If you have trouble falling asleep, take some comfort in the knowledge that you're not alone. With more than 50% of Brits reporting difficulty falling asleep at night, it is no wonder that many of us are sleep deprived and feeling the effects of missing out on the deep sleep that we need to feel rested and rejuvenated.
If you've ever spent hours trying to fall asleep or suffered from insomnia or sleep deprivation, you will know all too well that once you enter the vicious cycle of worrying about your lack of sleep, it becomes ten times harder to get a good night's sleep.
The problem with long-term sleep deprivation and insomnia is that they can impact the nervous system and contribute to other health conditions such as obesity, mood swings, diabetes, heart disease. The NHS states that 1 in 3 of us find it hard to fall asleep as a result of stress or prolonged exposure to computer screens. Research indicates that sleep disorders can put you at risk of chronic conditions and so it is important to ensure your sleep is the best it can be.
When you're used to lying wide awake at night and having trouble sleeping, it can be challenging to find ways to fall asleep quickly and improve your sleep quality at the same time, but seeking techniques for better quality sleep is the best way to avoid long-term sleep disorders from impacting your daily life and causing long-term health problems.
Fall asleep faster
If you find yourself lying awake for hours on end each night or relying on energy drinks to get through the day then read on for the good news! Here are a few suggestions to help you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.
Keep it cool
Studies show that our body temperature drops as we fall asleep, and this drop in temperature encourages the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin triggers the sleep-wake cycle and so to fall asleep faster it helps to encourage the production of melatonin by creating the right triggers for it in your environment.
Turn the thermostat down to keep the bedrooms at cooler temperatures, somewhere between 16-18°C, this will also help you avoid overheating during the night. Take a warm shower before bed so that your body experiences the drop in temperature, this will encourage muscle relaxation and should also speed up the melatonin production process.
Set your internal body clock
Our bodies work on natural 24-hour circadian rhythms and these rhythms control our sleep-wake cycles. The body cycles through various processes that are synchronized with a master clock. This master clock is directly influenced by various cues such as light and temperature, but it is possible to set this clock by sticking to a regular schedule.
Ensure that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day - even at the weekends. Try to avoid naps and stay awake during the day as naps can make it hard to fall asleep when you need to. Keeping the same bedtime might sound tricky, but once you get into the habit of it, it will not only help you to fall asleep quickly, but it will also enable you to achieve a much deeper sleep.
Use breathing techniques for falling asleep
One of the last things you might want to do when lying awake at night working out how to fall asleep fast is to spend some time focusing on your breathing. It seems too easy! But that's the beauty of it - it really is easy and not only that, it is a very effective method to help you fall asleep.
Research shows that spending between 5 to 20 minutes just focusing on your breath helps to switch your brain off and give the body the cues for a good sleep. There are several different methods for falling asleep fast but the military method is a proven technique designed by Lloyd Bud Winter in 1981 and aims to have you fast asleep within two minutes.
- First, relax your face and head.
- Drop your shoulders to release any tension and let your arms fall by your sides.
- Breathe out and let your chest relax.
- Relax your legs and let them sink into the mattress.
- Bring your attention to your breath and either picture lying on a boat on a calm lake, laying in a warm black hammock in a dark room, or say the words "don't think, don't think" over and over in your mind.
If you feel your mind drifting, don’t worry, just bring it back to your breath. You will find that the more you practice this technique, the easier it will be to stop thinking completely and the easier it will be to fall asleep faster.
Use a sleep mask and earplugs
A study found that light and noise account for 30% of all sleep problems, so if you want better sleep and sweet dreams then it might be worth investing in a sleep mask. Sleep masks are so effective that even the military has found that they fell asleep faster when using them so they are included in kits sent to soldiers to keep them healthy and well-rested. If you're sensitive to noise, earplugs can be super effective for blocking out background noise and helping you to focus on falling asleep.
Strike a pose
Yoga has been shown to be a very effective way of winding the mind and body down and preparing it to fall asleep. You don’t have to do a full workout before bed, but holding a few simple yoga poses that are specifically designed to help you fall asleep will give you a better chance of drifting off when you get into bed.
Gentle exercise is also proven to induce quality sleep, so it is exactly what the body needs to see a big difference in a sleep routine. Try joining a class, following videos on YouTube, or downloading a yoga app to get yourself started on some easy bedtime stretches at night.
Hide the clock
There is nothing worse than watching the minutes tick by as you toss and turn trying to get to sleep. If you have a clock by your bed then encourage better sleeping habits by hiding it or moving it out of the room altogether.
Clock watching elevates stress levels and can aggravate insomnia symptoms, making it hard to fall asleep and relax the body. The good news is that there are plenty of clocks out there that mimic the sun setting and rising instead, these types of clocks are much better for encouraging the body to fall asleep.
The way you rest your body can play a role in your ability to obtain quality sleep, so if you sleep on your back or side, ensure that your pillow is supportive and if you sleep on your front then it may be time to retrain yourself into sleeping in a different position.
Front sleeping can cause difficulties at bedtime because you are much more likely to wake up. This is because it is harder for the body to breathe while lying on your front, so avoid putting the body under stress at bedtime by sleeping on your back or side instead. If you must fall asleep on your front, ensure the spine is in correct alignment by placing a pillow under the hips and stomach and avoiding using a pillow for the head.
Avoid blue light
Remember the internal master clock that we talked about earlier? One of the keys for setting this clock is exposure to light. Our clocks are so sensitive to light that even artificial light from lightbulbs and blue light from screens can impact our ability to fall asleep fast. Studies show that light-emitting devices (LEDs) such as tablets, TVs, phones, and laptops, can affect many physiologic functions and lead to circadian and sleep disorders. Lessen the impact of bright light and screens by dimming the lights in the rooms you're in after 6 pm and avoiding using screens for up to an hour before bed.
Soak in the tub
It's no surprise that a nice hot bath before bed encourages muscle relaxation which in turn reduces the chances of insomnia and makes it easier to fall asleep fast. Ramp up the relaxation factor by listening to soothing music and filling your warm bath with plenty of salts to relax the muscles and bubbles to relax the mind!
Use paradoxical intention
If you've ever used reverse psychology on a child to get them to do something then you'll understand the principles of paradoxical intention! Research has found that telling yourself that you don't want to go to sleep while you're lying in bed can actually induce the opposite reaction.
It is thought that using this technique means you go through less stress and anxiety trying to get to sleep, and as a result, it is easier to fall asleep fast.
Head out for a stroll
A gentle stroll before bed is a great way to prevent issues like restless leg syndrome from impacting on your sleep. It's also far more beneficial for your mind and body to be actively moving around than lying in bed wide awake going through your to-do list for the morning!
Getting out of bed and walking around will reset your brain and get you into the zone for sleeping when you finally do decide to get some rest.
Eat to fall asleep
Foods can play a huge role in our ability to sleep at night. Avoid eating large meals up to three hours before bed to avoid putting stress on your digestive system as you sleep and fill up on sleep-inducing foods such as bananas, nuts, and eggs which all contain tryptophan.
Calcium-rich foods such as yogurt and kale also work well for promoting sleep, as do magnesium-rich foods such as whole grains.
Watch what you drink
Did you know that caffeine can still affect you up to 6 hours after you drink it? To avoid caffeine impacting your sleep, limit the amount you have during the day and avoid drinking it for six hours before your usual bedtime. Alcohol can also play a part in disrupting your sleeping habits, as it reduces the quality of your sleep, so limit your intake or better still, avoid it altogether.
Meditation is a great way to encourage your mind and body to relax and rest before bed. Listening to a guided meditation as you lay in bed will help to induce sleep, or using a progressive muscle relaxation technique to tense and relax your muscles will help to alleviate tension and prepare the body for sleeping.
Take a deep breath and exhale completely before working your way around the body, tensing and relaxing each muscle as you go and maintaining a deep breathing practice. You should fall asleep in no time!
Invest in a weighted blanket
Weighted or gravity blankets are designed to be heavier than normal blankets to induce something called deep pressure stimulation. This deep pressure on the body fosters a sense of calm, easing stress and anxiety, providing comfort, and improving sleep quality.
If you have a sleep problem it may be worth using one of these in bed to alleviate stress and promote good quality sleep.
Speak to a professional
It should be noted that this article is purely for informational purposes and it always pays to seek the advice of a medical practitioner if you have a serious sleep problem. Sleep conditions such as chronic insomnia and sleep apnea are difficult to fix by yourself, even with online advice from medical associations and journals.
Seek out someone who can provide medical advice on any sleep issues you're having so that you can get some help to achieve the quality sleep that you need.
Make some lifestyle changes
Sleep problems can be caused us to address our lifestyles and put our health as a priority on the to-do list. Introduce a regular exercise regime and plenty of water and healthy foods to keep your mind and body in tip-top condition so that you can actively promote healthy sleep hygiene and an amazing bedtime routine.
Create a routine for bedtime success
We all know the importance of taking care of ourselves but when it comes to falling asleep, all of our good intentions can often fall by the wayside! Set yourself up with a relaxing ritual before bed to give your mind and body the cues they need to fall asleep quickly. Take a nice bath, sprinkle lavender water on your pillow, dim the lights, read a book, listen to a guided meditation - all of these actions prepare yourself and your environment for deep and restorative sleep.