Your Ultimate Guide for How to Fall Asleep Fast
It seems like there are a million barriers to a good night’s sleep. Work schedules, stress, medical conditions (and the medications that treat them), back pain, noises, and the list goes on.
And sleep is important, because not sleeping well can make you sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a website about Sleep and Sleep Disorders. They write that “[n]ot getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression—that threaten our nation’s health.”
Many doctors will back this up. A 2005 article published in Neurologic Clinics reported that “[i]n a typical physician’s practice, nearly 50% of adult patients experience a problem with falling or staying asleep during any year.”
In fact, up to 18% of adults struggle with sleep enough that they consider it a “…serious, chronic problem, with women and the elderly reporting more frequent problems.”
Regardless of the causes of your sleep problems, you can learn how to fall asleep fast and sleep through the night. The following ideas can help you get quality sleep, and most of them cost nothing at all.
Use the Right Bedding For Your Sleep Style
Let’s talk about the foundation of getting good sleep: your mattress and pillow. No matter how much advice you get on sleep habits, stress reduction or the best sleep temperature, you won’t get quality sleep if you are on a crummy mattress and resting your head on a lumpy pillow.
A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics backs this up. The researchers found that people fell asleep faster and woke less often during the night when they slept on comfortable mattresses.
Think about your body type and the position you usually sleep in to determine the best type of mattress and pillow for you.
Because keeping your spine in its natural curve and keeping pressure off of your joints can make sure you’re not stiff and in pain when you wake up.
Don’t have one preferred position?
Look for mattresses that best keep your spine in a natural alignment and relieve pressure at your joints.
Mattresses to Try Based on Position
- If you sleep on your side, a softer supportive mattress is needed to help keep your spine in natural alignment. They can also prevent a sore hips and shoulders in the morning.
- If you are most comfortable sleeping on your back, look for mattresses with a firm foundation under a softer top. These types of mattresses let your body sink slightly to form a support all along your spine and legs, preventing painful pressure points.
- If you most often sleep on your stomach, you need a firmer mattress surface. This will keep your hips from sinking and support proper back alignment.
Pillows to Try Based on Position:
- Sleeping on your side calls for a pillow with firm support and soft layers on top. That way, your head stays in good alignment with the rest of your spine and your shoulder gets some needed pressure relief.
- Sleeping on your stomach requires shorter pillows (referred to as having a lower loft) with a softer support. This will help you avoid the neck and upper back pain that can come from misaligned neck joints.
- If you change positions from night to night or throughout the night then you need a multifaceted pillow that supports you no matter what! Look for pillows with a low friction surface and a medium loft that can be shaped to your liking.
Ask the Experts
Q: How can I fall asleep when I’m wide awake?
A: First of all, get out of bed if you are not able to fall asleep within 15-20 minutes. Continuing to lay there will only make you more stressed and less able to drift off to sleep.
Try a walk around the house, stretching or deep breathing. Skip the vigorous exercises as this can make you more awake. After you’ve been away from your bed for a while, try again. You may find that the time outside of your room makes your body ready to fall asleep fast.
Create an Ideal Atmosphere for Sleeping
Once you have the mattress and pillow situation taken care of, turn your attention to the atmosphere of your room. Light, temperature, noise and smells can all keep you from falling asleep fast. Everyone has different preferences, but in general, following these guidelines will have you drifting off faster and for more time before waking (what researchers call WASO–wake time after sleep onset).
Set the Right Temperature
- Set the thermostat to 65-73 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on your comfort level. Experiment with a few different temps to see which range suits you best.
- Choose breathable sheets and pillow cases (some fabrics also have warming or cooling effects.) Flannel for winter months is super cozy, percale keeps you cooler in the summer and sateen sheets keep you warm if you tend to get cold through the night.
- Put on some cotton PJs to stay cool without feeling cold.
- Have an extra blanket within reach so you don’t have to get out of bed and disturb your sleep.
Make Some Noise (or Don’t)
Do you often lie down at bedtime and find the silence more disturbing than soothing? If so, you are not alone.
Lots of people fall asleep faster with some kind of background noise going.
You can buy a white noise machine if you just need to cancel out the silence (or your neighbor’s distracting noises). These machines make a sound similar to a very low-volume hair dryer.
You can also use clock radios that make nature sounds to help lull you to dreamland. Many people find the bird chirping, soft rain or ocean waves incredibly relaxing.
Finally, you can just play some soothing music at bedtime to help you drift off faster. Classical or calm instrumental music is probably your best bet. If you need some playlist ideas, try these tunes:
- Come Away With Me by Norah Jones
- I’m Yours by Jason Mraz
- The Scientist by Coldplay
- This Woman’s Work by Maxwell
- Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin
Need some more ideas? Just do a search online for songs with 60-80 beats per minute (BPM). This mimics the human heart beat at rest.
A 2014 study from the medical research journal BMJ found that listening to soothing music with this rhythm was even more effective than taking a sedative!
Do you need absolute silence to catch some zzz’s?
Try some noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds, or some good old-fashioned silicone earplugs.
Turn Off the Lights
I used to fall asleep in front of the TV every night. It helped me zone out and decompress from the day.
But guess what?
It also kept me awake sometimes with its flickering light and noise fluctuations. My advice to you is to ditch the light in your bedroom so you can fall asleep faster and sleep better through the night.
Other sources of light include your cell phone, bright signs or outdoor lights shining through your window and even a bright LED digital clock on your nightstand.
Not only should you cancel out these sources of light when it is time for bed, but you should give your eyes and mind a rest from them at least half an hour before bedtime.
- Use blackout curtains on windows that let in light at night, or if you have to sleep during the day.
- Dim your digital clock display to its lowest setting, or turn it away from you.
- Take the television or laptop out of your bedroom for good.
- Put your cell phone in airplane mode.
Snoop out other sources of light in your bedroom and make adjustments so that you have total darkness.
Choose the Right Colors
White walls are not only less than exciting, they also lend nothing to your sleep routine. The color of the walls you are surrounded with can either help or hinder you when it comes to falling asleep fast.
- Low-key tones like gray, blue, lavender and taupe help settle your mind and prepare your body for sleep.
- Bright colors like red, orange and yellow have the opposite effect. They make you more alert.
- Think about the colors of the room’s furniture and accessories too.
Get Your Nose Involved
What does your nose have to do with your ability to fall asleep fast? Believe it or not, how your room smells can either help or hinder your sleep life.
Research published in the July 2015 issue of Nursing in Critical Care found that “[l]avender essential oil increased quality of sleep and reduced level of anxiety in patients with coronary artery disease.”
You can use a diffuser, sachets or mist sprayer to scent your room and the bed linens for soothing scents to encourage a fast entry to dreamland.
Don’t like the scent of lavender? No problem!
There are lots of scents to choose from. Check your grocery store or natural market for essential oils that appeal to you. For starters, check out sandalwood, lemongrass, bergamot or rose.
Ask the Experts
Q: How can I sleep through the night?
A: This is a common question, especially for people in their 40s and 50s. If you fall asleep fast, but wake up again during the night, you have something called maintenance insomnia. The answer to your question has a few parts.
- Don’t watch the clock. This just focuses your mind on how you are not sleeping, adding more stress. Set the alarm and turn the clock away from you.
- Exercise during the day. A 2008 Sleep Medicine article focused on elderly women found that “…physically active women sleep more and better than sedentary women.”
- Don’t nap during the day.It’s best if you can stay awake until bedtime. But if you have to snooze to make it through the rest of the day, make it for only 20-30 minutes.
- Drink plenty of water (but not within 1 hour of bedtime).
- Limit caffeine and alcohol during the day.
- Talk to your doctor about your meds. Medications used to treat pain, anxiety, depression and Parkinson’s disease can all disturb sleep.
Get Into Sleep Hygiene
You’ve heard of body hygiene and dental hygiene? Well, there’s a version for sleep too!
Sleep hygiene is just a fancy way of describing things you can do to sleep faster and better.
Take Control of Your Rhythm
Circadian rhythm, that is. This is your body’s 24-hour biological clock. It tells you when it is time to wake up and when to go to sleep, among other things.
And guess what?
It can sometimes be out of sync with your actual day. But never fear, because you can do things to help reset it. You will need to be pretty strict about the routine at first so your body learns when it is time to sleep. Pretty soon you should notice it is easier to fall asleep fast.
Start Some New Habits
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This is huge. It might cramp your style, but after a couple weeks your body will get sleepy at the right time. You’re worth it, right?
- Give acupressure and reflexology a try. Ancient Chinese methods of applying pressure to certain parts of your body may help you relax. No need to go to a clinic or spa, though. You can try this simple method at home. Soak your tootsies in warm water for 20-30 minutes before bedtime. Apply steady, firm pressure to the sole, just behind the ball of your foot for ten minutes. This is called the kidney acupoint, and it is said to help calm your nervous system.
- Do some gentle, deep stretching to relieve tension and put your mind in a relaxed state.
- Do some deep breathing. The repetitive motion and the focus on this one action can have a sedative effect. See below for an exercise you can try tonight!
These tips should get you off to a good start. There are a few other easy ways to train your body for bedtime. Try drinking herbal tea, taking a warm bath, reading a book or writing in a journal for a few minutes.
The key is to link an activity with your sleep cycle so that your body knows it’s time for bed when you do that certain activity.
You can learn deep breathing right now! Try these steps following the Rule of 4s:
- Blow out forcefully through pursed lips for a slow 4 count.
- Breathe in through your nose while mentally counting to 4. Make sure to keep you mouth closed. Expand your belly as you inhale (this is called diaphragmatic breathing.)
- Keep your belly expanded for 4 long beats.
- Blow out through pursed lips again, to a long count of 4. Press your belly button toward your spine as you go.
- Cycle through these steps 4 times.
Say No to Stress
Life is stressful. Work, family and community responsibilities can add pressure that can make it hard to rest when you need to. And putting your worries aside is easier said than done.
But if you want to learn how to fall asleep fast, you need to decompress.
- Do some calming yoga poses
- Do some progressive muscle relaxation. This is when you lie down and contract and relax your major muscles in an orderly way to release tension.
- Think good thoughts. See below for some mental exercises.
Stress is real and spurs us on to solve problems. But bedtime is not the time to be stressed.
Ask the Experts
Q: What thoughts lead to sleep?
A: First and foremost, don’t focus on sleeping! That will just make you anxious and stressed, ending up making you more and more awake.
Mental exercises that may help you fall asleep faster include:
- Guided imagery, in which you imagine yourself in a calm, pleasant environment.
- Mindfulness exercises, where you imagine your stressful thoughts floating by on waves or leaves.
- Meditating on one positive thought, word or prayer to allow your mind to go into a deep, relaxing state.
Sleep is serious business.
It’s so serious that without sleeping enough (or well enough), we die! To learn more about this and other scientific discoveries about the importance of sleep, check out this video from the SciShow.
This is an exhaustive list of how to fall asleep fast.
Even if you only follow a few of the guidelines presented here, you should be lulled off to La La Land fast every night.