We all get a bit of sleeplessness sometimes and it can take a few different forms; you might wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to drop off again, or you might wake earlier in the morning than is helpful – but, for many of us, poor sleep is characterised by finding it hard to fall asleep in the first place. You lie there, but nothing’s happening – so now what….well, you could try one of our 20 proven ways to fall asleep faster…
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How Do We Fall Asleep?
First up, it’s not designed to be an immediate process. If you get into bed and fall asleep before your head hits the pillow, then that can be a sign that actually you’re a bit sleep deprived – the average person takes 10-15 minutes from settling down to sleep before they actually slip into the first stage of sleep.
Just knowing that you’re supposed to lie in bed for a little while can really help when you’re dealing with an inability to fall asleep. If you know that it’s normal to just let your thoughts just wander for a little while as it’s this process that lets your brain let go of it’s last thoughts of the day allowing itself to sleep you don’t start to worry that you’re not asleep within seconds.
When you first fall asleep, you actually don’t think it’s happened. Your brain waves oscillate between the type that signifies sleep and the type you have when you’re awake and this can lead people to not realise how long they actually spend asleep. Eventually, though, you progress to the second wave of sleep which is a bit deeper – and then, finally, you fall into deep sleep.
The time it takes from you to go from awake to that first stage of proper sleep is known as sleep latency and one study even found sleep latency was THE most important determinant of good sleep; more important even than how many hours someone got in total or how many times they woke up at night. there’s a number of things that can help shorten it that you should be avoiding before sleep – and a number of ways to speed it up that you might want to try.
20 Ways to Fall Asleep Faster
During Your Day
While you might think that trying to fall asleep faster starts when you get into bed, it’s been shown that some of the things you do throughout your day can affect how quickly, or otherwise, you fall asleep.
1. Spend Some Time Chilling Out.
Relaxing during the day helps people fall asleep faster at night finds a study by Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the US. The group tried an approach called kriya yoga which helps focus thoughts inside yourself, but mindfulness meditation has also been shown to improve sleep.
2. Drink Cherry Juice
Melatonin is the hormone that helps us fall asleep, and one natural source of it is the juice of the Montmorency Cherry. Two 30ml shots of tart cherry juice (like Cherry Active) a day help people fall asleep up to 28 minutes faster in one trial at Louisiana State University. It’s also pretty tasty.
Using your body during the day triggers the urge to sleep at night – possibly because it burns off energy, but it also reduces stress levels that might keep you awake.
A study from the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil asked people with insomnia to exercise moderately and found the time it took them to fall asleep that night improved by 39 per cent.
4. Take Omega 3
It’s believed that a substance called DHA found in omega 3 fatty acids help the body make the sleep hormone melatonin – and so it wasn’t a huge surprise when children given 600mg of omega 3 a day slept for nearly an hour more a night than before they took the supplement in one UK trial.
And yes, the trial was done in kids, but the researchers at the University of Oxford think the results might translate to adults too.
5. Get Some Daylight
Daylight is how your body clock sets. It tells you when to wake up – and when to drop off – and getting plenty of it during the day helps reset your sleep cycle.
In fact, people who work in offices with more natural light sleep fell asleep an average of 10 minutes faster and stayed asleep about 46 minutes longer a night than those exposed to less daylight during their day found one US study.
Try and sit as close to the window as you can at home or work and get outside as often as you can throughout your day.
If your mornings are a bit too chaotic to even think about trying to introduce an early morning light fix, check out this guide to creating a morning routine that might help.
6. Tidy Your Bedroom
Being surrounded by mess is a source of stress, but it’s also been shown to slow down how long it takes people to fall asleep.
If you don’t know where to start, have a look at this post on the get chucked challenge which might help. It’s focused on how to dejunk your gym kit drawer, but the principle works on any part of your room – or even house.
As Night Falls
If you want to fall asleep more quickly, then calming your mind and maximising the hormones and other signals that you need for sleep is your aim as night falls.
7. Dim Your Screens
To fall asleep we need to produce the sleep hormone melatonin and the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with this. While it’s best to stop using them totally before bed, if that’s too tricky, then thank researchers at the US’s Mayo Clinic who found that dimming the screen and holding the phone 35cm away from your face (roughly arm’s length) prevents the light affecting melatonin.
8. Get a Snooze Ritual
This tip is a favourite of sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley.
Creating a pre-sleep ritual that you stick to every night helps tell your brain that it’s time to sleep. Take a bath, apply the same moisturiser, clean your teeth, meditate (or read a book) and eventually, your brain will get the message that it’s switch-off time.
It’s just like when you were little and you couldn’t sleep until your mum tucked you in and read you a story…. your brain never really grows out of that!
Find more tips from Dr Stanley in his book author of How to Sleep Well: The Science of Sleeping Smarter, Living Better and Being More Productive.
9. Make a To-Do List Before Bed
People who spent five minutes before bed noting down the tasks they needed to do the next day fell asleep faster than people who wrote down what they had achieved the current day in one US study.
10. Watch Someone Have Their Hair Brushed
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a tingly reaction some people get on their scalp from watching videos of people doing mindless activities like combing someone’s hair or whispering. It brings with it a deep sense of relaxation and in a 2014 study by Swansea University, 82 per cent of people said watching the videos helped them fall asleep You’ll find ASMR channels on YouTube.
11. Pick the Right PJs
While cotton PJs might be great in summer, as days get colder, and temperatures fall below 17C/63F wearing wool will help you fall asleep faster and get more restorative sleep found researchers at the University of Sydney. It works because wool regulates temperature better than cotton. In their study people dropped off an average of 12 minutes – 10 minutes faster in wool jim jams than polyester ones – and 15 minutes faster than those wearing cotton.
Look for Merino Wool sets like this one.
12. Get Some Bed Socks
As well as darkness and sleep hormones like melatonin, another trigger for you to fall asleep is cooling down of the body. This is why a warm bath before bed can make you sleepy, but you also get the same results from popping on a pair of socks.
As your feet heat up, your blood vessels start to widen to cool them down – and that makes your temperature fall.
This tip has recently gone viral on TikTok – but it was first proven way back in 2007.
Once You’re In Bed
Once you get into bed, your main job when trying to fall asleep faster is to switch off your mind and stop it worrying that you’re awake. There’s a few different ways you can do that – including some mental techniques that can help.
13. Never Look at the Clock
Every sleep expert I’ve ever interviewed says how important this is. Many say that anyone who has trouble sleeping shouldn’t have a clock they can see anywhere in the bedroom – it just makes you worry about not sleeping and that wakes you up.
14. Switch on Some White Noise
We’re often told that bedrooms need to be quiet for us to sleep, but they can be too quiet so you hear everything going on outside. If you get disturbed by outside noise, try a white noise app or, get a white noise machine to play by your bed.
If you find white noise a bit jarring, then try pink noise instead – it’s a lower frequency and has been shown to lead to deeper sleep.
15. Try Not to Sleep
The harder you try and fall asleep, the more you stress about not doing so – and that causes arousal that keeps you away. So, try this exercise.
Lie on your back and stare up at the ceiling willing yourself not to fall asleep. The more you tell yourself you’re trying to stay awake, the less you worry about not falling asleep – next thing you know it’s morning!
16. Do the 4-7-8 Breath
Breathe in for four seconds, hold that breath for seven seconds and then exhale for eight seconds.
This creates calm in the part of the nervous system that can keep you awake.
If you haven’t tried the breath before just do 2-3 cycles to calm yourself as you can get a bit dizzy doing it.
17. Clench Each Muscle in Turn
A technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation has been shown to focus your mind, reducing anxiety and stress so you start to drop off
To do you literally try and clench each individual muscle in your body in turn for 3-5 seconds, then relax it.
Enjoy the feeling of relaxation and reduced tension in the body for 10-15 seconds and then move to the next muscle.
So, start with your toes, curl and clench one foor, then relax -and then do the next foot.
Move up your feet flexing and pointing them then relaxing.
Now, clench and relax your calves – and just keep going all the way up to your body until you reach your head – usually you’re asleep by then though.
18. Use the 15-Minute Rule
If you can’t sleep after 15-20 minutes of trying then get up, get out of bed and do something non-stimulating for 20-30 minutes then return to bed. If you lie in bed without sleeping for long periods you start to associate the bed with wakefulness and agitation.’
19. Thank Your Brain
UK sleep specialist Dr Guy Meadows author of How to Sleep Well Every Night is one of a growing group of sleep doctors who think the worst thing you can do when you can’t sleep is trying to do things to tackle that.
He says even just thinking that what you’re doing might help you sleep reduces the risk that it will. One tip he’s given me in the past is that when thoughts come into your mind that stop you from sleeping you use a tactic called Acceptance Therapy.
When a thought like ‘I can’t not sleep tonight, I’ve got a presentation tomorrow’ comes into your head, all you do is thank it for its concern, but it’s okay, you’ve got everything under control.
You’ll find lots more tips on the approach and how to make it work for you in his book.
20. The Nuclear Option
A sleep therapy called sleep restriction aims to intentionally cut your time in bed to just five and a half hours (maximum) a night. The idea is eventually you’re so tired you can’t stay up, you stop worrying that you can’t sleep as you crash out as soon as you hit the pillow – and eventually that happens at a normal bedtime too.
Dr W. Chris Winter explains exactly how to do sleep restriction in his book where he refers to it as ‘the ice bucket sleep challenge’ – partly because it’s unpleasant but also because he suggests having a bucket of cold water by the bed that someone can throw at you if you ever don’t get up on time while doing it!
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.