We’re big believers in prioritizing our beauty rest. But not unlike you (and countless others), we often struggle to fall asleep at night. For answers behind the best night’s sleep of our lives, we went straight to the source. Dr. Preeti Devnani, MD is a certified sleep expert, who has dedicated her career to understanding and managing sleep disorders. Clearly, we reasoned, if there’s anyone we can count on to teach us how to fall asleep fast, we connected with the perfect person.
Between busy schedules and tempting screens—there’s a difference between knowing how to fall asleep fast and actually putting the snooze-inducing tips into practice. So if you’re ready to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, Dr. Devnani is sharing actionable steps you can take to build the perfect sleep routine for you. Read on for game-changing insights and ideas.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
Common Factors Contributing to Poor Sleep
As an urban 24-hour society, we’re not giving sleep the due importance it deserves. Many factors contribute to our reduced total sleep time. Contributing factors for sleep disorders include:
- the advent of prolonged work hours
- demanding corporate jobs
- excessive use of technology
- social media exposure
- noise pollution
- sedentary lifestyles
- substance abuse
- global travel across time zones
Due to sleep insufficiency, many individuals (even the younger folks) are likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.
3 Sleep-Saving Tips an MD Wants You to Make
Ideally, a person should sleep from sunset to sunrise, optimizing the cumulative effect on the homeostatic and circadian drive for ideal physiology. But in the modern era, we’re burning the candle at both ends. We need to make a consistent effort to sleep at the same time and maintain a sleep-and-wake schedule.
Recent studies have shown that deregulation of the sleep cycle or delayed sleep circadian phase can have an adverse effect on the metabolic functions of the body. Ahead, discover the tips that will change your sleep—and life—for the better.
Turn Down the Temp
A mild drop in your core body temperature induces sleep. Hence, if you’re in a cooler environment it facilitates sleep onset. A cool room, close to 65 degrees, is optimum for sleep. Body temperature tends to drop as you become drowsy and reaches its lowest level around 5:00 a.m., then climbs slightly as the day progresses.
If the environment is too hot, it may interfere with your body’s natural temperature dip and make you more restless through the night. Note that each individual has a slightly varied optimal temperature threshold.
Find the Mattress for You
Selecting a mattress is very personal. There isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to prove that one type of mattress will help you sleep better than another, but people with certain medical conditions do seem to rest easier on particular mattress styles.
Anyone with back or neck pain should take a “Goldilocks” approach to mattress buying: not too hard, and not too soft. Mattresses that are too soft tend to sleep hot and can add to lower back pain, while mattresses that are too hard can put excess pressure on the sacrum, shoulders, and back of the head. If you have allergies, it’s definitely worth it to invest in a hypoallergenic mattress for better sleep.
Diet has also plays a role in how well we sleep (or how little!)
As children, many of us were given a glass of milk at bedtime. This tradition is based in scientific fact—the calcium in milk helps with the production of tryptophan, which is required in the production of melatonin (a sleep hormone).
Foods that are naturally rich in tryptophan like almonds, chicken, turkey, soybeans, and eggs can be good for sleep. Be sure to also prioritize foods that are rich in melatonin such as cherry juice, ginger root, walnuts, peanuts, and fresh mint.
Caffeine and alcohol can have major effects on sleep. I advise my patients to limit caffeine to before 3 p.m. And while alcohol can make people fall asleep faster, it actually increases wake time after sleep. So, you’re actually sleeping less than you would have if you’d abstained from alcohol that night.
Going to bed hungry makes falling asleep much harder. Eating a regular evening meal followed by a bedtime snack can actually improve sleep!
How to Fall Asleep Fast: 5 Expert Tips
#1: Define a regular sleep schedule
An irregular schedule can disrupt the circadian rhythm. (Darkness activates melatonin production, preparing us for sleep.) When we curtail our total sleep time, we accumulate “sleep debt,” so it’s important to set a regular bedtime and wake time and stick to it.
#2: Develop a relaxing bedtime routine
Stress causes the hypothalamus to release corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), which stimulates the pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which then induces the adrenal glands to release cortisol and other stress hormones that promote wakefulness. In other words, stress makes it harder to fall asleep.
Resolve worries before bedtime whenever possible—no stressful pillow talk! Try and develop a bedtime routine that relaxes you. Some soothing activities to consider adding to your nighttime routine:
- Take a warm bath
- Sip of warm cup of de-caffeinated tea
- Read a book
- Listen to soothing music
- Stretch and/or practice breathwork
#3: Stop Using Your Bed as a Home Office
Getting into bed should trigger your body to relax for sleep. Protect those delicate associations by only using your bed for sleep and intimacy.
#4: Be a Morning (Workout) Person
Exercise smart. Morning exercise in the sunlight is the ideal way to start your day. Most people should avoid strenuous workouts in the late evening or right before bed—no 24-hour gyms! The increase in body temperature that comes with cardio workouts and stimulation can interfere with sleep onset. Try moving your workouts to before noon for optimum sleep.
#5: Stop Looking at Your Phone in Bed
Use of electronic gadgets with a back-lit display (computers, phones, tablets, televisions) for two hours before bed has been found to cause a significant suppression of melatonin, causing sleep disturbances. Research has found that monochromatic blue light suppresses melatonin production as well.
Try putting your phone out of reach before getting into bed. Keep electronics usage to a minimum or completely eliminate blue light (alarms, TVs, laptops) after dark.
How to Fall Asleep in 5 Minutes
Need to fall asleep, stat? We love incorporating all of the tips for how to fall asleep fast above, but in an emergency, there are thankfully a few ways you can calm your body and mind quickly for a good night’s sleep.
Guided visualization or meditation. According to an article written in JAMA Internal Medicine, meditations and visualizations can promote relaxation while helping you transition to sleep. Some of our favorite resources include Headspace, Calm, and Superhuman. (Headspace, in particular, features soothing ‘Sleepcasts’—best described as bedtime stories for adults that are one of our favorite things to fall asleep to.)
Paradoxical intention. Think of it as reverse psychology. When we’re stressed about getting enough sleep, that anxiety can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Instead, applying paradoxical intention, actively engage in the behavior. While we’ll continue to advise you to stay away from screens, try reading just one… more… chapter. Or, stay up chatting with your partner. Paradoxical intention can help reduce performance anxiety as it relates to sleep.
Count your breaths. When it comes to falling asleep quickly, we abide by the rule that simpler is often better. Case in point, counting your breaths. Simply breathe as you normally would, but pay attention to your inhales and exhales. Start by counting your exhales up to five, then when you start over, do the same with your inhales. Repeat until you fall asleep.
This post was originally published on Jan 14, 2020, and has since been updated.