Dealing with insomnia, sleeplessness, or anxiety can impact your life in so many negative ways.
It’s hard to focus on anything, be it work, parenting, or even basic tasks when you’re low on sleep.
Thankfully, there are some easy and effective techniques you can employ to help you fall asleep faster and sleep soundly all night
1. Breathing Techniques
Breathing is the most important thing you do day in and day out, but you’re hardly thinking about it.
If you’re trying to fall asleep quickly, try breathing intentionally. Take slow, steady, deep breaths to start, and if that doesn’t make your heart rate go down, you can use these more focused techniques.
The 4-7-8 Method was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. He recommends sitting with your back straight in an upright position while you do it.
- Start by placing your tongue against the tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there for the entire exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing noise
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose while counting to four
- Hold your breath while you count to seven
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making an audible whooshing noise while counting to eight
- Now repeat this cycle three more times
Don’t get too caught up in timing this exercise perfectly–just make sure you stick to the 4-7-8 ratio. The more you practice it, the more effective it will be— so we recommend trying it during the day and then again at night before bed.
10 Second Method
Often touted as the fastest way to fall asleep (a purported 10 seconds), this method was developed to help pilots in training to fall asleep quickly even with loud noises in the background or caffeine in their system. Impressive!
Here’s how you do it:
- Relax your entire face
- Drop your shoulders, releasing tension in your neck and behind your ears
- Let your arms and hands fall to the side of your body
- Exhale, letting your chest fall
- Relax your legs, thighs, and calves
- Clear your mind by imagining a calm scene
- If you aren’t fully relaxed yet, repeat the words “don’t think” to yourself for 10 seconds
- You should fall asleep quickly
2. Head Games
Beyond your basic breathing techniques, you can train your mind to slow down. If your brain is wired, your body will follow, leading you into an endless cycle of insomnia.
Use the following methods to calm your brain and relax your body:
Meditation involves clearing your mind and paying attention to your breath, which we went over in the last section. It can take a lot of practice to meditate well.
Because we’re so used to constant distractions, clearing the mind for even a few seconds is strangely challenging.
However, once you master it, it can slow your heart rate and trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing stress during the day and anxious, cycling thoughts at night.
Therapists and psychologists use visualization techniques to help patients with anxiety, depression, and stress. But can imagining something really have that much of an impact?
How do you institute your own guided imagery practice for a more serene night of sleep? Start with basic image distraction: close your eyes and imagine yourself in a calm, peaceful place. It could be a place from your memories or one you make up, like an empty beach with rustling palm trees.
You’re nodding off already, aren’t you? If simply being in this relaxing headspace isn’t enough, you can imagine yourself doing a repetitive but positive activity, like shooting free-throws.
List Your Worries
It may seem counter-intuitive, but writing down everything that’s keeping you up can lead to a better night’s sleep. A psychologist named James Pennebaker developed this method in the 1980s. For the most effective results, write freely without thinking–we like to call this a brain dump–and get everything out that’s bothering you.
When you write about your worries, you free up space in your head for other things—like thinking about a gentle stream or a breezy beach. Practicing this regularly allows you to drift off to sleep easily and saves your stresses for another time.
Don’t Think About It!
When all else fails, just stop thinking about sleeping. When your mind is focused on one thing, it tends to play that over and over, keeping you awake. Move your clock out of your room so you’re not obsessively checking it.
Get up and walk around your house for a little bit, or try a simple activity like reading a book or playing sudoku. Whatever you do, don’t turn on the TV or look at your phone. The blue light from screens can interfere with your melatonin production, keeping you up even longer.
3. Physical Techniques
The mind and body are inseparably connected, so if one is out of order, the other will soon follow. If the mental approach doesn’t seem to be putting you to sleep faster, facing the problem from the physical side of things might be the key.
Yoga combines purposeful breathing with slow, disciplined movements designed to relax and stretch your body. A survey found that over 55% of people who did yoga discovered that it positively impacted their sleep, while 85% said it reduced their stress.
Most of the time, sleeplessness is a symptom of anxiety, so it would make sense that those who practiced yoga began sleeping better.
Even if you suffer from other sleep disorders unrelated to anxiety, yoga can be helpful because it’s been linked to lots of other health benefits. If yoga sounds intimidating to you, just start with some easy stretches.
Acupressure can be incredibly effective. It literally involves “pressing your buttons,” or spots on your body that seem to build up tension and pressure more than others. Currently, there’s not enough research on the efficacy of acupressure, but it won’t hurt to try it out!
This point is located on the crease of your outer wrist below your pinky finger. Feel for the indented or hollow space at this point and apply gentle pressure in a circular or up-and-down motion. Continue this for 2-3 minutes.
Apply pressure to the left side of the point for a few seconds, and then do the same with the right side. Repeat on your other hand. This pressure point is associated with a calm mind, so stimulating it can help you drop off into a peaceful slumber.
Three Yin Intersection
This pressure point is on your inner leg just above your ankle. To easily find it, just count four finger widths up your leg from your ankle; then apply deep pressure using circulation motions for a few seconds. Don’t use this technique if you’re pregnant, since it can induce labor.
Inner Frontier Gate
You’ll see this pressure point on your inner forearm between those two knotted tendons (right below your wrist). Apply a steady downward pressure here and massage in a circular or up-and-down motion for 4-5 seconds.
You’ll find these points by following the mastoid bones behind your ears down towards your neck. Hold your hands together, palms open and fingers interlocked. Use your thumbs to apply pressure toward your skull in circular motions. Breathe deeply as you stimulate these pressure points.
4. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
This relaxation technique will relieve built-up tension, but the way it’s done is a little bit counter-intuitive.
First, inhale as you tense up the area that feels tight, then exhale as you release the tension.
Try the exercise in different sections of the body as you lay in bed. This not only relieves strain in the body, but it can lull you to sleep.
5. Sleeping Positions
While there’s no one “perfect” sleep position to help you sleep better, there are some things you can adjust in this area to avoid sleep deprivation.
- Side sleepers: Side sleeping is the most common position (41% of people sleep this way). Side sleepers should sleep on a medium mattress or softer. They will want a bed with soft support and a pillow with a medium loft to ensure their hips, back, and spine does not get thrown out of alignment, negatively affecting their sleep quality.
- Back and stomach sleepers: Back and stomach sleepers need firm support. Back sleepers should look for a broad pillow that supports their shoulders, while stomach sleepers will need a softer, moldable pillow and maybe an additional pillow to place between their legs.
6. You Are What You Eat (And Drink)
Yes, sadly you need to watch what you consume before bed to ensure you get better sleep. Acid reflux and heartburn can flare up as you lay down flat because your stomach acid creeps up into your esophagus.
Anyone who deals with reflux or gastrointestinal issues knows how disruptive they can be. Avoid spicy or heavy foods four hours before bed to avoid any flare-ups.
To get a good night’s sleep, avoid drinking any caffeine a few hours before you hit the hay.
If you absolutely need a bedtime drink, try herbal tea—chamomile, valerian root, lavender, and lemon balm are some of the better options for sleep.
7. Set Yourself Up
We spend one-third of our lives in bed, so making that space a veritable oasis is in your best interest.
Here are some ways you can turn your room into the ideal sleep environment, ensuring you’ll be able to fall asleep fast and stay that way all night.
Temperature regulation (or lack thereof) is a common woe for many who struggle with sleep. In fact, your body temperature naturally begins to lower when it’s time to go to bed, signaling your brain to drift off into slumber.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal room temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. If that sounds too chilly for you (or too expensive), try cracking a window or using a fan.
Additionally, your bedding impacts your body temperature while you sleep, so investing in a cooling mattress and sheets can elevate your nighttime experience even more.
Some people find certain scents relax them, so try lavender or chamomile in the form of candles, incense, or essential oil diffusers.
Decreasing your exposure to bright lights a few hours before bedtime will help your circadian rhythms remain intact. Try dimming the lights in your room, use blackout curtains, and avoid any bright screens.
Checking your phone before bed can trigger anxiety and disrupt your melatonin production.
A study by Harvard researchers looked at participants’ sleep habits before bed. They found that those who used a blue light-emitting screen before bed took an average of 10 more minutes to fall asleep than those who didn’t.
Staring at screens also decreases your R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. R.E.M. is the most important phase of sleep because of the restorative processes that occur during it—so spending less time in this phase will cause you to wake up feeling groggy and lethargic.
Establish a Routine
Most successful sleepers have one thing in common: they establish and stick to a bedtime routine.
This will look different for everyone, but those who go to bed and wake up at around the same time every day will get their bodies into the habit of falling asleep without any setbacks.
Take a Warm Bath
Warm water relaxes your muscles, so taking a quick dip in the tub before bed will kill two birds with one stone–you’ll get clean and you’ll prepare your body for rest.
The warm bath also makes your body temperature rise, and when you get out of the bath, the natural cooling-down triggers drowsiness.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
Adults should be getting anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep every night, depending on their individual needs, schedule, and other factors.
Practice good sleep hygiene by establishing a routine, creating an ideal environment for sleep, and avoiding bright screens at least one hour before bed.
Additionally, try some of the breathing or muscle-relaxing techniques we outlined above to fall asleep fast.