Getting enough sleep is key to living a healthy life. Feeling rested helps your body and brain function properly, and not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your concentration, mood, emotions, memory and overall health. If you’re spending more time trying to fall asleep than actually sleeping, you’re not alone: around 1 in 3 Australians experience insomnia. That’s why we’ve consulted the experts on how to fall asleep - fast.
What is sleep hygiene?
When you can’t sleep, there’s often an underlying issue that’s causing insomnia. Rosemary doctors always recommend trying lifestyle changes to help address the underlying cause and improve sleep before pursuing pharmacological treatment. The medical term for this approach is called sleep hygiene.
Keep regular sleep hours
Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day helps set your internal body clock. We have internal circadian rhythms that help regulate when we feel sleepy and when we feel more alert. This varies from person to person, which is why some of us might identify as morning people and others as night owls. Regardless of which type of person you are, regulating your sleep schedule helps your body recognise when it’s time to fall asleep and when it’s time to get up. That’s why keeping regular sleep hours is key to falling asleep quickly.
Create a comfortable sleeping environment
It’s no secret that being comfortable helps promote a better night’s sleep. There are many different ways to help make your bedroom more comfortable. Some factors to consider are lighting, temperature, noise level and the overall comfiness of your bed.
Sleeping in the dark
Darkness helps promote feelings of sleepiness. There are some studies that show that darkness boosts the production of melatonin, which is an essential hormone for sleep. You might consider buying blackout curtains or using an eye mask to help control how light it is when you’re trying to fall asleep.
Find an ideal sleeping temperature
Temperature is also important to manage for a good night’s sleep. That’s because your body temperature changes throughout the sleep cycle - your core temperature decreases, but your hands and feet will get warmer. Everyone’s body temperature is different - some people will run hot, others will run cold. Find a temperature that suits you by changing the setting on the thermostat, sleeping with a fan or opening a window. You can also try taking a bath or hot shower to help speed up these changes in body temperature. Your body cooling down can send a signal to your brain that it’s time to go to bed.
Sound and sleep
Trying to fall asleep when it’s noisy can be tough. Oftentimes the noise is outside of our control, like when there’s construction or loud neighbours. You might try wearing earplugs at night to block the sound out, or playing some relaxing music or pink noise through a speaker help create a better environment for falling asleep.
Be comfortable in bed
Making your bed as comfortable as possible will help you fall asleep. Mattresses and pillows come in varying levels of firmness, ranging from very soft to very hard. You might consider trying memory foam mattress toppers or pillows to help create a more comfortable sleeping environment.
Change your diet and eating habits
In general, it’s best to have your last meal 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. Certain things are notorious for keeping you awake, such as caffeine and alcohol, but spicy and acidic foods that cause heartburn and acid reflux can also keep you awake at night. Avoiding consuming fluids close to bedtime can also make a difference. Make adjustments to what you’re eating and when you’re eating to see how it impacts your insomnia.
However, if you often find that you’re hungry just before bedtime and have established a routine of having a small snack before going to sleep, it’s good to continue this routine to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. Plus, feeling hungry can also keep you awake at night and make it hard to relax.
Avoid long naps during the day
If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, you might be trying to compensate by napping during the day. However, napping doesn’t necessarily make up for the lack of sleep you’re getting at night. Short, 20 to 30 minute naps can improve alertness during the day, but studies have shown that taking longer (2 or more hours) naps, or napping late in the day, causes poorer nighttime sleep quality.
If you’re feeling tired during the day and need to take a nap to refresh yourself, try to keep it under 30 minutes and before 6pm in order to minimise the impact on your nighttime slumber.
Explore mindfulness and sleep
There are many different mindfulness exercises you can try to improve your sleep. Popular ones include breathing methods, yoga and meditation.
4-7-8 breathing method
One of the most popular breathing techniques to improve sleeping is the 4-7-8 breathing method. It relaxes the nervous system, promoting calmness and peacefulness so you can get to sleep quicker. It’s also a good exercise to help manage anxiety or stress.
How to do the 4-7-8 breathing method:
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth and exhale completely through your mouth with a “whoosh” sound
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose slowly, mentally counting to four
- Hold your breath, mentally counting to seven
- Open your mouth and exhale slowly and completely with a “whoosh” sound, mentally counting to eight
- Repeat at least three more times for four complete cycles of breath
This breath exercise is meant to put you in a state of deep relaxation, so make sure you are in a comfortable position and ready for bed before starting.
Meditation in general is a mindfulness practice that involves moving your focus away from your thoughts to sensations in your body. Sleep meditation can help you let go of the thoughts that are racing in your mind and relax your body to fall asleep. There are many guided meditations available online through both free and paid audio recordings and apps. Meditation takes practice, and over time you’ll start to feel the results not just in your quality of sleep but also during the day.
Yoga for sleep
There are many different types of yoga, but yoga nidra is one of the most common practices to help improve sleep. It refers to the state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, typically through a guided meditation. You begin by lying in savasana: flat on your back, with your arms and legs extended evenly and symmetrically, hands facing up. The guided meditation will take you through recognising your intention, body awareness, breath awareness and emotional awareness to take you deeper into an altered state of consciousness to eventually fall asleep.
Switch off electronics
Using electronic devices close to bedtime has a negative effect on your ability to fall asleep. This includes TVs, mobile phones, tablets, computers and laptops. The artificial blue light that is emitted from these types of screens and devices makes it difficult for your body’s internal clock to turn off and also suppresses the release of melatonin. Even if you are able to fall asleep after using these devices, frequently looking at screens before bed can cause disruptions in your sleep quality overall.
Doctors recommend turning off devices at least an hour before bed to help your body settle into its nightly routine.
Exercise during the day
Regularly exercising promotes your overall health, and exercising during the day helps release serotonin, a hormone that contributes to wellbeing and happiness, and decrease levels of cortisol, a hormone that is related to stress. Research shows that exercising in the mornings and earlier in the day can enhance quality of sleep.
Regardless of your fitness level, it’s important to not overexert yourself when it comes to physical training. Moderate, regular physical activity is a great place to start when incorporating exercise into your routine to see how it affects your ability to fall asleep.
Try sleep supplements and medication
If you’ve tried these natural remedies for insomnia and lifestyle changes and aren’t seeing any improvement, you might explore sleep supplements or medications. There are vitamins and supplements that you can take like magnesium and lavender that can promote better sleep, as well as prescription sleeping pills and treatments that can be explored. However, it’s recommended to identify and address the cause of your insomnia before pursuing prescription treatment.
Making lifestyle changes and trying new techniques to improve mindfulness and relaxation are great ways to fall asleep more quickly and soundly. If you’ve tried a variety of methods and are still experiencing insomnia, a Rosemary online doctor can help. Fill out an online questionnaire and a licensed Australian doctor will review within hours to identify a personalised sleep treatment plan for your needs.
- Healthdirect (June 2019) - Insomnia
- Indian Journal of Experimental Biology (May 2014) - Melatonin: an internal signal for daily and seasonal timing
- Journal of American College Health (2015) - Napping in college students and its relationship with nighttime sleep
- Sleep Medicine (February 2014) - Associations between specific technologies and adolescent sleep quantity, sleep quality, and parasomnias
- Vascular Health and Risk Management (December 2014) - Effects of exercise timing on sleep architecture and nocturnal blood pressure in prehypertensives