electronic screens at least 2 hours before bed. If you need to use your phone before bed, be sure to use a blue light blocking screen or setting.
  • Avoid eating large, heavy meals before bed: When your body is digesting food, it can be difficult to relax and fall asleep. Therefore, we recommend avoiding large meals for at least 3 hours before bed. If you need a snack before bed, keep it light and healthy.
  • Keep your bedroom cool: It can be difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep in a hot, stuffy room. Additionally, overheating can cause you to wake in the night. Experts agree that the best room temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep your bedroom dark: A dark room can increase melatonin production and help promote relaxation. To keep your sleep space dark, use blackout curtains or blinds. Sleeping with an eye mask may also help.
  • Avoid caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that can stay in your system for up to 5 hours. To guarantee caffeine will not interfere with your sleep, it is best to avoid caffeinated beverages up to 7 to 8 hours before bed.
  • Relaxing bedtime routine: A relaxing bedtime routine can help to calm your mind and body before bed. Consider reading before bed, taking a warm bath or shower, performing gentle stretching exercises, or practicing a breathing exercise, such as the one described above.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best sleeping position?

In most cases, sleeping on the right side is the healthiest sleep position. Resting on your right side can improve digestion, alleviate symptoms of GERD (acid reflux), and put less pressure on the heart.

However, pregnant women should rest on their left side when possible since it increases blood flow to the fetus.

Is it normal to fall asleep instantly?

Typically, it takes most adults between 5 and 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you frequently fall asleep in less than 5 minutes each night, it may be a sign that you are experiencing extreme sleepiness or sleep deprivation.

How much sleep do you need by age?

As we age, our sleep needs change. Below, we outline the CDC’s sleep recommendations based on age.

  • 0 to 3 months old: 14 to 17 hours
  • 4 to 12 months old: 12 to 16 hours
  • 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours
  • 6 to 12 years old: 9 to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years old: 8 to 10 hours
  • 18 to 60 years old: 7 or more hours
  • 61 to 64 years old: 7 to 9 hours
  • 65 years or older: 7 to 8 hours

What to drink to sleep faster?

One of the best drinks for sleep is chamomile tea. Chamomile contains the flavonoid and antioxidant apigenin. Apigenin works by binding to the benzodiazepine (BDZ) and gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors in the brain. In doing so, it calms the central nervous system and acts as a mild sedative.

Other herbal teas, such as lavender, lemon balm, and peppermint, can also help promote relaxation and sleep.

Should I stay up all night if I can’t sleep?

If you can’t sleep, it is best to get up and leave the bedroom for a minimum of 30 minutes. Once you feel sleepy, you can return to bed and try to fall asleep again. However, you should not stay up all night—some sleep is better than none. If you are tired the next day, try to take a 30-minute nap.

Conclusion

Sleep affects every aspect of life, from mood to appetite to immune function. Therefore, adequate sleep is essential to maintaining proper mental and physical health. If you frequently have trouble relaxing and falling asleep quickly, the tips above can help. Additionally, your doctor may be able to suggest specific types of cognitive-behavioral therapy that can help reduce insomnia.

 

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