Spending more time trying to fall asleep rather than actually sleeping? You’re not alone.
Just the act of trying too hard can cause a cycle of anxious, nerve-wracking energy that keeps our minds awake.
And if your mind can’t sleep, it’s really difficult for your body to follow. But there are scientific tricks you can try to turn the switch and guide your body into a safe shutdown mode.
We cover some science-based tricks to help you fall asleep faster.
- Breathe with your mind.
Breathing patterns play a role in our autonomic nervous system, which regulates heart rate, muscle tension, motivation, and other aspects of relaxation or excitement. Whereas rapid, shallow breaths can create a sense of anxiety, deep, slow breaths can be calming.
One technique to try is the 4-7-8 method developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. The process is fairly simple, too. Here’s how to do it:
Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind your upper teeth throughout the exercise (inhaling and exhaling).
Exhale completely via your mouth, making a “whooshing” sound.
4: Now, close your mouth and inhale through your nose to a count of four.
7: Hold your breath for seven counts.
8: Exhale slowly out of your mouth to a count of eight, making the “whooshing” sound (pucker your lips if it feels awkward).
- Put your devices down
As much as you might like to unwind by scrolling through Instagram or even reading an article or two, exposing your eyes to blue light can actually prompt you to feel more awake.1 “Phones sleep in the kitchen, not in the bedroom with you,” adds Winter. The National Sleep Foundation recommends to discontinue using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before you hit the hay.
Clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, says that, “if you absolutely can’t imagine parting ways with your devices, you should wear blue light glasses while using them.”
3.Get up and do something for 10 minutes
If you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep within 15 minutes or so, get out of bed and do an activity that requires your hands and your head, like a jigsaw puzzle or a coloring book, says Richard Wiseman, professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University if Hertfordshire and author of Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep. Stay away from the TV and digital screens, whose blue light has been proven to suppress melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. “The key is to avoid associating your bed with being awake,” Wiseman says in his 59 Seconds video.
“This is a stimulus control theory,” says Meltzer. “Everything in life has a stimulus value, even your bed,” meaning your body should recognize that lying in bed means it’s time to go to sleep. To give your bed that value, the only things you should be doing in it are sleep and sex, she explains. “Getting out of bed if you can’t sleep is the hardest one to do, but it’s so important. If you’re spending 10 hours in bed, but only sleeping six, that’s really bad. Your bed becomes a place for thinking, worrying, watching TV, and not for sleeping.”
- Stick to a sleep schedule
Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours. Most people don’t need more than eight hours in bed to achieve this goal.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you’re tired. Repeat as needed.
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Want to wear yourself out so you feel tired? Exercising has been known to help us sleep better — just don’t do it too close to bedtime. If a sweat-fest doesn’t make you tired (it wires some people), try this muscle relaxation method.
Lie down and let your entire body feel relaxed. Then practice tensing and releasing muscle groups from head to toe. Squeeze gently for about 5 seconds and then release each group (face, neck, shoulders, arms, etc.), one at a time