This probably won’t come across as breaking news, but sleep is important. Like as important as water, food, and shelter. Like years with great sleep quality add years to your life, or vice-versa important.
Frustratingly for far too many people, falling asleep easily and enjoying proper sleep duration are much easier said (or thought about for hours while staring at the ceiling) than done. Fortunately, anyone can enjoy better sleep quality, you just may need to work at it a bit, because when it comes to finding out how to fall asleep fast, practice pays.
Yes, that’s right, you need to practice how to fall asleep. It may sound silly – after all, isn’t falling asleep as natural as walking or talking or anything else a human being takes for granted? Well sure, falling asleep is perfectly natural, but think of it like this: you had to practice how to walk and talk properly at one point in your life, but have you ever actually practiced falling asleep?
Don’t worry if the answer is no, because enough other people have to have developed plenty of methods that will help you fall asleep faster. And no, not because they’re boring, like counting sheep – quite the opposite, because, excitingly, they work.
Sleep duration: How many hours of sleep do you need?
What does a good night’s rest mean, anyway? In the simplest terms, it means a night where you fall asleep fast, stay asleep for hours, and if you awake before it’s time to get out of bed, you fall asleep quickly again after only a few minutes (15 or 20 at most) spent awake in bed.
As for the actual numbers, as in numbers of hours, those merit a closer look. According to scientific data reported by Health Line, the average adult between the ages of 18 to 64 needs between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. (Kids need more, senior adults need less, and frankly almost none of us are getting enough!)
Now, of course there is flex in there: if you feel great every day and are never groggy in the morning or drowsy in the afternoon yet you sleep only six and a half hours a night, then all good for you. On the other hand, if you need the entirety of those nine hours to function properly when awake, no problem there. Getting healthy sleep means getting as much sleep as you need to feel rested and productive, it does not mean adhering to a strict guideline laid out by medical expert types.
That said, you do need to figure out how much sleep you need, meaning you as an individual. And once you know your own personal data, so to speak (pay attention to how much you slept on days you feel great, e.g.), you can plan your bedtime routine around that number, reverse engineering things based on wake-up time so you know you can always hit your number. Well, almost always, anyway.
Can’t fall asleep quickly? Don’t worry, it’s probably not a sleep disorder
Remember how we talked about the need for practicing how to fall asleep fast? Your trouble falling asleep is probably due to a lack of said practice, not because of some larger sleep issue.
According to peer reviewed studies reported by Sleep Advisor, only about 10% of American adults suffer from chronic insomnia, an issue that can become a medical concern and that may well need intervention from a professional – chronic insomnia involves debilitatingly bad sleep on three or more nights out of a week in a cycle lasting three or more months.
The rest of us probably can’t fall asleep quickly enough simply because we’re not trying to fall asleep properly, and/or because we have thrown up proverbial hurdles that are creating needless sleep problems. That said, up to 50% of American adults do report at least occasional issues falling asleep and staying asleep, so while the fixes may not be that hard in the grand scheme of things, this is indeed an issue we need to fix.
Thus we’ll now move into the more specific discussion of ways to fall asleep fast. Practice one or two of these for a little while, and soon you’ll welcome bedtime each and every night.
Three methods you can practice to help you fall asleep faster than ever
There’s an old joke in the military that explains how soldiers can fall asleep so fast even in abjectly terrible conditions that essentially goes like this: “Carry a hundred pounds of gear up and down hills from sunrise to sunset, eating while you march and occasionally dodging enemy bullets, and then crawl into a foxhole. You’ll be asleep in 10 seconds.”
But don’t worry, that’s not the military method of falling asleep we’ll be covering here. Instead, according to author Sharon Ackman, there’s a method that was indeed developed by the United States Navy that has been proven to help people – military and civilians alike – fall asleep rapidly once they have practiced it for a number of weeks.
The military method for falling asleep fast
Here are the steps to the so-called military method of falling asleep fast:
- Lie down and get as comfortable as you can, then relax all of the muscles above your neck, even your tongue
- Release all tension in your shoulders, arms, and hands
- Exhale steadily and fully, relaxing your chest muscles
- Relax your legs, working down, so thighs, then calves, then ankles and feet
- Clear your mind by picturing a comforting, easily visualized scene – think an empty beach or crackling fire
- Slowly repeat the words “don’t think” over and over for about 10 seconds
If you’re not asleep after that, do those simple steps again. And again. Then back off and try again the next night. And the next. It will take a few weeks, but if you stick with it, you will fall asleep faster than ever before.
Progressive muscle relaxation for falling asleep fast
Not feeling the military way to fall asleep fast or just want a second tactic? Then using a progressive muscle relaxation approach can work.
Also often called a body scan and essentially a type of mindfulness meditation or sleep improvement, a body scan relaxes your body (go figure) while also bringing your mind into the present moment, calming those thoughts that may be rushing.
To do a progressive body scan relaxation, follow these steps:
- Lie comfortably, ideally flat on your back, arms at sides
- Start at the top of your head and consciously relax the muscles there, letting your forehead muscles loosen, the muscles in your jaw and mouth, and your tongue
- Next move, mentally speaking, to your neck and shoulders, letting all of those muscles relax
- Now pick a side of your body, and assuming you started with the left, work down – let the muscles in your left arm and hand relax, your left pectoral, release your abs (this will be more of a core relaxation, don’t get hung up on left abs!), then your left thigh, left calf, and on down to the toes
- Repeat the same shoulder down relaxation on the right side, again noting which muscles you are relaxing as you go, going as slowly as you can
- Assuming you are still awake at the end of this process, focus on staying relaxed and keep your thinking clear by putting all of your attention on your body
And note that you can move down the body evenly during a body scan relaxation, meaning both arms, legs, and so on at once, but by separating the halves of yourself, you will allow for greater focus and you will use a bit more time, which means more time spent relaxing into slumber.
The 4-7-8 breathing method for falling asleep
Dr. Andrew Weil – a Harvard-educated medical doctor with noted health and wellness expertise – developed this unique method for helping people fall asleep fast and, with practice, it works. Why? Because the steps involved slow and calm the nervous system, essentially tricking (or easing) your body into thinking you were about to fall asleep anyway.
Here is Dr. Weil’s method, and note that as with all of these approaches, some practice may be needed.
- Rest the tip of your tongue against the ridge just behind your upper teeth
- Exhale all of the air in your lungs out through your mouth, breathing out forcefully enough to make an airflow sound
- Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for a four second count, hold the breath for a seven second count, then exhale again with enough force to make an audible breath noise, but steadily now, exhaling for eight seconds (you may need to practice this exhalation to get the timing right)
- Repeat the same breath cycle (in for four, hold for seven, out for eight, e.g.) four times total, then pause and breathe normally for a bit before repeating it, and repeat until you are asleep or want to give your sleep practice a rest for the night.
A few more casual tips that can help you fall asleep fast
If the military method for falling asleep, a mindful meditation session, or breathing exercises aren’t your cup of tea (and sorry, no tea before bed, not even decaf, because you’ll just have to wake up to empty it back out), no problem: there are plenty of other techniques you can use that will help you fall asleep fast.
The first, ironically, is to try to stay awake. Provided you are at least somewhat tired, and provided you can lie in bed awake without your mind starting to race through thoughts, then trying to stay awake is a bit of reverse psychology you can do with yourself.
Turn the lights out, the fan and sound machine and such on, get in bed, and get comfortable, but don’t close your eyes. Instead keep them open and try to keep your mind alert but without specific thoughts while lying awake.
Your body, knowing it’s time for you to fall asleep, will start to override your mind, and you may well feel your lids shutting almost unbidden. With a little luck (and better still, with a little practice) it will suddenly be morning and you’ll feel fresh and ready to roll.
Watching TV before bed? Very bad. Reading before bed, on the other hand, can be a great way to relax into slumber that will be of genuine sleep quality. Just make sure you are not reading on a screen and sit up while you read, don’t lie down until your book (or magazine or paper) is on the nightstand and you are ready to fall asleep.
And also make sure to set down said reading material as soon as your eyes start growing heavy; if you try to finish a chapter or even just a page despite the fatigue, you may miss the chance for rapid sleep onset as your body thinks you are trying to stay up and resets itself.
Don’t fight to stay awake, even if your book is gripping, in other words – the story will still be waiting for you tomorrow. Oh, and don’t read something related to work or that is going to stress you out, by the way – that will be totally counterproductive. And work will be waiting for you after that quality sleep that’s coming, too.
Listening to pleasant, soothing music is also a great way to ease yourself into being asleep fast. That doesn’t mean it needs to be all instrumental or anything, just don’t pick music that’s too upbeat or bass-heavy, and keep the volume low.
Also, don’t wear earbuds or headphones, as they can be jostled uncomfortably and wake you up (and can even end up causing danger if some piece of hardware gets lodged in an ear or, worse, an airway), but instead use a speaker. And if you can set it such that the music will turn off sometime after you fall asleep, that’s ideal for sleep quality.
Things to avoid if you want to fall asleep quickly and get better sleep when you do
You surely know the basics (AKA the common sense) things to avoid when you are trying to improve your sleep quality, like caffeine, screens that put off blue light, and, if at all possible, a racing mind. But there are a few other things you should pass on prior to your bedtime routine that may seem a bit counterintuitive.
For example, many people find a nighttime warm bath or a warm shower relaxing, but in fact these can have the exact opposite effect than what you need to fall asleep faster: the warm water raises your body temperature exactly when you need it to be falling to help you fall asleep. If you really need that bedtime bath or shower, at least end with cool water so you can start the cool down process that helps you end up asleep fast when you hit the mattress.
While strenuous exercise earlier in the day can lead to better sleep at night, what with your body being more fatigued and in need of the rest, do not exercise close to bedtime. By working out, you will speed up your nervous system and warm up your body, and neither of those are conducive to falling asleep well. Also, you’ll need to shower off, which as we just noted can throw a wrench in the whole falling asleep program.
As confirmed by countless academic and medical associations and confirmed by peer reviewed journals, it’s also a good idea to avoid eating close to bedtime, as the digestive process can keep you awake. This is especially true with heavily fibrous foods and with spicy foods. Your best bet is a healthy, hearty dinner eaten well before your bedtime routine commences.
And as for alcohol, if you want productive, deep sleep, skip it. Sure, booze may make you fall asleep fast, but your sleep quality will be lousy, you’ll likely wake up in the middle of the night, and good luck feeling well rested in the morning.
A better bedtime beckons
Regardless of which approach you choose to work toward falling asleep faster (and you can try more than one, of course), know that a better night of sleep is not only possible, it’s coming.
You may not nod off in 10 seconds the first night or the fourth or the fourteenth, but even before you have mastered one or more of the sleep techniques covered here, they will begin to help you drift off faster.
And the focus you put in before sleep each night will be so worth the effort during all your waking hours. You will have more energy, your mood will improve, you will be better able to focus, and you’ll get more done, from work to hobbies to fitness to fun.
Simply put, with more productive sleep, you will be a more productive person. You’ve got what it takes to make this happen!