It’s a human experience almost as universal as life itself. You lie down in bed after a grueling day, practically delirious with excitement at the prospect of eight hours of pure, uninterrupted unconsciousness, only to feel your brain go into overdrive the second your head hits the pillow:
“Psst! Are you sure you responded to that email?”
“Maybe you should get into the stock market even though this is literally the first time you’ve ever thought about it.”
“Hey, remember that time you dropped your entire lunch tray in the school cafeteria and then cried in front of everyone in 7th grade?”
We feel you. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t come with a built-in sleep button, but there are still plenty of things you can do to help yourself fall asleep faster. To help crack the code to falling asleep fast, we reached out to the sleep experts at Calm, a sleep and meditation app: Dr. Colleen Carney of Ryerson University and Dr. Michael Breus, a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. Here are their top tips for how to fall asleep fast (and staying asleep once you do).
What to Do at Night
Stick to a Schedule
If you have trouble falling asleep quickly, it could very well be a matter of timing. Much as we might wish we could cram a few more hours into our days, our bodies are built to operate on a 24-hour schedule. Our circadian rhythms are real, and often they’re the reason we can’t seem to stop pushing the snooze button. Regardless of the hours we keep, our brains will naturally try to ensure we get enough sleep by adjusting how much melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy) our bodies produce throughout the day. Maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake-up time — yes, even on the weekend — is critical to allowing your circadian cycle to properly reset each day.
Here’s the true tea: If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, you need to start by getting on a consistent schedule. Make sure you go to bed and wake up around the same time: Every. Single. Day.
Although it may be tough at first, after a few days or weeks, your body will respond in kind by adjusting melatonin production to reflect your new, consistent sleep schedule. The end result will be better sleep and a much easier time pulling yourself out of bed in the morning.
Have a Wind-Down Routine
For truly restful sleep, you need a way to disengage from all the problem-solving and stress you experience in your day. Finding your perfect wind-down routine may take some trial and error, so try something new if your current routine isn’t working out. For some people, a nightly self-care routine can help wash away the day’s stresses. Try showering, shaving, washing and moisturizing your face, or other hygiene routines to help you get into a relaxing mindset before you lie down. It’s a good idea to limit screen time when you’re trying to settle in for the night, but you don’t have to abandon your phone entirely. Apps like Calm can whisk you off to sleep with soothing music, guided meditations, and “Sleep Stories,” relaxing tales read by your favorite soothing speakers, like Stephen Fry, Bob Ross, and even the bedtime story from Game of Thrones’ Bronn you didn’t know you needed. You can also try things like sleep masks to block out light while you drift off or aromatherapy to aid in relaxation.
Don’t Force It
Sometimes, even despite your best efforts, your body just isn’t ready for sleep when you want it to be. While consistency is key to falling asleep fast, staying asleep all night, and waking up refreshed, trying to force yourself to sleep when your body isn’t ready will likely only lead to frustration and increased restlessness. Despite what your parents may have implied when you were young and uncooperative, our sleep experts recommend against lying in bed “trying” to fall asleep. If you’ve ever tried this method yourself, you can likely attest to the fact that staring wide-eyed into the darkness thinking about how tired you wish you were doesn’t exactly whisk you away to dreamland. Instead, accept that you’re not ready and find a relaxing activity — reading, watching a show, or meditating — while you wait for sleep to unfold naturally.
What to do During the Day
Although your frustration comes when you’re lying awake at night, setting yourself up for easier sleep is something you can work on during the day, too. Here are a few things you can do during the day to help you fall asleep faster when bedtime rolls around.
Get Some Sun
Remember that circadian rhythm your body uses to make sure you’re getting enough rest? It’s not just affected by what’s going on inside your body — it also relies on light cues from your environment to determine when you should be alert and when you should be sleeping soundly. This is why many people find it difficult to sleep during the daytime and why so many of us prefer darkness when we’re nodding off. Just like sticking to a consistent sleep schedule can keep your internal clock ticking properly, getting some sun when you wake up in the morning can help your circadian rhythm reset for the day, too. Try to incorporate 15 minutes of sunlight into your morning routine by enjoying your coffee on the patio, taking an early morning stroll, or cracking open a few windows while you make breakfast. This won’t just help you wake up faster in the morning, it will ensure that your body and mind are on the same page when it’s time to wind down for the day, too.
Exercise (But Time It Right!)
Unsurprisingly, daily exercise can go a long way in helping you fall asleep fast. On top of helping tire you out, exercise can also help regulate your circadian rhythm, reduce anxiety, and improve your mood. When it comes to sleep, though, Dr. Carney and Dr. Breus say it can be all about the timing. Exercise raises your core temperature, and the subsequent lowering of that temperature helps your body prepare for sleep. Try timing your workout for about four hours before you plan to go to bed, otherwise, your increased core body temp may affect your ability to sleep at night.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Don’t worry, we’re certainly not about to tell you to give up coffee and cocktails. What Dr. Carney and Dr. Breus do recommend, however, is being more mindful about when you’re indulging. Caffeine has a half-life of six to eight hours, so you should stop refilling your mug at 2:00 p.m. if you want an easier time going to sleep by 10:00 p.m. Many of us can relate to the need for a warm cup of brew to jump-start the day, but that energy spike you crave in the AM is the last thing you want when you tuck in for the night.
Anyone who has ever over-indulged could tell you that alcohol can make you fall asleep, but it’s important to remember that the quality of your sleep matters, too. Although alcohol causes a brief increase in the production of sleep-inducing chemicals in your brain, it also blocks REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, which is vital for truly restorative sleep. Have you ever woken up after a night of merry drinking only to find that you feel like you haven’t slept at all? You can thank a lack of REM sleep for that frustration. If you want to treat yourself to a nightcap, Drs. Carney and Breus recommend that you do so about three hours before your bedtime to allow your body enough time to fully digest it.
When it comes to the fastest way to fall asleep, you’ll find that everyone is a little bit different. Luckily, there are some universal truths to the way our bodies and brains get tired that you can use to your advantage. Remember that consistency is key, and it may take some experimentation to find your ideal relaxation routine. Use these expert tips wisely and you’ll be on your way to falling asleep fast.