You've got your PJs on, teeth brushed and lights out. But then you get under the covers and...you can't fall asleep, no matter how hard you try. Whether it's stress, caffeine or noise, there are plenty of things that can keep you up at night. Luckily, though, there are also a few tricks to help you fall asleep fast.
In general, adults should aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And falling asleep is the first part of that puzzle. Most people take between 5 and 20 minutes to fall asleep, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But things like anxiety or a bedroom that's too bright can extend sleep latency (the time it takes you to start snoozing).
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Try these eight sleep-expert-approved methods to hit the hay without delay.
1. Get to Know Your Chronotype
Your chronotype is your body's natural inclination to sleep and be awake at certain times: Typically, you're either a morning type, evening type or neither.
Your chronotype is partly determined by genetics, but it can be modified by age, activity, your environment and the change of seasons, according to an October 2018 review in Nature of Science and Sleep.
And getting on a sleep schedule that suits your chronotype can benefit your snoozes. For instance, if your body intuitively rises when it gets light outside, consider adjusting your bedtime accordingly so you can get enough shut-eye before your natural wake-up.
"The reason [knowing your chronotype] is important is that by waking up at the same time each day, your body does two things: It turns off the melatonin faucet in your head, which stops the sleep process, and lowers brain fog," says Michael J. Breus, PhD, board-certified sleep specialist and clinical psychologist. "It also sets a timer for when melatonin should start the sleep process so you get in bed just as your brain is ready to sleep — this will speed up your sleep onset latency quite a bit."
On the flip side, adapting a sleep cycle that isn't in line with your natural rhythms can mess with your sleep quality and your ability to fall asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. And per the Cleveland Clinic, chronic lack of quality sleep can lead to physical and emotional issues such as:
- Impaired alertness
- Mood swings
- Increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke
While you may already know if you're a morning type, evening type or somewhere in between, there are assessments you can take for more insight into your chronotype, like this questionnaire from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.
2. Try a Power-Down Hour
A power-down hour helps you wrap up your day and get ready for sleep before bedtime. It helps your body decompress and sends the message that it will soon be time to drift off to dreamland, says holistic psychiatrist. Jodie Skillicorn, DO.
You can break up the hour into three 20-minute sessions in the following way:
- In the first 20 minutes, complete light, unfinished tasks like cleaning dishes or feeding a pet.
- In the second 20 minutes, do something to help you wind down, like journaling, talking to a friend or doing a relaxation technique (think: meditating, deep breathing, light yoga).
- In the last 20 minutes, focus on your personal hygiene by brushing your teeth or taking a warm bath or shower.
3. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique where you contract and then relax your muscles to release tension.
One way to try progressive muscle relaxation is by tensing and releasing the muscles in your toes and then slowly working your way up the rest of your body. Each time you squeeze your muscles, hold it for about five seconds, then relax for 30 seconds before moving to the next body part.
- Slowing your breathing rate
- Reducing activity of stress hormones
- Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
- Lowering your blood pressure
4. Do the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Deep breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) can help you disengage from distracting thoughts and sensations and take in oxygen more fully, according to Harvard Health Publishing. All of this can help your body fall into a restful state that may help you go to sleep faster.
Not sure where to start? Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Here's how to give it a go:
- Get into a comfortable position (you can lay down, sit or stand).
- Inhale for 4 seconds.
- Hold the breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale slowly for 8 seconds (you can even make a whooshing sound as you release your breath).
- Repeat as long as it takes to help you feel more relaxed.
5. Try Self-Hypnosis
Whether or not you believe in the power of hypnosis, it may be a useful tool to help you fall asleep faster and get a good night's rest.
Hypnosis is a state of heightened focus or concentration that can be accomplished with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental imagery, according to the Mayo Clinic. When you're in a hypnotic state, you're hyper-focused on an idea or outcome and more receptive to new thoughts.
And this mindset can benefit your shut-eye: Indeed, a February 2018 review in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that hypnotherapy can improve your sleep quality. However, more research is needed to better establish this link.
If a trip to the hypnotherapist isn't for you, you can turn to a research-based hypnosis app like Reveri, Breus says.
6. Do a 'Closure of the Day' Exercise
It can be hard to ease into sleep if you're worried about your lengthy to-do list. If your worries about the day ahead are keeping you up at night, try a "closure of the day" exercise.
"Reflect on your day, make a to-do list for the following day and address any thoughts that come up," says Allison Siebern, PhD, certified behavioral sleep medicine professional and Proper's head sleep science advisor.
"This practice of setting aside time at the end of every day will help you essentially close up shop and prevent any free-floating thoughts from arising at bedtime or in the middle of the night," she says.
Just don't do this activity too close to bedtime (within an hour), as you might start to connect bedtime with your worries or to-do list, which could potentially make it more difficult to fall asleep. Make sure there's a clear separation between the "closure of the day" and your bedtime routine.
7. Eat Foods That Contain Melatonin
It's possible to eat your way to better sleep: "Certain foods that contain melatonin — a hormone our bodies naturally produce to regulate the sleep-wake cycle — and/or tryptophan can help with sleep," Siebern says.
Here are some foods to eat before bed that contain these ingredients:
- Meat like chicken and turkey breast
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruits like grapes, cherries, bananas and kiwi
8. Be More Optimistic
It turns out that being optimistic can affect more than just your outlook on life — it may also improve the quality of your sleep. For instance, a January 2017 study in Chronobiology International found that optimism and sleep have a reciprocal relationship: Optimism can fuel better sleep, and better sleep can lead to more optimism.
Of course, "be more optimistic" is easier said than done. But doing a simple gratitude exercise is a good place to start. Simply writing down two or three things you're grateful for can cultivate more positive feelings. Indeed, research has linked gratitude with better sleep, including a March 2015 study in Spirituality in Clinical Practice.
- Mayo Clinic: "Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to reduce stress"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response"
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: "Hypnosis Intervention Effects on Sleep Outcomes: A Systematic Review"
- Cleveland Clinic: "If You Fall Asleep Instantly — Is That a Good Thing?"
- Chronobiology International: "Sleep and optimism": A longitudinal study of bidirectional causal relationship and its mediating and moderating variables in a Chinese student sample"
- CDC: "How Much Sleep Do I Need?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hypnosis"
- Nature and Science of Sleep: "Impact of seasons on an individual’s chronotype": current perspectives
- University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine: " Composite Morningness Questionnaire"
- National Sleep Foundation: "Circadian Rhythm"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep (And How Much You Really Need a Night)"
- Spirituality in Clinical Practice: "The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.