Some American adults reportedly experience insomnia in a given year (that’s almost half of ‘em), and at least forty million suffer from long-term sleep disorders. The fact is that no matter how counterintuitive it might seem, falling asleep can be hard work—and the harder you try, the more likely you are to fail. Like trying to meditate as fast as possible, teaching yourself how to fall asleep faster can seem like a completely misguided tactic, but if you approach the task in the right way, it’s actually achievable.
1) Wind Down Your Day Early
Rushing around, checking things off your to-do list, your mind abuzz with chatter from morning ‘til night… sure, those might be the hallmarks of a productive go-getter, but a mind that runs a mile a minute needs a cool down before it can shut down completely. Instead of gluing your eyes—and your brain—to your laptop, phone, or television until it’s exactly time for you to go to sleep, let the day end more slowly.
When you have an hour left before sleepy time, dim your lights. Read some fiction. Stretch, relax. The mind doesn’t like jumping from frenetic electronic stimulation straight into restful, restorative sleep—it needs a bridge of calming, low-stress activity. This brings us to…
Speaking of bridges between awake and asleep, meditation has been shown in multiple studies to improve the symptoms of insomnia, and you don’t need to lapse into a lengthy trance to achieve those benefits. As little as five to ten minutes of breathing exercises can be sufficient for clearing the mind and gently slowing the hamster wheel of a busy brain.
3) Chill Out
Think a warm shower will wake you up? Maybe not. Afterward, the body actually cools down pretty quickly to a temperature lower than your pre-bath state, and research has shown that decreasing the body’s temperature helps to slow the heart rate, digestion, and other metabolic processes—which makes it easier to fall asleep.
Cooling the body is a popular tip to better induce sleep, so if you’re not interested in bathing before bed, try turning down the temperature to around 68 degrees (add blankets if you’re chilly)—studies say that’s just the right level of cool for quicker sleep.
Emptying your ruminations and to-do lists onto a notebook is a surprisingly useful way to keep them from running around your mind. Unburden your tired brain and leave it all on the page. By plotting out how you’ll accomplish tomorrow’s tasks, you’ll stop worrying about your workload.
5) Blow Bubbles
Yes, we’re talking about the kind of bubbles you would blow as a kid, from those plastic bottles. Silly? Sure, but it works great as a deep breathing exercise. Plus, the childish, carefree nature of the activity can help to banish your grown-up anxieties. Try it out!
6) Turn Up the Volume
Controlling the noise level around you is critical to a good night’s sleep, and there are two common approaches that can speed your slumber:
The first: Grab a white noise machine to cancel out any unwanted background sounds and distractions. (It’s also handy if your room is so quiet that the sound of your own breathing bothers you.)
The other approach is to listen to calming music. Research has found that music with a slow rhythm of 60 to 80 beats per minute can help to lull you to sleep and boost sleep quality—and, in one study on classical music, even improve symptoms of depression.
If you’re trying to maintain a regular bedtime (which is another good way to fall asleep faster), these tips should help you to stick to your schedule. And when all else fails, a warm cup of milk won’t go astray either!