Hello, and welcome to an article dedicated solely to helping you fall asleep faster than you can say “I’m exhausted.” (Special shout out to those of you here between the hours of 2:30 and 5:30 a.m.).
If you’re looking for some helpful breathing techniques and lifestyle changes you can incorporate into your night-time routine to cure all your sleepy time woes, you’ve come to the right place. After all, according to SEMRush, the phrase “how to fall asleep” has an average of 60,500 monthly Google searches. Sad times.
I personally think it’s best to start by pin-pointing exactly why you can’t sleep. But, warning: This may require some honest, deep reflection you’re not ready for. Ask yourself: Is the reason I can’t sleep because of the one to two hours of TikTok I watch before bed? Is it because I’m stress-drinking three to four glasses of wine every night? Is it because my S.O. loves to ruin my life by snoring? Whatever the reason, there’s hope.
Please enjoy these tips by doctors and other professionals who actually know what they’re talking about.
Take a magnesium supplement.
Full disclosure: There’s no scientific evidence that directly states magnesium supplements = sleep. But! Magnesium is an important mineral for overall health in general, and it aids with muscle relaxation, says Mandana Mahmoudi, MD, instructor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health. Because of this, an oral supplement taken one to two hours before bed could help some people fall asleep, confirms Dr. Mahmoudi.
Have an orgasm (...but, like, seriously).
I mean, I’m personally always down for a “masturbate every night” routine, so the fact that it could actually help you fall asleep faster makes it a go-to move here, my friends. Marriage and family therapist Juliana Hauser, PhD, confirms: “The release of oxytocin and vasopressin in orgasm and pleasure are associated with sleep and can help you fall asleep faster.” May I suggest investing in any of these vibrating playthings as a means to, uh, “fall asleep faster” ?
Focus on breath work.
If you’re sleeping with someone who snores louder than what noise your AirPods can muffle, it’s time to do some breath work: “Visualize the soothing rise and fall of beach waves as you listen to your bedmate’s inhales and exhales,” says clinical sleep educator Lauri Leadley, president of Valley Sleep Center. This is what all those $45 yoga classes have been training you for.
Another option (that works even if you're solo): 4-7-8 breathing. “When you’re laying in bed, close your mouth and breathe in through your mouth for four seconds. Then, hold your breath for seven seconds. Finally, release your breath through your mouth for eight seconds with a whooshing sound. Repeat four times,” says Maxwell Whittington-Cooper, a TikTok user better known as @maxandfacts, whose video has acquired nearly 2.6M views on the app. Is he an actual expert? Nope. Does that mean this tip is bogus? Also nope.
Maintain a schedule.
"Keeping a regular sleep schedule (even on the weekends) maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock and will help you wake up and fall asleep more easily," says Lawrence Epstein, MD, the regional medical director for the Harvard-affiliated Sleep HealthCenters and past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. A regular schedule increases the amount of sleep people get each night, and it can also improve the quality of that sleep.
Give meditation a shot.
“Meditation helps you soothe your mind while relaxing your body, meaning you can slow down and naturally drift into a deeper more peaceful sleep,” explains Mark Stephens, hypnotherapist, meditation expert and founder of the MindFree app.
“Through mind-calming techniques where you lessen external distractions and quiet your thoughts, your body reduces the stress hormone cortisol while increasing feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, endorphins and melatonin,” says Stephens.
An easy sleep meditation is to feel, watch, or listen to your breath fall in and out of your body naturally as you focus on a relaxing thought such as “peace” with the inhale and “release” as you exhale.
Try to avoid eating right before bed.
“Eating before bed can contribute to gastroesophageal reflux disease or indigestion, which can make it difficult to stay asleep,” says Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, a clinician and associate professor at Keck Medicine of USC’s division of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine.
“[Eating before bed] can cause small arousals that you might not remember, but can prevent you from getting into deeper phases of sleep and leaving you under-rested and groggy in the morning, says Dr. Dasgupta. If you really can't skip out on your nighttime snack, the most highly recommended foods to eat before bed are: almonds, kiwi, chamomile tea, tart cherry juice, fatty fish, walnuts, passionflower tea, and white rice.
Brandon Peters, MD, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle recommends waiting about three hours between your last meal and bedtime. "This allows digestion to occur and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine. This may prevent problems like heartburn at night and even insomnia," says Peters.
Listen to music.
According to a study conducted by Hui-Ling Lai, PhD, associate professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, listening to music before bed is proven to enhance sleep.
The study found that participants who listened to 30 to 45 minutes of calming music before bed for three months fell asleep more quickly, had a better quality of sleep, and woke up feeling well-rested. And you can’t just listen to any music before bed (sorry, Metallica fans.) The most effective music has tempos between 60 and 80 beats per minute, which is our approximate heart rate when falling asleep.
Turn off your phone, laptop, and TV.
Avoid smartphones, laptops, tablets, and televisions—an hour before you plan to be asleep, advises board certified sleep medicine physician Robert S. Rosenberg, MD, author of The Doctor's Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety. Screens emit blue light, he says, which signal your body and brain to stay wired rather than wind down.
If you feel you must stay glued to a screen in the hour or so leading up to bedtime, Dr. Rosenberg recommends installing f.lux, a software that changes the color scheme on your laptop or tablet such that melanopic light (as opposed to bright blue and white light) shines forth from your screen. Other software programs like Twilight for Android phones or Night Mode for iPhones may also help, but not as much as powering them down.
Practice good sleep hygeine.
Dr. Rosenberg says having a reliable pre-bedtime routine can improve the ease with which you fall asleep. Not only does a routine help wean your central nervous system off all your daily stressors, it teaches your brain what to associate with getting sleepy. Over time, cues like warm showers, slow yoga, curling up with a book, or listening to calming music naturally trigger your body's relaxation response.
Don't look at the time.
Keep all reminders of how little time may be left before you have to wake up out of sight, Dr. Rosenberg recommends. "Staring at the clock increases anxiety and calculation," he explains. "You trigger the body's stress response, making it impossible to fall asleep."
Try some lavender aromatherapy.
No matter what form it comes in—oils, candles, sprays, or scented lotions—lavender has been found to improve both how easily people fall asleep as well as how long they remain at rest.
Turn the temps way down.
A too-hot room can make staying asleep difficult, as your body's too overheated to relax. Dr. Rosenberg recommends a room temp of 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aim for total darkness.
Covering up or removing sneaky sources of light (think: street lamps from outside or blinking lights from a device on standby) can markedly improve your sleep, says Dr. Rosenberg. Consider installing blackout curtains, deploying an eye mask, or positioning a T-shirt or empty pillowcase over your eyes. Remember, light triggers the body's wakefulness response. So the less of it you expose yourself to during the hours you wish to be dreaming, the better.
Start your day with sunlight.
Exposing yourself to outdoor light within two hours of waking helps set the body's circadian clock so that sleepiness starts settling in once the sun goes down, says Dr. Rosenberg. Stick your face near a window if you can't leave your home or office. Even indirect sunlight counts.
Avoid naps longer than 30 minutes.
If you're seriously pooped from a previous night of poor sleep, try not to nap for longer than 30 minutes, Dr. Rosenberg recommends. A too-long nap can set you up for another night of bad sleep, as your circadian rhythm gets thrown out of whack.
Keep your workouts a little more consistent.
You probably already know this, but if you need added incentive to stay active at least three days a week (preferably for 30 minutes or more), keep in mind that physical activity helps you log adequate Zs. Dr. Rosenberg explains this is because physical activity increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurochemical released in response to exertion that helps regulate mood and promote relaxation.
Try not to drink before bed.
One or two glasses of wine, beer, or a serving of your favorite liquor isn't the end of the world. But Dr. Rosenberg says regularly boozing to fall asleep only serves to make insomnia worse. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, he explains, but as your body metabolizes it, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear, causing you to wake in the early hours of the morning awash in the stress hormone cortisol and unable to resume any shut-eye.
Heavy drinking also suppresses your REM sleep cycles, Dr. Rosenberg adds, leaving you groggier the following day.
Avoid caffeine after 2 pm.
Any more milligrams of caffeine after that can keep you from getting to sleep at a reasonable hour, says Dr. Rosenberg. Try swapping that afternoon pick-me-up with a non-caffeinated beverage more often, and you may find you won't need a p.m. jolt as badly—since less caffeine in your system makes for a much smoother night of sleep the night before.
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