Falling asleep is meant to be effortless. You just lie down, close your eyes and wait for sweet slumber to kick in.
But for millions this is not the case. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 people suffer from some kind of insomnia, many of whom experience difficult falling asleep.
Anxiety is one of the main causes of being unable to fall asleep easily and naturally. If you go to be bed anxious and worried, you’ll likely have trouble falling asleep fast.
But don’t fret. We’ve got a round up of some practical, research-based tips and tricks to help you reach the land of nod in no time. First of all, let’s take a look at some of the science of falling asleep.
How long should it take to fall asleep?
According to research, for a healthy individual it should take between 10-20 minutes to transition from wakefulness to sleep.
Anything outside this timespan indicates a problem. If you take too little time to fall asleep this could be a sign of sleep deprivation.
If your sleep latency is longer than average, you might be suffering from what the professionals call sleep onset insomnia, defined as difficulty initiating asleep.
Minutes to fall asleep
Daytime Sleepiness Risk
Figures from Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT)/Wikipedia
So if you’re among the unfortunate ones who finds it difficult to fall sleeping, don’t worry, science has your back. This might require you to make some changes in your bedroom/sleep environment, or perhaps switch up your night-time routine. Here are 20 research-backed tips to help you fall asleep fast (but not too fast!).
1) Sleeping position matters
It has been scientifically-proven that people who tend to sleep on their back are more prone to sleep disorders like sleep apnea and lower back pain. This could result in difficulty falling asleep and sleep deprivation.
To avoid any blockage in your airways caused by your sleeping position, it is advised to sleep on your side, as this is more beneficial for your heart, in particular if you are pregnant as it prevents heartburn and reflux. Keep in mind therefore, that sleeping position does matter if you have difficulty snoozing.
2) Change your pillow
Sleeping on the wrong pillow could be cause of poor sleep quality thanks to discomfort and chronic back and neck pain which in turn make it more difficult to fall asleep on a regular basis.
You should consider a proper neck pillow which will keep your neck in a straight line, or even use two pillows, one for the head and one between your knees which can keep your hips in a neutral position.
3) Lay on a quality sleep surface
Studies show that sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress, is probably one of the most common reasons for a bad night’s. sleep.Scientists indeed have found an obvious correlation between improvement in sleep and making small changes in mattress support. A study published in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association showed that lumbar support enables a more even distribution of pressure across the pelvic, lumbar and thoracic areas, while limiting compressive and shearing forces on the spine.
In this case, it is important to consider switching to a new mattress if you old one is saggy, worn out or pokey. Deciding to get a good quality mattress, this is definitely a step closer to falling asleep faster and getting a better sleep overall.
4) Wear comfortable clothes
There is a direct correlation between sleep and core body temperature as studies suggest. It has been found that sleep onset insomnia relates to a delayed temperature rhythm. Wearing comfortable sleepwear or no clothes at all, will help regulate your body temperature better and help you snooze faster.
An increasing number of studies indicate that exposing yourself to blue screens and smartphones before going to bed, disrupts with your quality of sleep. It is best advised that you switch off all electronic devices an hour or two before going to bed, which helps fall asleep faster.
9) Put on some calming music
If you think loud music is the worst companion when trying to sleep, this is true. Instead, research evidence exemplifies how music with slow rhythm of 60 to 80 beats a minute, can boost sleep quality and make you peaceful, relaxed and ready to fall asleep. In fact, studies show that classical music in particular can have a healing effect on people with depression.
10) Avoid exposure to noise
What you need especially if you have trouble sleeping is a quiet sleep environment. A 2016 study examining the quality of sleep and the factors influencing sleep duration, indicated that noise was among the most commonly reported reasons for poor sleep.
A great way to isolate noises is through using a white noise sleep device. These sort of machines help mask any unwanted sounds leaving you undistracted to fall asleep.
11) Turn down the lights before bedtime
Apart from tablets and smartphones, blue-light sleep intrusions most commonly occur as a result of fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights. Experts advise to dim the lights the hours before you go to bed, so as to keep your sleep environment as dark as possible.
12) Try some aromatherapy with lavender
Use lavender oil to relax your body, lower blood pressure and get in calm mood. It has been empirically proven that sniffing lavender oil may lead to deeper levels of sleep and waking up refreshed in the morning.
According to an Oxford University study published in 2002, insomniacs who practise visualization, like a relaxing scene, fell asleep 20 minutes fasters than those told to count sheep or do nothing as they were trying to fall asleep.
So, stop counting sheep and start visualizing a peaceful environment like a beach or waterfall when you have trouble sleeping.
14) Try a candle-lit dinner
According to Harvard Health Publications, exposure to light of any sort can suppress the body’s production of melatonin, a substance which correlates to our sleep-wake cycle.
This is particularly the case for blue light and LED, which means it is best to avoid them at all cause, and even try having dinner by candle light if necessary.
15) Meditate or try acupressure
There is little chance you can fall asleep if you are all stressed out. In fact, experts insist that anxiety and stress are among the most important factors contributing to insomnia and other sleep disorders.
The best way to deal with stress, is through meditation, yoga, and alternative medicine like acupressure. Meditation has been proven to improve the symptoms of insomnia, as people who meditate tend to sleep longer and better. Even a mere 10-15 minutes of meditation a day can make a difference.
Acupressure is also an effective way to combat anxiety and release stressed muscles from pressure and pain. It seems that this alternative Chinese method is becoming favourable in the Western world as it creates a balance in all areas of the body and mind. Specific acupressure techniques could alleviate symptoms of insomnia.
16) Keep a consistent sleep routine
There is no better way to prepare your body for sleep than keeping a stable sleep schedule. Our sleep-wake cycle is controlled by our internal clock, found in the area of the brain called suprachiasmatic nucleus.
Having unstable sleep habits can make it even more prone to sleep disorders, whereas if you stick to a regular sleep routine, the body will adapt and prepare on its own for sleep.
Although this may sound impossible, try to follow a strict bedtime schedule as it is of the most crucial factors to succeed in falling asleep faster and restore restful sleep.
17) Skip the late snacks and heavy meals
Although it may not cross your mind, sticking to a healthy diet could be a critical way to fall asleep faster. If you tend to consume foods like chocolate or any fatty and spicy foods, especially if it is close to bedtime, your body will not have sufficient time to digest, which it does best when standing or sitting.
In addition, you might want to try potassium, which appears to increase sleep efficiency. Hence, recommended foods are soy products, bananas, milk, avocados, egg yolks, oily fish, and spinach which are good sources of all the above nutrients.
Establish a routine of eating a light, early dinner and you will be one step closer to a restful sleep.
18) Stay away from caffeine, alcohol and medications
One of the most frequent reasons for poor sleep, is excessive alcohol, caffeine or medications. It seems that energy drinks even 8 hours before bedtime can cause adrenaline surge and get your hormones bustling when hitting the sack.
So, it is best to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon as your body will not have substantial time to process the chemical and you will not succeed to fall asleep as fast as you want it to.
19) Avoid exercise late at night
According to different research studies, despite all exercise is considered healthy, not all exercise is good for your health. For instance, there are some negative repercussions that come with exercising late in the afternoon or in the evening. Instead of treating insomnia, this may lead to you buzzing when you go to bed rather than falling asleep due to being tired.
The best time to exercise if you are battling insomnia is in the morning to experience deeper sleep cycles and if anything, no later than 4-6 hours before going to bed.
This is due to the fact that exercising lifts your metabolism levels and increases your core body temperature, which in turn inhibits sleep. You should also try to stick to a consistent workout pattern for your body to get used to this routine.
20) Don’t nap during the day
Despite how relieving it may seem to take an afternoon nap following a long day, researchers found that this could upset your sleep cycle to such an extent that you will have trouble falling asleep when its bedtime.
Still, there has been recent evidence suggesting that taking a 30 minute nap could reverse the hormonal impact of a poor night’s sleep. As a general rule however, you should try to limit naps during the day if you suffer from insomnia, and if it’s completely necessary to take a nap, this should not last longer than 30 minutes so that it does not interfere with your normal sleep-wake cycle.
Having difficulty falling asleep can be frustrating, especially if it becomes a regular phenomenon. Given the importance of a good night’s sleep, you should leave this untreated. However, there is no need to panic or get obsessed with it.
Instead, take a positive stance towards the matter and following some or all of the techniques proposed in this article, could prove beneficial in order to enhance your sleep quality. Keep in mind that the more of these strategies you take up, the more likely it is to fall asleep faster.
Jeff is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sleep Junkies . A passionate sleep advocate, he started the site in 2012, reaching millions of readers across the globe. Jeff also runs the product curation platform SleepGadgets.io . He is often asked to speak at about current trends in consumer sleep technology at various events.