Last updated on May 10th, 2018

Does it take you hours to drop off to sleep? Here are some scientifically proven strategies to fall asleep fast.

In scientific terminology, the measure of falling asleep is known as sleep latency. In a healthy individual it should take around 10-20 minutes to transit from a state of 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.

What’s the right way to fall asleep?

William C. Dement, considered the father of modern sleep science, created the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT),  as a way to diagnose sleep disorders charactized by excessive daytime sleepiness.

It works on the basis that those who are already sleep are more likely to fall asleep faster than those who are well rested.

The full test involves a series of scheduled daytime naps in a sleep lab, with all the wires and sensors that go with a standard polysomnography test and the purpose of the test is to determine sleep latency (ie the time it takes to transition from wake to sleep).

However, many of the best sleep trackers these days can also give you an idea of your sleep latency time as they can also calculate how long it takes to fall asleep. The official MSLT figures say that a healthy person takes between 10-20 minutes to fall asleep. Any less than this and you are probably sleep deprived.

Minutes to fall asleepDaytime Sleepiness Risk
0–5Severe
5–10Troublesome
10–15Manageable
15–20Excellent

Figures from Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT)/Wikipedia

Sleep and its absence

Sleep is essential to keep us alive and fully functional. It has been found that people who are sleep deprived not only prove to be less productive, gain weight and tend to be moody, but also the overall health of the brain is severely affected by substantial lack of sleep and leads to cognitive impairment.

A Gallup poll conducted in 2013 among a random sample of 1,031 adults, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, indicated that 40% of Americans feel they don’t get enough sleep.

This finding is confirmed by reports from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke which show that around 60 million American adults experience insomnia in a year. Based on the same source, another 40 million experience long-term sleep disorders.

If you are among the unfortunate ones who experience difficulty sleeping, science has your back with some effective ways and strategies to help fall asleep faster. These require to make some instant changes in your bedroom/sleep environment, or proceed with some more drastic and long-term lifestyle changes which can reduce or eliminate these incidents of sleep disruption.

The suggestion is to try one or more of these techniques combined for getting results in less time and return to a normal sleep cycle.

Bedroom/Sleep environment changes

There are a number of things which can influence how fast your fall asleep at night. Your sleep habits and bedroom environment is definitely one of the things worth considering when it comes to sleep disruptions.

In this case, it has been empirically proven that if you try to change some of the circumstances when you sleep, it will be easier to hit the sack. Here we review some of the most effective ways which can prove beneficial in the long run.

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

Sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress, is probably one of the most common reasons for a bad night’s sleep. In fact, a mattress has been reported by 9 in 10 participants in a sleep survey, as a critical factor to quality 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.

>> You might like: What Are The Benefits of Sleeping  Naked?

5) A warm shower is all it takes

Empirical findings indicate that insomniacs have a higher core body temperature before bedtime, which leads to more arousal and difficulty falling asleep. Although it may seem weird, taking a warm shower and entering a cool room will slow down your metabolism and contribute to falling asleep faster.

In fact, it is recommend that you follow the same shower ritual every night before going to bed, so that you prepare your body for sleep.

6) Ensure a cool room temperature

If you don’t prefer taking a hot shower before bedtime to decrease your body temperature, you can try cooling down the room temperature to 65 degrees as this according to The National Sleep Foundation and researchers is just the right temperature to slow down the heart rate, digestion and help you fall asleep faster.

7) Put on your socks to bed

Research shows that warm feet and hands best predict a quick sleep onset. This means that having cold feet literally obstructs falling asleep faster and hence the National Sleep Foundation suggests wearing socks to warm your feet before going to bed, to prepare your body for sleep.

>> You might like: The science of wearing socks to sleep (yes, seriously)

8) Turn off electronic devices

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, it has been found 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 machine. This sort of device helps minimize any unwanted sounds leaving you undistracted to fall asleep.

11) Prefer low lighting 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 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.

>> You might like: The Best Herbs For Sleep and Relaxation

13) Let your imagination free

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.

Lifestyle changes

Although it may not seem relevant, there are a number of things you do during the day which affect the extent to which you can fall asleep fast at night. For instance, this could range from what you eat and drink, to how you have dinner, whether you exercise or not and when, to how stressed you are when you go to bed.

In this sense, scientists have found that if you practice some of the lifestyle habits listed below, it will be easier to fall asleep when you hit the sack.

14) Prefer candle light 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) Deal with your stress through meditation or acupressure

There is little chance you can fall asleep if you are all stressed out. In fact, experts cohort 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.

Using 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.

Instead, you should try to avoid dinner at least 4 hours before going to bed, and in general try to eat nutrients which facilitate sleep, such as magnesium, as well as carbohydrates, vitamin D and selenium.

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 minutes 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.

Conclusion

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.

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