Most people have trouble getting to sleep every once in a while. But if you’re having trouble on a regular basis, here are some helpful hints from a variety of sleep experts to help you quickly and easily fall fast asleep.
1. Make sleep a top priority.
According to Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant Kerrin Edmonds sleep is a biological necessity, not a luxury. Therefore, the first step in getting healthy sleep is to make it a priority. “Our society doesn’t place enough emphasis on sleep,” explains Edmonds. “Yet, when we don’t get enough sleep, the human body can’t properly rest and rejuvenate itself. Insufficient sleep also changes how we respond to stress, weakens our immune system, and affects our overall health. To sleep better, we need to change how we think about the importance of sleep.”
2. Prepare the mind.
Health and wellness expert Dr. Kathy Gruver, maintains that difficulty falling asleep is often more of a mental than a physical problem. Worrying about the future, rehashing events that occurred during the day, and other negative thought patterns can all make it harder to fall asleep. To calm the mind and change negative thought patterns to positive ones, Gruver recommends using affirmations and breath work.
For example, while breathing in and out slowly and deeply, tell yourself, “I fall asleep quickly and easily, and wake up feeling refreshed.” This helps to relax the body and shut out negative, worrisome thoughts so the mind can more easily shift into sleep mode. Any mantra or phrase that works for you is a good one.
3. Prepare the body.
A registered dietician and nutrition expert, Vicki Shanta Retelny offers several “hygiene rules” for getting the body ready to go sleep.
- Start preparing for bed at least an hour before bedtime. This gives the mind and the body time to slow down get ready to sleep.
- Avoid eating food or drinking alcohol for two hours prior to bedtime. A full stomach is not conducive to falling asleep.
- Make the room completely dark, as light prohibits the pineal gland from secreting adequate melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy).
- Keep the cell phones and iPads out of the bed. Late night “screen time” can make it harder to fall asleep, shorten sleep duration, and lead to daytime sleepiness.
4. Develop a routine.
If you have difficulty falling asleep on a regular basis, sleep coach Amy Korn-Reavis recommends establishing a routine to be followed every night. First, keep the room cool, as humans sleep better in cooler temperatures. Turn down the lights about 30 to 40 minutes before you go to bed and stop using all electronic devices. This allows the brain to begin producing Melatonin, a key ingredient for inducing sleep. For her own routine, Korn-Reavis does about 20 minutes of yoga to slow down her mind and increase oxygen to the brain. For those who prefer to just sit quietly, meditation can have the same calming effect.
“The key is to develop a routine that works for you, and practice it every night,” says Korn-Reavis. “That signals the brain that it’s time to go into sleep mode.”
5. Try a weighted blanket.
According to Eileen Parker, author of The Weighted Blanket Guide this unusual technique is frequently
used in hospitals to help patients calm themselves and get to sleep. A weighted blanket consists of two pieces of fabric sewn together with a weighted filling on the inside. The pressure on the body from the extra weight overrides other signals to the brain that might be preventing sleep, making it easier for the brain to calm down and drift off into sleep.
6. Read yourself to sleep.
College students who have consumed too much coffee while cramming for finals often find sleep hard to come by. David Perkins of StudySoup offers several suggestions to avoid lying awake in bed for hours. First, turn of all computer and phone screens at least 30 minutes before trying to go to sleep. Then find a good novel or short story to read. Reading fiction is the best choice, as it activates parts of the brain that are related to dreaming, which helps prepare the brain to sleep.
7. Make healthy lifestyle choices.
Health advisor Wendie Trubow offers several useful sleep strategies, including:
- Limit your caffeine intake throughout the day, as it can affect sleep patterns even if you only drink it in the morning.
- Get plenty of regular exercise. This will increase your endorphins and improve your sense of wellbeing, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
- Before going to bed, make a list of all the things in your brain and then consciously let go of them until the morning. If you find yourself worrying about events that happened during the day, visualize putting them behind a door and locking it.
- Try to get to bed no later than 10:00 p.m. Staying up late can increase the production of cortisol, a hormone interferes with sleep.
“Try to avoid sugary, processed foods,” adds Trubow, “as these can alter your sleep, hormones and mood.”
8. Don’t stress over the lack of sleep.
Although not a certified sleep expert, orthopedic surgeon Barbara Bergin often finds herself giving patients advice on how to fall asleep and enjoy a better quality of sleep. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, don’t fret over it, as that will only make it worse. Instead, read a book or engage in some other quiet activity to take your mind off the fact that you’re not sleeping. Eye masks and “white” noise can also help distract the mind.
“Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow,” adds Bergin. “Not having the right support can make it harder to fall asleep and leave you feeling tired and achy in the morning.”