How to Fall Asleep Fast (and Stay Asleep Longer, Too)
This probably won’t come across as breaking news, but sleep is important. Like, as important as water, food and shelter. In fact, consistent, and quality, sleep can improve your mental health, and may actually prolong your life. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to go to sleep fast, and stay asleep.
Frustratingly for too many, falling asleep and enjoying proper sleep duration are much easier said than done. Fortunately, anyone can enjoy better sleep quality. However, you may need to work at it, because, when it comes to finding out how to fall asleep fast, practice pays.
That’s right, you need to practice how to fall asleep. Admittedly, it may sound silly. After all, isn’t falling asleep as natural as walking or talking? But think of it like this: You had to practice to learn how to walk and talk properly, but have you ever practiced falling asleep?
Don’t worry if the answer is no. That’s because enough other people have developed methods that will not only help you to fall asleep faster, but to enjoy a restful sleep.
Sleep Duration: How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?
What does “a good night’s rest” mean, anyway? In the simplest terms, it’s a night where you fall asleep fast, and stay asleep for hours. If you wake before it’s time to get out of bed, you then fall back to sleep quickly (15 or 20 minutes, at most).
The number of hours of sleep merit a closer look. According to scientific data reported by Health Line, the average adult between the ages of 18 to 64 needs between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Kids need more, senior adults need less. And, frankly, almost none of us is getting enough.
Figure Out How Many Hours of Sleep Makes YOU Feel Great
Of course, there’s a bit of flex time. If you sleep only six and a half hours a night, yet feel great every day, then good for you. On the other hand, if you need the entirety of those nine hours to function properly when awake, no problem there. Getting healthy sleep means getting as much sleep as you need to feel rested and productive. It does not mean adhering to a strict guideline laid out by medical experts.
That said, you have to figure out how much sleep you need. Pay attention to your own personal data, such as how much you slept on days you feel great. Then you can plan your bedtime around that number, reverse-engineering your routine based on wake-up time. That way you’ll know you can always hit your number. Well, most of the time.
Can’t Fall Asleep Quickly? It’s Probably Not a Sleep Disorder
Remember how we talked about the need for practice? Your trouble falling asleep is probably due to a lack of practice, not because of some larger sleep issue.
According to peer-reviewed studies reported by Sleep Advisor, only about 10 percent of U.S. adults suffer from chronic insomnia. That can become a medical concern, and require intervention from a professional. Chronic insomnia involves debilitating bad sleep on three or more nights out of a week in a cycle lasting three or more months.
Are You Creating Your Own Obstacles to a Good Night’s Sleep?
The rest of us probably don’t suffer from sleep disorders. Instead, we can’t fall asleep quickly enough because we’re not trying to fall asleep properly. Or else, because we have thrown up proverbial hurdles that are creating needless sleep problems. That said, up to 50 percent of American adults report at least occasional issues falling asleep and staying asleep. So, while the solutions may not be that difficult in the grand scheme of things, this is nevertheless an issue we need to fix.
Thus, we’ll now move into the more specific discussion of ways to fall asleep fast. Practice one or two of these for a little while, and soon you’ll welcome bedtime each and every night.
Three Methods You Can Practice to Help Fall Asleep Faster
There’s an old joke in the military that explains how soldiers can fall asleep so fast even in abjectly terrible conditions: “Carry a hundred pounds of gear up and down hills from sunrise to sunset, eating while you march, and occasionally dodging enemy bullets, and then crawl into a foxhole. You’ll be asleep in 10 seconds.”
But don’t worry, that’s not the military method of falling asleep we’ll cover here. Instead, author Sharon Ackman points to a method developed by the U.S. Navy that has been proven to help people fall asleep rapidly.
The Military Method for Falling Asleep Fast
Here are the steps to the so-called military method of falling asleep fast:
- Lie down and get as comfortable as you can, then relax all of the muscles above your neck — even your tongue
- Release all tension in your shoulders, arms and hands
- Exhale steadily and fully, relaxing your chest muscles
- Relax your legs, working down — so, thighs, then calves, then ankles and feet
- Clear your mind by picturing a comforting, easily visualized scene – think an empty beach or crackling fire
- Slowly repeat the words “don’t think” for about 10 seconds
If you’re not asleep after that, do those simple steps again. And again. Then back off, and try again the next night. And the next. It will take a few weeks, but if you stick with it, you will fall asleep faster than ever before.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Falling Asleep Fast
Not feeling the military way to fall asleep fast? Or maybe you simply want a second tactic. Then using a progressive muscle relaxation approach can work.
Also called a body scan, it’s essentially a type of mindfulness meditation or sleep improvement. It relaxes your body (go figure) while also bringing your mind into the present moment, calming thoughts that may be rushing in.
To do a progressive body scan relaxation, follow these steps:
- Lie comfortably, ideally, flat on your back, arms at sides
- Start at the top of your head and consciously relax the muscles there, letting your forehead muscles loosen, the muscles in your jaw and mouth, and your tongue
- Move, mentally speaking, to your neck and shoulders, letting all of those muscles relax
- Now pick a side of your body, and assuming you started with the left, work down – let the muscles in your left arm and hand relax, your left pectoral, release your abs (this will be more of a core relaxation, don’t get hung up on left abs!), then your left thigh, left calf, and on down to the toes
- Repeat the same shoulder down relaxation on the right side, again noting which muscles you are relaxing as you go, going as slowly as you can
- Assuming you are still awake at the end of this process, focus on staying relaxed and keep your thinking clear by putting all of your attention on your body
You can move down the body evenly during a body scan relaxation, meaning both arms, legs and so on at once. However, by separating the halves of yourself, you will allow for greater focus, and you will use a bit more time, which means more time spent relaxing into slumber.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Method for Falling Asleep
Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-educated physician with noted health and wellness expertise, developed this unique method for helping people to fall asleep fast. With practice, it works. Why? Because the steps involved slow and calm the nervous system, essentially tricking (or easing) your body into thinking you were about to fall asleep anyway.
Here is Weil’s method, and note that as with all of these approaches, some practice may be needed.
- Rest the tip of your tongue against the ridge of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth
- Exhale all of the air in your lungs through your mouth, breathing out forcefully enough to make an airflow sound
- Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for a four-second count, hold the breath for a seven-second count, then exhale again with enough force to make an audible breath noise, but steadily now, exhaling for eight seconds (you may need to practice this exhalation to get the timing right)
- Repeat the same breath cycle (in for four, hold for seven, out for eight, e.g.) four times total, then pause and breathe normally for a bit before repeating it, and repeat until you are asleep or want to give your sleep practice a rest for the night.
Casual Tips That Can Help You Fall Asleep Faster
If the military method for falling asleep, a mindful meditation session, or breathing exercises aren’t your cup of tea, no problem. There are plenty of other techniques you can use that will help you to fall asleep fast.
Try to Stay Awake – Seriously, It Will Trick Your Body
The first, ironically, is to try to stay awake. Provided you are at least somewhat tired, and you can lie in bed awake without your mind starting to race through thoughts, then trying to stay awake is a bit of reverse psychology.
Turn out the lights, and turn on the fan or the white-noise machine (whatever your typical routine is). Get into bed, and get comfortable. But don’t close your eyes. Instead, keep them open and try to keep your mind alert — but without specific thoughts to distract you.
Your body, knowing it’s time for you to fall asleep, will start to override your mind. You may well feel your lids shutting almost unbidden. With a little luck (and better still, with a little practice) it will suddenly be morning, and you’ll feel fresh and ready to roll.
Read Before Bed (But DON’T Watch TV or Browse Online)
Watching TV before bed? Very bad. However, reading before bed can be a great way to relax into slumber that will be of genuine sleep quality. Just make sure you’re not reading on a screen (phone, tablet, etc.). Sit up while you read, and don’t lie down until your book (or magazine or paper) is on the nightstand and you are ready to fall asleep.
Make sure to set down the reading material as soon as your eyes start growing heavy. If you try to finish a chapter, or even a page, despite the fatigue, you may miss the chance for rapid sleep onset. That’s because your body thinks you are trying to stay up, and resets itself.
Don’t fight to stay awake, even if the book is gripping. In other words, the story will still be waiting for you tomorrow. Oh, and don’t read something related to work. That is going to stress you out, and be counterproductive. Work will be waiting for you after that quality sleep that’s coming, too.
Listen to Soothing Music, But Without Headphones
Listening to pleasant, soothing music is also a great way to ease yourself into asleep quickly. That doesn’t mean it needs to be all-instrumental or “New Age.” Just select music isn’t too upbeat or bass-heavy. Also, keep the volume low.
Don’t wear earbuds or headphones, either. They can be jostled uncomfortably, and wake you up. Even worse, they can end up creating danger if a piece of hardware gets lodged in an ear or an airway. Stick to a speaker. And if you can set the music to turn off automatically sometime after you fall asleep, that’s ideal.
What to Avoid if You Want to Fall Asleep Quickly
You surely know the basic (common sense) things to avoid when you are trying to improve sleep quality: caffeine, screens that put off blue light, and, if at all possible, a racing mind. But there are a few others you should pass on prior to your bedtime routine that may seem a bit counterintuitive.
Warm Baths or Showers
For example, many people find a nighttime warm bath or shower relaxing. However, they can have the opposite effect than what you need to fall asleep faster. The warm water raises your body temperature just when you need it to be falling. If you really need that bedtime bath or shower, at least end with cool water so you can start the cool-down process that helps you fall asleep faster once you hit the mattress.
Working Out Before Bedtime
While strenuous exercise earlier in the day can lead to better sleep at night, because your body will be in need of the rest. However, do not exercise close to bedtime. By working out, you will speed up your nervous system and warm up your body. Neither of those is conducive to falling asleep well. Also, you’ll need to shower off, which, as we just noted can, throw a wrench in the whole sleep program.
Eating Close to Bedtime
As confirmed by countless academic, medical associations and peer-reviewed journals, it’s also a good idea to avoid eating close to bedtime. The digestive process can keep you awake. This is especially true with heavily fibrous and spicy foods. Your best bet is a healthy, hearty dinner eaten well before you begin your bedtime routine.
Drinking Alcohol Before Bed
If you want productive, deep sleep, skip alcohol before bedtime as well. Sure, booze may make you fall asleep fast, but your sleep quality will be lousy, and you’ll likely wake up in the middle of the night. Plus, good luck feeling well-rested in the morning.
A Better Bedtime Beckons
Regardless of which approach you choose to work toward falling asleep faster, know that a better night’s sleep is not only possible — it’s coming.
You may not nod off in 10 seconds the first night, or the fourth, or the 14th. But even before you have mastered one or more of the sleep techniques covered here, they will begin to help you drift off faster.
What You Put Into Your Sleep Routine Will Pay Off in Your Waking Hours
And the work you put in before sleep each night will be worth the effort during your waking hours. You will have more energy, your mood will improve, you will be better able to focus, and you’ll get more done, from work to hobbies to fitness.
Simply put, with more productive sleep, you will be a more productive person. You’ve got what it takes to make this happen.