If you’re anything like me, your night goes something like this. After an exhausting day you brush your teeth get into your Zelda themed pajamas snuggle up in bed, turn the lights off and then… …nothing. *crickets* No, not the good kind of nothing, the “literally 10 seconds ago I felt like I would die if I didn’t get into my bed and now I’m perfectly awake” kind of nothing. So you try to squeeze your eyes tighter, or maybe I’m just not in a comfortable position? Yeah, that’ll solve it! But no. The clock ticks and you become increasingly more aware of every waking second of sleep time that you’re losing and how increasingly bad tomorrow will be.
If only you could have just slept at school or work. It was so easy then, but now in the solitude of night, all you have is your deepest, darkest thoughts and that damn clock that– Oh my God it’s been three hours? If this sounds familiar to you then this article is for you because we’ve compiled some of the best advice and practices to increase your odds of falling asleep in minutes and while we’re going to start off with the stuff you should do before hitting your bed, we also have a technique used by the U.S. Navy to fall asleep in two minutes when you’re stuck there lying awake.
So let’s start with seven things you should do before you sleep.
1. Sleep in a colder environment.
Your thermal environment, especially surrounding your head and body, is perhaps the most underappreciated factor determining not only the ease with which you’ll fall asleep tonight, but also your sleep quality. Whether you’re overheating because of heavy blankets, pajamas or just a hot room, it’s been shown to decrease slow-wave sleep and REM sleep.
Even just to initiate sleep, your body has to drop 2-3°F or 1.5°C and so being colder actually helps bring your temperature down faster. It might shock you but the recommended temperature is around 65°F or 18.3°C for your room. Going too cold isn’t great either, but it doesn’t have the same disruptive effects on falling asleep or your sleep quality as a hot room does.
2. Take a hot shower or bath before bed.
You might think being all warm and fuzzy is what makes you sleep but it’s actually kind of the opposite. When you’re exposed to hot temperature, the body can’t hold on to the heat and sends blood to the surface of your skin, giving you that flushed red appearance. Once you step out of the warmth, the dilated blood vessels radiate out the inner heat to your environment and your core body temperature plummets. This triggers the body and brain to think it’s sleepy time.
3. Put away the clock.
Simply having the ability to look at and see the time and find out how much you haven’t slept is not helpful and will honestly only stress you out. In fact time monitoring is strongly linked to stress and waking arousal.
4. Minimise or avoid caffeine and nicotine;
Coffee, colas, some tea and even chocolate, can take as long as eight hours to wear out fully and nicotine is a stimulant. So avoid them too late in the day. It’s also worth avoiding eating too close to bed. While some studies show avoiding diets that are excessively biased towards carbs will help, it’s better to just avoid being too hungry or too full before bed.
5. Exercising and being physically tired can help you fall asleep faster
Working out 2-3 hours before bed can keep you up longer. So earlier in the day is better and same goes with naps actually, they’re great but don’t take them after 3 p.m or it’ll be harder to fall asleep at night.
6. Make sure you’re actually relaxing before bed.
If you try to sleep and you’re wired or on, your brain just won’t be ready. A relaxing activity within the hour before bed like reading, is the perfect ritual to put you in the right mindset.
7. Get some sun during the day
Make sure you’re getting sun exposure during the day and minimising your light exposure during the evening. You’ve probably been told not to use your screen before bed, which is true, but it’s equally as important to get natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes a day if you have problems falling asleep.
This helps to condition your body’s schedule and trigger tiredness at the right times.
So now that we’ve set up some conditions for optimising your experience of falling asleep… …you’re still awake. In fact, maybe you’ve already done those things and you’re lying in bed right now desperately looking up how to fall asleep faster online which led you to this very post. Don’t lie. In which case you have broken rule #7 of not looking at your phone, but I’ll forgive you if it was in pure desperation. I mean, I won’t complain about the extra view. But in all seriousness, if you’re laying in bed after all that, there’s a technique that the Navy “allegedly” used that, if practiced, can literally have you falling asleep in 2 minutes, no matter where you are. I say “allegedly” because the studies are not publicly available, but they claim they were used on fighter pilots who would often make avoidable mistakes as a result of stress and ultimately sleeplessness.
In fact, they were designed to allow them to fall asleep, even while sitting up. And after 6 weeks, they claim that 96% of the pilots could fall asleep in less than 2 minutes. It goes like this. First, you need to systematically relax each part of your body. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and begin to focus on your face. Picture every muscle slowly relaxing. If you need help, squish and squint your face first and then let it relax. Breathe out as you feel your cheeks, tongue, mouth and jaw relax, even imagining your eyes sinking into their sockets. Then, slowly make your way down your body and do the same thing to each muscle group; tighten and then relax your shoulders, then arms, from forearms to fingers, chest and legs and finally your feet; all while breathing deeply and focusing on the relaxation. Once you’ve gone through the whole body, focus on clearing your mind into a meditative state. As thoughts about your day or images pop into your mind, try not to dwell on them and let them pass. Simply thinking through motions can stimulate your muscles to involuntarily contract.
Much like meditation, don’t let the thoughts consume you. Try to focus on breathing in and out, or you can visualise yourself in a calming location, like on a warm summer’s day in a hammock swaying slowly back and forth. If you can’t stop your thoughts, they suggest repeating “don’t think don’t think don’t think…” for 10 seconds. It may sound silly or fairly simple, but it’s the practice that makes perfect and anecdotally, online, people have found it to work after dedicating time to it. But the key, like most things, is to consistently practice each night. It won’t be a simple solution on your first night but weeks in, you’ll be much more likely to fall asleep instantly, assuming you don’t have a sleep disorder or other condition.
Now there is one more suggestion, that is considered the single most important tip to falling asleep immediately and if you can’t follow any others; follow this. Go to bed and wake up at the same time of day no matter what; even the weekends. I know it sucks, but we’re creatures of habit and if you want to be able to fall asleep immediately, getting in a good routine will set up your body to literally work like clockwork.
And after all that, if you still can’t fall asleep, don’t lie awake in bed. Studies show that not falling asleep for an extended period of time causes anxiety and only makes things worse. So, just get up and do a relaxing or slightly boring activity until you feel sleepy.