photo of a man sleeping

Are you in bed at the moment, awake and looking for help to fall asleep?

Or have sleep problems become a regular and frustrating part of your life?

I’ve suffered from bouts of insomnia for two decades, and have tried everything under the sun (and moon) to improve my sleep.

And in this article, I’ll be sharing both the standard advice of sleep experts and the techniques which have helped me most.

Choose which applies to you:

  1. I’m in bed now and can’t sleep
  2. I need help to sleep tonight
  3. How can I sleep better in general?

I’m in bed now and can’t sleep


photo of a person lying awake in bed using their mobile phone

Since you’re already in bed, now isn’t the time to recommend changing your sleep schedule or doing exercise!

Instead, here are some simple ideas to help you relax and fall asleep:

mini infographic with five key tips to help you fall asleep right now
  1. First, take a deep breath and tell yourself you’re not going to stress about being awake.
  2. Are you on your phone or tablet? In the settings, turn on the blue light filter or night mode.
  3. Do you feel too hot or too cold? Take a minute to change your bedding, open a window, or turn the heating down.
  4. Have you been in bed for a long time trying to sleep? If so, get up for 10 minutes. Sit in another room with dim lighting, read a book or do something relaxing. No screens though!
  5. Are you feeling sweaty, hot or uncomfortable? Have a quick warm shower or wash in low lighting.
  6. Go back to bed (or stay in bed) and do the relaxation exercise below until you fall asleep.

A relaxation exercise to do in bed

  • Lie on your back with your arms by your side.
  • Take a minute to focus on your breathing.
  • Don’t try to change it for a minute – just notice how it is.
  • Now breathe slowly through your nose for a count of 4.
  • Hold for a count of 4 seconds. 2 is fine if 4 seems too long.
  • Breathe out slowly through your mouth for a count of 4.
  • Repeat until you hopefully fall asleep or can’t focus on it any longer.

I need help to sleep tonight

photo of a woman sleeping peacefully

If you’re worried about sleeping well tonight, there are some positive steps you can take today to improve your chances of sleeping better.

Here are some ideas for you:

1. Be active during the day

  • Do some exercise. Even going for a walk or doing some stretching can help. But avoid very intense exercise close to bedtime.
  • Spend some time outside in the sunlight. This will help regulate your internal body clock.

2. Food and drink

  • Avoid caffeine or energy drinks in the afternoon.
  • Don’t eat a heavy, fatty, spicy or sugary meal late in the evening. Keep the evening meal light and healthy.
  • Don’t drink alcohol late in the evening. If you do, keep it in moderation and drink water too.
  • If you’re hungry before bed, only have a light snack.

3. Unwind

  • Dedicate 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed to unwind.
  • Stop working or checking emails.
  • Write a to-do list for tomorrow if your head is full of plans and worries.
  • Don’t do anything stressful or have upsetting conversations.
  • Turn the lights down, and do something relaxing. For example: read a book, write, draw, do yoga, meditate, talk or play with family, friends or pets.
  • Avoid using screens before bed. Turn off the TV, mobile phone, tablet or computer at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
  • If you can’t put your phone or tablet aside, use a blue light filter.
  • Have a relaxing bath or shower.
activities for sleep mini infographic

4. Prepare your bedroom and bed

  • Only use your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Relax in another room before bed.
  • The ideal bedroom temperature for adults is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 19 degrees Celsius). Young children and older adults may need warmer though. Try to create that temperature with the heating, windows, fan, and appropriate bedding for the season.
  • Make sure the bedroom isn’t stuffy. Unless it’s freezing outside, opening a window to let fresh air in can help.
  • Use clean sheets and covers.
  • Is it noisy? Ask others to be quieter. Block sound with earplugs, headphones, white noise or music. Take a look at some other ways to reduce noise in bed.
  • Is it dark enough? Turn off all lights and try to completely cover the windows. Consider getting blackout blinds.

5. Relax

  • Remember that it’s normal to take 10 to 30 minutes to fall asleep. So don’t stress out if you do take a while to drop off.
  • Stay calm, enjoy the feeling of being in bed. Think about how nice and cozy it feels to be in bed at the end of a long day.
  • If you tend to have a busy mind when you go to bed, do some relaxation exercises until you feel sleepy.
  • There are some excellent guided meditation Apps you can listen to before going to bed, or even when you’re in bed. I highly recommend Headspace, Let’s Meditate, and Calm.

How can I sleep better in general?


photo of a woman relaxing outside in a park with a book

In my experience, there’s no magic technique guaranteed to make anyone fall asleep on any given night. Even strong sleeping pills don’t work equally for everyone!

However, it certainly helps to understand which health and lifestyle choices can affect your sleep. And how your bedroom environment, attitude and approach to sleep, and daily routine all play a key role.

If you’re reading this section, I imagine you’ve probably had more than your fair share of insomnia or other sleep problems. It’s frustrating, and understandably you want it to stop.

I do recommend reading through the previous sections, as there’s lots of great advice there and I don’t want to repeat it here.

But in addition to those ideas, there are some other points worth considering which are more long-term approaches.

1. Consult your personal physician or doctor

If you often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you should consult your doctor.

People sometimes think sleep is less important than illness or injury, and not something to bother their doctor about. But a lack of sleep can have serious consequences in the long run.

Furthermore, there are more than 80 sleep disorders. So although you might call it insomnia, your specific symptoms may warrant further investigation.

Many different physical and mental health conditions, as well as medications, are associated with sleep problems. Your doctor can help work out if there’s a connection and treat the condition.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been shown in clinical trials to be as or more effective than sleeping pills.

For that reason, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that doctors offer CBT before hypnotic medication.

And the United Kingdom NHS also suggests that CBT works well for insomnia.

CBT for insomnia usually involves several components, such as:

  • Stimulus control (e.g. only using the bedroom for sleep)
  • Sleep restriction (e.g. not spending longer than needed in bed)
  • Cognitive strategies (e.g. replacing fear about not sleeping well with positive feelings)

This is something you can speak to your doctor about. There are also online CBT courses you could consider.

3. Tackle stress and anxiety during the day

For many people, the normal stresses of life can cause short-term or even long-term sleep problems.

Even if you don’t have chronic insomnia or another sleep disorder, it’s normal for sleep to be affected when life is particularly challenging. And major life events and changes can be stressful times.

A relationship, new job, bereavement, moving home, exams, financial trouble, family worries – these are just a few examples of major life stressors.

In my personal experience, it’s helpful to do simple relaxation exercises in bed. But it’s even better to tackle anxiety and stress during the day on an ongoing basis.

Some ideas include:

  • Try self-help, such as mindfulness.
  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a counseling service.
  • Stay active.
  • Use your support network – talk to family and friends about how you feel.
  • Take some ‘me time’ a couple of nights a week to do activities you enjoy.
  • Help others (the NHS has an interesting article about how helping others improves our own mood).
  • Avoid unhealthy habits and addictions, like alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs.
  • Develop better time management skills if it’s an issue for you.
  • Practice regular yoga, meditation, Tai Chi or other relaxing exercises available in your area. If there aren’t any group classes, watch online videos, get a book or use an App.

4. Be consistent with good sleep habits

You may have already heard some of the standard advice about good sleep habits. It’s often called ‘sleep hygiene’ and refers to behavior that helps or hinders sleep.

Here are some of my personal favorites, which I know from experience help me fall asleep more easily in general:

Good sleep habits

  • Stick to a regular sleep pattern. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. Get up at the same time every day, which is easier to control than when you fall asleep.
  • Avoid naps or siestas in the daytime.
  • Create a bedtime ritual that’s calm, free from bright light and screens, and makes you feel positive and less stressed.
  • Invest in your bedroom and bedding. Use the best mattress, covers, and bedding that you can reasonably afford. Make your bedroom a clean, calm and airy space to be.
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing for 10, then try again. Avoid suffering in silent darkness for hours on end!

5. Have reasonable expectations of how long it takes to fall asleep

The title of this article raises an important point: in how much time should you be able to fall asleep anyway?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s normal to take 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep.

If you drift off the minute your head hits the pillow, it’s a sign that you might be sleep deprived.

If it takes an hour or more, you’re either spending too long in bed or might have insomnia. But it could also be due to other influences like stimulants, shift work or jet lag.

20 minutes of lying awake in the darkness can seem like a very long time, especially with an overactive mind.

So it’s helpful to remind yourself that it’s normal to stay awake for a while. Try not to get into a vicious circle of worrying about falling asleep, and do what you can to relax.

graphic showing it's normal to take 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep

6. Don’t just rely on sleep tracker data

Sleep trackers can provide interesting insights, but there’s a potential downside to relying on them too much.

Researchers have found that people don’t always interpret the data correctly or get caught out by inaccuracies. That, in turn, causes anxiety about their sleep.

If you use a sleep tracker, do remember that they aren’t perfect. And that sometimes the data can give a worse impression of your sleep than the reality.

It’s important to assess how you actually feel and track your sleep consciously. If you wake up feeling okay, that’s all that really matters.

But if you regularly wake up feeling lethargic and tired, and struggle through the day, then it’s something to raise with your doctor.

Your views and ideas

Do you have trouble sleeping? How long does it normally take you? What helps you fall asleep quicker, or does nothing seem to work?

Leave a comment below!

14 thoughts on “How To Fall Asleep Faster”

  1. Hi Ethan.
    I have a problem with sleeping due to anxiety and fear. Whenever I manage to fall asleep for a few minutes, I’ll suddenly wake up with my heart pounding. I rarely sleep at all throughout for the past few days.
    It is really affecting my mental health. Please help me.

    1. Hi Talatu
      I can understand how difficult this is. Do you know what is causing fear and anxiety? If it’s an ongoing issue, it’s something to discuss with a medical professional. It might also help to do some self-help work, for example trying mindfulness techniques, which you can learn online, through a book or phone App even.
      Regards
      Ethan

  2. It’s rare to sleep uninterupted for 7-9 hours…Wouldn’t it still be OK if your total sleep adds up to 7-9 hours?? I wake up at least twice during the night…(

    1. Hi Martin
      That’s right I think. In fact, there are some experts that argue that it’s fine to have quite a long wake up in the night, and sleep in 2 or 3 phases. As long as you sleep enough each time to go through the different sleep stages, it’s not an issue to wake up at least twice.
      Regards
      Ethan

  3. These tips are really amazing. One thing I would like to add is one should take a cold shower before going to bed. This will also help you in getting to sleep fast.

    1. Hi David
      Thanks for your comment and compliment about the article. I think having a lukewarm shower can definitely help – though perhaps not in the winter! I definitely find just being clean and fresh when I get into bed makes a difference.
      Regards
      Ethan

  4. Janet Cummings

    I can not relax. I constantly feel the need to move. I am extremely restless from the waist down & toss and turn for hours on end. I sleep well after 3AM. In the morning Iam so relaxed & comfortable that I can’t seem to get out of bed before 10 or 11 AM. By that time I have spent 12 hrs in bed but only slept fo about 6 and half the day is wasted.

    1. Hi Janet
      Thanks for your comment. Do you get a burning, or itching feeling in your legs when you lie in bed? If so, you might want to do some research into disorders like restless legs syndrome.
      And it is probably the case that you are spending far too long in bed. It’s better to only be in bed for the time you actually need to sleep for to function well, plus a bit more to read, relax etc. Have a look into what’s called sleep restriction therapy, which might give you some food for thought.
      Regards
      Ethan

  5. I’ve been trying to get to bed around 10-11pm and get up at 7am for the past 2 weeks, but I haven’t been sleeping well at all. I’ll toss and turn all night and it takes a few hours to get to sleep if I manage to sleep at all. I’ll often be awake at different times throughout the night too. Before I was trying to get to bed earlier I was going to bed around 2-3am every night, sometimes even 4am. I would get to sleep in within 10-20mins and I would sleep until I got up with no troubles at all. Last night I didn’t get to sleep until 2am, and I slept perfectly, no restless or broken sleep. I’ve been struggling with deciding if it’s better to try to get to sleep early and probably not sleep well, or just go to bed at 2am and get a really good, but not so long sleep, as I would still need to get up at 7am. I’ve tried a lot of different things to try to help me get to sleep earlier but nothing seems to work. I’ve also been reading about different sleeping disorders and I think I have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.

    1. Hi Rebecca
      Thanks for your comment. It’s possible that you have delayed sleep phase disorder, but also possible that you don’t need 8-9 hours sleep to function well. How do you feel when you only get 5 or 6 hours? Can you work fine, feel fine and not be sleepy all day? You could try keeping a sleep diary to assess how much sleep you get and how you feel and function. That way, you can work out how much sleep you really need. If it turns out that you don’t need 9 hours, then there’s little point in going to bed so early, and then getting upset that you’re not falling asleep, as that can cause the kind of stress that will further affect your sleep.
      Regards
      Ethan

  6. I have night terrors and nightmares a lot and they are keeping me up all night long because they like to see me scared and alone. I’m not sure if I will be able to get sleep tonight. And I am avoiding sleep because of this.

    1. Hi Rachel
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand why you’d be worried about sleep if you regularly have nightmares or night terrors. It’s not a pleasant experience, and can make you feel like going to sleep isn’t the relaxing experience it’s supposed to be.
      I think though, that when you start to avoid sleep because of anxiety about what might happen, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. You could mention this to your doctor to get their advice and support as a good first step. But I’d also look for self-help advice about nightmares, and see if you can start to tackle it that way as well. You can find lots of advice online, including my article about nightmares here.
      Regards
      Ethan

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