How to Fall Asleep Fast: 23 Hacks for Better Sleep
Not getting enough sleep at night? You certainly aren’t alone.
According to Gallup polls, 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night.
You may think that the only side-effect of sleep loss is feeling groggy and muddle-headed, but the adverse health effects go far beyond mere discomfort.
Research has also demonstrated that getting the right amount of quality sleep for your age can help you to improve your health.
It can also improve coping mechanisms in stressful situations (10).
It isn’t just extreme stress that takes a toll on our sleep; it is also our busy 9-5 schedules and the struggle to balance our numerous obligations.
The big question is this:
How can you get better quality sleep? How can you fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night?
Following are evidence-based methods which are proven to improve the quality and duration of sleep!
1. Spend time in daylight.
As these studies indicate, regular exposure to daylight or bright, blue-toned light during the daytime boosts energy levels while you are awake and helps you to sleep better and longer.
Timed exposure to bright daytime light improved both duration and quality of sleep in patients with insomnia, reducing the time needed to nod off by 83% (20).
Another study (21) that looked at elderly subjects found that exposure to two hours of bright light during daytime hours improved sleep efficiency by 80%.
This resulted in an additional two hours of sleep.
KEY POINT: Many of us work jobs that keep us away from the sun.
This is especially problematic during the winter when daylight hours are brief.
We need daylight to regulate our circadian rhythms, and through them, our sleep.
Do what you can to get outdoors and exposure yourself to sunlight.
If you are unable to do this, you can purchase a specialized therapeutic lamp which produces artificial daylight.
2. Stay away from blue light after dark.
It might sound weird, but the blue glow from your TV screen or laptop at night may be causing your insomnia.
This goes right back to circadian rhythms. The blue light tricks your body into thinking that you are looking at sunlight.
Melatonin is the hormone which is supposed to help you sleep. But your brain thinks you are supposed to be awake.
What can you do about it? You have a few options.
One of them is to turn off your devices at night when you are not using them.
Try to call it quits with technology at least two hours before you try to sleep.
If you cannot do that, you can download an app to block blue light on your desktop, laptop or mobile device.
KEY POINT: The blue light from your TV, computer, and mobile devices can trick your brain into thinking it is daytime after dark.
Turn off these devices or block the blue light, and you will restore your natural circadian rhythms.
This will restore proper nighttime production of melatonin, helping you relax and drop off.
3. Try taking melatonin.
As discussed, melatonin is an important hormone which helps to relax you so you fall asleep. It is what produces the sensation of drowsiness (28).
While there are several OTC drugs you can take to combat insomnia, melatonin is a natural alternative, also available over the counter (in some countries).
Depending on the nation you live in, you may require a prescription.
It can also be used to fight jetlag (32). These research trials also found no withdrawal effects.
If you decide to try melatonin, start with a low dose and increase it if you need to.
You should take anywhere from 1-5 mg half an hour to an hour before you try to sleep.
KEY POINT: A natural and effective way to fall asleep faster and enjoy higher quality sleep is to take melatonin supplements.
As these supplements will alter your hormonal balance, you should start with a low dose.
4. Work out more in general.
You probably already know that working out is excellent for numerous aspects of your health, but did you know that it can help you sleep at night?
Review those studies, and you will find some impressive evidence backing up exercise as an insomnia treatment.
In multiple studies, the amount of time that subjects took to fall asleep at night was cut in half once they started working out regularly.
KEY POINT: Exercise is one of the best all-around things you can do for your physical and psychological health.
Research studies have clearly demonstrated that it has ample benefits in the area of sleep.
Work out regularly and you can effectively combat insomnia.
5. Avoid working out late at night—if it bothers you.
There is some evidence that late-night exercise may obstruct sleep for some individuals in the 27-33 age range (42).
This evidence is very limited, but it has become anecdotal.
Furthermore, exercise can help some individuals with performance anxiety to relax (46).
That means that if you suffer from performance anxiety related to falling asleep, working out could feasibly reduce that anxiety.
It may help to dissipate any fight-or-flight response you experience at nighttime.
KEY POINT: Exercising late at night disrupts sleep for some individuals, but not for others.
In some situations, it may even help you relax. Do what is best for you.
If that means avoiding late-night workouts, then avoid them. If it means scheduling them, then do them.
6. Avoid late night caffeine.
But that does not mean that you should be drinking coffee or tea late at night. Doing so may disrupt your sleep.
Hopefully this is intuitively obvious to you given that caffeine is a stimulant that many people drink to stay awake.
In case it isn’t, here is the research (52).
What may surprise you about the study above are the findings regarding timing.
You may figure it is obvious that a cup of coffee an hour before bed is a bad idea.
But drinking caffeine anywhere within six hours of bedtime can disrupt your sleep!
This advice is especially important if you happen to be extra-sensitive to caffeine.
KEY POINT: Caffeine stays in your bloodstream for a surprisingly long time: six to eight hours.
So avoid drinking it within that range before bedtime.
Make it a morning drink, not an evening beverage. Otherwise it may keep you awake.
7. Avoid drinking alcohol at night.
Since alcohol is a depressant, it may seem counterintuitive to assert that it can keep you awake at night.
Nonetheless, the evidence is clear.
When your melatonin levels are low, you have a hard time relaxing for sleep.
To add to the problems, alcohol also suppresses growth hormone (59) levels at night.
Growth hormone is linked to your circadian rhythms and helps you to sleep at night.
KEY POINT: For many people, a drink or two at night is a common way to relax and let go of the day’s worries.
The problem with this is that it can contribute to insomnia in three ways: by inhibiting melatonin secretion, reducing growth hormone levels, and contributing to sleep disorders.
The verdict is clear: if you want good sleep, stay away from alcohol at night.
8. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
Part of maintaining your circadian rhythms is to allow your body to form a reliable, consistent pattern.
That can include staying up later on Friday and Saturday nights and getting up later the following mornings.
If you maintain a consistent schedule of sleep on the other hand, your circadian rhythms will be regular and you will enjoy higher quality sleep (63).
KEY POINT: It may be tempting to alter your sleep schedule to go to bed and get up later on weekends, but this can disrupt sleep throughout the week.
You will catch up on more hours of sleep if you simply opt for a regular, consistent sleep schedule which balances your circadian rhythms.
Go to bed and get up at the same hours each day.
9. Don’t drink a lot of liquids late at night.
If you drink a lot of liquids before bed, you can worsen nocturia if you suffer from it.
And even if you don’t, you could still end up having to get up and use the bathroom a lot in the night.
Obviously you need to stay hydrated overnight, but you should try and reduce your liquid intake for one to two hours before you head to bed.
Always use the bathroom before you try to sleep.
You will fall asleep more quickly if you are not constantly interrupted by the need to get up and urinate.
You will also sleep more soundly through the night if you do not have to wake up to empty your bladder all the time.
KEY POINT: While it is important to stay hydrated, you should try and drink less before bed.
This reduces bathroom interruptions that can keep you awake.
10. Avoid large meals at night.
What time do you get home from work? Five o’clock? Six o’clock? Later?
It can be a challenge not to push dinner until eight or nine at night. But you should do your best to eat your last meal of the day as early in the evening as possible.
Interestingly enough, there are studies which have indicated that a high-carb meal several hours before bed may improve sleep.
This is because these high-carb foods contain tryptophan (71). Tryptophan is an amino acid which produces sleepiness.
Interestingly enough, tryptophan does not always appear to cause sleepiness; it seems to depend on the particular form of intake.
For example, many nuts and seeds are high in tryptophan, but do not seem to produce sleepiness.
Turkey on the other hand is notorious for it.
Turkey is thus a great choice if you want a low-carb alternative to a high-carb meal.
You might want to keep some turkey deli meat around for just this purpose.
Research has also found that a very low carb diet can actually promote deep sleep (72).
KEY POINT: With our long working hours, it can be hard not to eat late at night.
If you can, try to rearrange your schedule after work so that you eat as early as possible.
If you must have a late-night meal, consider a low-carb food which contains tryptophan such as turkey.
11. Stay away from nicotine.
Just as you should avoid caffeine before bed, you should also avoid nicotine.
Nicotine is a stimulant, and it actually contributes to sleep loss in more than one way.
Studies have demonstrated that nicotine can suppress REM sleep and may also increase instances of sleep-related respiratory disorders (73).
This means that nicotine’s drawbacks are not limited simply to short-term sleep disruptions.
Smoking as a long-term habit can produce long-term insomnia.
So even if you avoid smoking before bedtime, smoking earlier in the day can still have an impact.
KEY POINT: Just as excessive caffeine can keep you awake, so can excessive nicotine, since nicotine is a stimulant.
Nicotine is actually far worse for your sleep than caffeine since it can produce long-term sleep-related respiratory disorders.
This means that smoking any time of the day can cause insomnia.
It is best to kick the habit altogether (this will have other outstanding health benefits as well).
12. Avoid napping.
You may have heard that you should take quick “power naps” to recharge during the day.
This can actually be quite effective, but longer naps can make you sleepy.
The reason for this comes back to your circadian rhythms.
You want your body’s internal clock to run as consistently as possible.
That way your body always knows when it is daytime (time to be awake) and when it is nighttime (time to be asleep).
Research has indicated that if you nap for 30 minutes or less, you can improve your brain power (thus the term “power nap”).
But if you nap for longer than half an hour, you can suffer from poor-quality sleep during the night (76).
That said, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to napping. It seems that the effects vary from person to person.
If you nap regularly, your body may get used to it, and it may not disrupt your nighttime sleep.
KEY POINT: If you do not nap regularly, your body may be confused by naps that are longer than 30 minutes.
If you find that napping seems to disrupt your nighttime sleep, it probably is.
Try skipping the naps. It may be hard at first, but may ultimately result in better sleep at night and less fatigue during the day.
13. Reduce background noise and light in your room.
While the choices you make concerning food and beverages can have an impact on your sleep, your environment plays a role as well.
It is important to have what is known as “good sleep hygiene.”
Sleep hygiene simply refers to a set of habits and practices which improve sleep.
One example is to reduce the brightness of your household lights a couple of hours before you go to bed.
You may want to sleep in an environment which is dimly lit or completely dark.
Studies have shown that reducing brightness and noise can improve sleep (80).
Traffic noise can be particularly problematic. But you can also experience interference from nearby conversations, music, snoring, pets, and so on.
Do what you can to make your bedroom a quiet, dark, peaceful, relaxing environment.
KEY POINT: Numerous studies indicate that random background noises can feed into insomnia.
Bright conditions also make it hard to sleep.
Dim your lights a couple hours before bed, and do what you can to make the room you sleep in as quiet and dark as possible.
14. Get a white noise machine.
While random background noises can disrupt sleep, certain types of noise can actually help to induce sleep - namely white noise.
What exactly is white noise?
White noise is sound where the output power for all frequencies are identical, producing a flat frequency spectrum.
It derives its name from white light.
Every band in the spectrum of white light is equally bright.
White light is incredibly good at screening out background noises. This is why many people comment that the sound of rain helps them sleep.
It tends to screen out traffic noises, conversations, and other distractions. White noise also can block out tinnitus.
In one study, two randomized groups were asked to try and fall asleep. One group was exposed to white noise, the other was not.
Only 25% of the control group fell asleep spontaneously. Eighty percent of the group that listened to the white noise fell asleep (85).
The researchers also commented that white noise can help babies to sleep.
As a crying baby will keep you awake, this is yet another way in which white noise can fight insomnia and help you get a full night of rest!
KEY POINT: Random noises make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
White noise is proven effective for blocking out random noises. It can help you to get to sleep faster and sleep through the night.
This is also a great option if you dislike sleeping in total silence.
15. Sleep in a comfortable temperature.
Have a quiet, dark environment in which to sleep, but still struggling?
If you do not have a temperature-controlled environment, that could be a big part of the problem.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that body and bedroom temperature have a profound effect on sleep quality.
One study even demonstrated that bedroom temperature has a greater impact on sleep quality than noise levels (92).
KEY POINT: Excessively high or low body or bedroom temperature can disrupt sleep even more than annoying background noises.
Aim for a temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or whatever you are comfortable with.
16. Consider taking a bath or shower.
Even though you do not want to be excessively warm in bed, a warm, relaxing bath or shower before bed is often a good idea.
You may want to avoid this in summertime as a hot bath or shower can raise your body temperature for some time after you step out.
KEY POINT: While you do not want to raise your body temperature excessively before bed, a warm bath, shower, or footbath can often aid sleep.
A warm bath can relax both body and mind.
17. Make sure you have a comfortable bed.
Still can’t sleep? Waking up with back or shoulder pain?
It could be that it is time to replace your mattress or pillow.
What is the right type of mattress? The studies above indicate that there is no single “best” answer. Personal preference plays a key role.
There are some patterns.
One study found that people who are used to sleeping on cotton mattresses have a hard time sleeping when they switch to foam mattresses (105).
So if you have recently switched from one type of mattress to another, you may experience some insomnia as your body adjusts to the new sleeping surface.
Another study found that airbeds seem to improve sleep for patients who suffer from chronic back pain (106).
Over time, wear on mattresses can reduce the level of support they provide.
For this reason, you should think about replacing your mattress every five to eight years.
You also should look into replacing flat pillows which can no longer support your neck and head appropriately.
KEY POINT: If you are not sleeping well despite taking other steps to ensure a comfortable sleeping environment, your mattress or pillow could be to blame.
Make sure that you are sleeping on a mattress which provides ample support.
If your current mattress is not working for you, consider replacing it.
18. Do something to relax your mind.
Another habit that tends to keep people awake at night is taking their problems to bed with them.
It is important to look for a way to clear your mind and relax your body.
A massage can also go a long way (110).
There are numerous different methods you can use to accomplish this.
Deep breathing works well for some people, while others benefit from visualization exercises.
You can try mindfulness meditation, a hot bath, relaxing music, or reading a book.
There is no “best” approach. Just choose the technique that works for you.
KEY POINT: Relaxation techniques can help to clear your mind before bed.
When you disengage from the day’s problems, it is much easier to fall asleep.
Pick a method that works for you and make it the last thing you do each night before sleep.
19. Check with a doctor to eliminate the possibility of a sleep disorder.
Insomnia is extremely prevalent. The National Institute of Health reports that around 30% of adults report one or more symptoms of insomnia.
Most of the time, insomnia is a psychological or behavioral condition or the result of poor sleep hygiene.
But sometimes there is an underlying physiological disorder.
If you have consistent problems sleeping and the other suggestions on this list do not solve your problem, you should strongly consider scheduling an appointment with a sleep specialist.
You could have an underlying sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.
For some patients, these disruptions are so frequent that they make it almost impossible to get sufficient deep sleep, even if it seems the patient is sleeping through the night.
Sleep apnea is actually very common. Approximately nine percent of women and 24% of men may have a mild or severe form of it (113).
Workers in certain occupations with rotating or unusual schedules may be particularly prone to circadian disorders.
KEY POINT: Insomnia is not usually a sign of an underlying sleep disorder, but sleep disorders are more common than you may realize.
If in doubt, see a sleep specialist for diagnosis.
20. Treat any underlying psychological disorders.
Sometimes the underlying cause of insomnia is not a physiological disorder, but a psychological one.
In fact, according to one research overview (118), there seems to be a strong casual link between depression and anxiety and insomnia.
In fact, insomnia is more than twice as prevalent among depressed individuals than it is within non-depressed populations.
While researchers are still not sure of the exact nature of the link, it is easy to imagine how depression or anxiety might contribute to poor sleep.
It is difficult to drift off when you cannot let go of your problems and worries.
Moreover, patients who suffer from anxiety may start to associate anxiety with bedtime.
They may build up performance anxiety around the process of falling asleep. This in itself may end up keeping them awake.
Certain psychological disorders are also associated with other sleep disorders.
Individuals who suffer from PTSD may experience a number of sleep disturbances (119).
These disturbances can create disruptions which lead to insomnia.
KEY POINT: It could be that your insomnia is the result of a psychological disorder such as depression, PTSD, or anxiety.
Treating the underlying disorder may be necessary in order to effectively treat the insomnia.
21. Try Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Regardless of the primary cause of your insomnia, cognitive-behavioral therapy may prove effective in treating your condition (120).
Here are some common CBT techniques used to treat insomnia:
Stimulus control therapy
The goal here is to learn to re-associate your bed with sleep.
So you only use your bed for sleep and sex, and avoid using it for other activities (i.e. watching TV).
You also might get up and go do something else if you cannot fall asleep within a certain timeframe, and only come back to bed when you feel sleepy.
Avoiding naps and keeping a consistent sleep schedule may also fall under this bracket.
This is one aspect of CBT for insomnia that we have already discussed.
Your goal is to make sure that your bed and bedroom are comfortable and that your lifestyle habits do not disrupt your sleep (i.e. no smoking or drinking before bed).
The goal of this method is to learn to adjust your heart rate, muscle tension, and other physical processes.
22. Avoid looking at the clock.
A lot of insomnia sufferers worry about getting enough sleep.
As a result, they lie awake (or think they do) for a few hours, then get up and look at the clock.
When they see that they are indeed running out of time to get the sleep they need for the night, their anxiety rises and they have an even harder time sleeping.
They then get up and look again, and so on.
Looking at the clock is a bad habit when it comes to sleep.
Ironically, it teaches your brain the habit that you should be awake to stare at the clock at certain times of the night.
You do it every night after all, so your body and brain start viewing it as an expectation.
This can even wake some people up out of a dead sleep.
The performance anxiety it fuels then causes further difficulties falling and staying asleep.
KEY POINT: Looking at the clock in the night to check if you are getting enough sleep is a bad habit.
It leads to performance anxiety and also teaches your body that you need to keep waking up to check.
The solution? Just don’t do it. Trust your body to get the sleep it needs.
23. Take healthy supplements to promote sleep.
Earlier I talked about taking melatonin for sleep.
While melatonin is one great natural option, it may not be the right choice for every person.
Thankfully there are a number of other supplements which you can try to promote good sleep.
Note that valerian takes a few weeks to really kick in, so if you do not notice an effect right away, keep taking it (around 500 mg before bed).
This herb is excellent for reducing stress and improving memory. It also can help to improve the quality of your sleep.
This amino acid has also demonstrated great results for improving sleep.
Make sure that the lavender you are taking contains 25-46% linalool.
This supplement has been proven effective as a sleep aid in both animal and human research trials (143).
You can take passionflower in liquid or tablet form.
What about chamomile?
Chamomile isn’t in this list because it has not been extensively researched in human beings.
So even though it is a traditional anecdote for sleep, it may not be the most powerful choice.
Still, in animal studies it has been shown to be effective.
For many people, it may have a soothing associative effect too, which may reduce the performance anxiety that feeds into insomnia.
KEY POINT: There are a number of different herbs you can try to promote high quality of sleep and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
It is best to try just one at a time as results may vary from person to person. You do not want to overdo it.
Conclusion: With Science on Your Side, You Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It is no fun tossing and tuning in the small hours of the morning, but you can get a full, restful night of sleep.
Even if you are a chronic insomnia sufferer, there is a lot that you can do to relax your body and mind, drift off faster, and wake up less during the night.
Try some of these scientifically backed sleep hacks.
Be diligent, tackle the problem in several different ways, and try not to fixate too much on the results.
Over time, you should see improvements!
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