Sleepless nights spent tossing and turning in bed are common symptoms of insomnia, which affects millions of people in the United States.
With the appropriate strategy, you can reliably fall asleep within a few of minutes. One of the secrets to effortlessly falling asleep is calmness. Research demonstrates that the relaxation response is a physiological mechanism that positively benefits both the mind and body.
The relaxation response can help you get to sleep easier by decreasing tension and worry. Our step-by-step guidelines offer proven relaxing strategies that may help with insomnia and other sleep issues.
Although it may take some time to get the hang of these methods, experts all agree that the effort is well worth it in the end. Even better, these strategies are adaptable, so you can change them over time to make them work for you.
Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep
If you’re having problems catching Zs, you might want to think about the fundamental cause of your sleep struggles. Is it a bodily issue, like being too warm or having a backache? Or does it arise from mental stimulation like gadgets before bed, anxiety, or a huge life change? Check out these typical explanations for why you’re hard to fall asleep, and what to do when you can’t sleep.
Reason #1: It’s Too Hot
While some might think that you want to be warm and toasty at night, it’s actually best to sleep in a cold room about 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Sleeping overheated can lead to issues like night sweats, which can prevent you from getting a restful night’s rest.
Reason #2: Blue Light Is Waking You Up
It’s tempting to read through social media before hitting the hay, but did you realize that the blue light from your screen can be hindering your ability to sleep?
Reason #3: You Can’t Get Comfortable
Some nights you just can’t get comfortable enough to sleep, and you wind yourself tossing and turning for hours. The best thing to do if you can’t settle down is to get up and walk around for ten or fifteen minutes.
Reason #4. Stress or Anxiety Is Keeping You Up
Daytime tension and stress can lead to restless sleep. Too much mental activity during the day, anxiety, dread, disturbed sleep patterns, or racing thoughts can all contribute to sleeplessness in the evenings.
Reason #5: You’re Having Nightmares
Some people have trouble falling asleep after having a nightmare because of the fear of repeating the experience. Explore the meaning of your dreams to get to the bottom of the stress that’s giving you nightmares.
Reason #6: You’ve Had a Big Life Change
There’s nothing like a major life transition like getting married, starting a new career, or relocating to a new place to keep you up at night. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, you might want to try developing a soothing bedtime routine.
The Five Key Elements to Cultivating Relaxation
An integral part of religious and cultural rituals for thousands of years, relaxing promotes inner peace and community.
However, only in the past several decades have contemplative methods for relaxation been the subject of scientific investigation, leading to the identification of crucial factors for nurturing the relaxation response.
- Places where one can relax in peace. Just because it’s quiet doesn’t imply it has to be totally silent. Hearing or playing soothing music can help. It’s best to stay away from anything that makes a lot of noise or is particularly loud.
- A point of concentration. You can focus on something specific—a word, phrase, mantra, breathing pattern, or mental image—to lessen your awareness of the world around you and the stresses it may cause.
- Lack of activity; indifference; passivity. Knowing that this is a natural occurrence will help you relax and re-center your attention on the task at hand.
- Placement that allows for maximum ease. Finding a comfortable spot to unwind is essential. The bed is the natural place to be while trying to unwind and drift off to sleep.
- An exceptionally soft bed. A good night’s sleep can be greatly aided by locating the optimal mattress for one’s preferred sleeping position and body type.
The following techniques are all avenues to these essential goals, all with the end goal of a restful night’s sleep. If you remember these foundations, you’ll be able to modify these strategies to your liking.
Falling Asleep With Relaxation Techniques
When you’re ready for bed, try one of these methods to relax and fall asleep more easily.
This is why it’s effective:
Breathing deeply and slowly several times can help you relax. This technique, also known as pranayamic breathing, is thought to calm the nervous system, making it easier to fall asleep.
Method for Achieving This Goal:
1. Breath Counting
- You should take a few deep, relaxed breaths in through your nose.
- You should let your breath out of your lips slowly and gently.
- Raise your hand if you need to be counted up. If counting your breaths is difficult, try counting the time between each inhalation and exhale instead.
Method 4-7-8, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is Option 2.
- For this breathing exercise, rest the tip of your tongue on the ridge between your front teeth.
- Close your mouth and take four deep breaths through your nose.
- Try counting to seven without taking a breath.
- While counting to eight, open your mouth and let out a deep breath. Due to the positioning of your tongue, your exhale should go with a whoosh.
- Three more times, try this 4-7-8 sequence.
Who Can Benefit from It:
For those who are new to relaxation techniques or who struggle with employing other objects of focus, such as images or mantras, controlled breathing is an ideal starting point.
Meditation and Mindfulness
This is why it’s effective:
Practices of mindfulness include taking deep, deliberate breaths and paying attention to the current moment without judgment. It has been discovered to have far-reaching health advantages, including a capacity to assist alleviate sleeplessness by lowering levels of anxiety and ruminating.
Method for Achieving This Goal:
Mindfulness meditation comes in various forms, each tailored to a certain goal. The body scan is a simple method of meditation.
- Keep your breathing calm and regular.
- Consider how you’re lying on the bed right now.
- Focus on how your legs and feet feel, both good and terrible. You should relax and let your legs sag.
- Carry on the “body scan,” focusing on the sensations in each part of your body from your feet to your head.
- The point is to be in the here and now, to watch your body as it is without passing judgment or responding to it, and then to allow every muscle in your body unwind and untense.
- After you’ve gone through the motions of checking out every part of your body, take a moment to think about your body as a whole and give it permission to unwind.
This version was taken from the Greater Good in Action (GGIA) initiative at the University of California, Berkeley, which provides audio recordings of this and other mindfulness meditations.
Who Can Benefit from It:
Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, is accessible to anyone with some practice. Therefore, it is most effective for those who can set aside at least five minutes per day to hone their skills and gain confidence.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is why it’s effective:
By progressively contracting and releasing muscles throughout the body in tandem with controlled breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) produces a relaxing effect.
Method for Achieving This Goal:
- Try closing your eyes and breathing normally.
- Facial muscles (lips, eyes, jaw) should be tensed for 10 seconds, then released, and deep breaths should be
- taken for several seconds.
- Hold this tension in your shoulders for 10 seconds, and then let it go.
- Repeat the tensing and relaxing motion with the following body parts, skipping any that hurt:
- Upper arms
- Lower arms and hands
Insomnia sufferers may find relief through PMR, and those who suffer from chronic pain like arthritis or headaches may reap benefits from it as well if practiced correctly, according to research. Individuals who have cardiovascular issues that are not under control should not undergo PMR.
This is why it’s effective:
Focusing on a pleasant mental image from your past and recalling its specifics helps you unwind.
Method for Achieving This Goal:
- Close your eyes and get cozy, then recall a time or place that brought you a sense of calm, like a stroll through a peaceful park.
- Think about the sights and sounds of the area while you calmly breathe in and out.
- To deepen the calming effects of this mental imagery, you can keep visualizing it while also incorporating sensory nuances (scents, sounds, tastes, touches).
People who are visual thinkers and can recall specific things from long ago may benefit greatly from employing imagery as a kind of pre-sleep relaxation.
Are There Downsides to Relaxation Techniques?
While most people report positive results from using relaxation techniques, some may experience increased anxiety. If you have any reservations about trying any of these techniques, I strongly advise you to consult your doctor first.
What to Do About Mind Wandering
Mind wandering is normal during relaxation practices; even seasoned meditators experience it. Maintain a state of calm, slow your breathing, and concentrate on what needs to be done.
What If I Still Can’t Fall Asleep?
If you lie down to sleep and find that you’re still wide awake 20 minutes later, it’s best to get out of bed, walk to another room in the house, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to quiet music.
If you spend too much time lying awake in bed, your brain may begin to associate the bedroom with being awake. Instead, you need your bed to bring up images and emotions that are restful.
Pre-Bedtime Tips to Help Fall Asleep Quickly
There are a few easy things you can do before going to bed that will help you relax and get to sleep more quickly:
- Spend at least half an hour winding down before bed. Activities like reading and moderate stretching are perfect during this time.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, putting down your close-range electronic gadgets like a laptop, phone, or tablet may help.
- Turn down the lights to give your eyes a rest and dress in loose, cozy clothes.
- Maintain a comfortable temperature in your bedroom. A lower temperature is always preferable.
- Think about using a perfume that induces tranquility, such as lavender essential oils.
- Don’t eat a heavy dinner, drink too much coffee or alcohol right before bed.
Pre-Bedtime Tips To Help Fall Asleep Quickly
Check out the following activities for those times when sleep just won’t come.
1. Wait 30 Minutes
Per Michael Perlis, Ph.D., head of the University of Pennsylvania’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, if you’ve been trying to go asleep for a while without success, you might want to give yourself about half an hour to regroup before trying again.
Get out of bed and go to a different room in the house to do something calming, like yoga, reading, or journaling. There’s always the cold side of the pillow to look forward to when you go to bed again.
2. Keep the Room Cool, Dark, and Comfortable
Make sure your bedroom is cold and dark before bedtime for a restful night’s sleep. Temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit have been determined to be ideal for sleeping (15 to 19 degrees Celsius).
If you want to get a good night’s sleep, you should also make sure there are no bright lights (like a phone screen) in the room. The addition of a glow light to your bedroom can help you drift off to sleep more easily and quickly at night, making it the perfect accessory for a restful night’s sleep.
3. Switch Up Your Sleeping Position
No matter whether you prefer to sleep on your back, side, or stomach, it might be challenging to break out of your usual routine. Trying a new sleeping position may help you get some shut-eye if you’re having trouble dozing off.
Only 7% of the population sleeps on their stomachs, whereas over 55% sleep on their sides and 38% sleep on their backs. While there’s no such thing as a “perfect” sleeping position, you can give yourself the best chance of getting some shut-eye by selecting a pillow that works with your preferred snooze posture.
4. Sleep Solo
Despite the appeal of snuggling up with a furry buddy, a Mayo Clinic study found that pet owners who sleep with their animals wake up more frequently during the night. Instead, spend some quality time with your dog right up until bedtime, when you should probably separate into your own beds.
5. Do Calming Yoga
The inability to become comfortable at night might cause feelings of restlessness. An excellent method of combating this is to practice some restorative yoga before bed.
Doing yoga before bed doesn’t require you to be a human pretzel, and a recent study indicated that combined resistance training and stretching before bed led to significant improvements in chronic insomnia patients. Try doing some gentle yoga for five minutes, focusing on calming poses like child’s pose (Balasana), before bed to help you unwind and drift off more easily.
6. Try Practicing Mindfulness
When you’re having trouble falling asleep, practicing mindfulness can help you relax your muscles and force distracting ideas out of your head. Mindfulness training has been linked to improved health outcomes like lower anxiety, better stress management, and deeper states of relaxation.
Mindfulness practice is beneficial at any time of day, but it can help set the tone when you’re too exhausted to fall asleep if you do it right before bed. The following are some suggestions for mindfulness exercises:
- Think about how you’re breathing right now; are your breaths coming in at regular intervals or are they coming in fast and irregularly?
- Check the ease with which you’re using your fingers and toes.
- Listen carefully; is there background noise, or are you hearing complete silence?
7. Relax Your Muscles
You can try muscular relaxation techniques if you can’t get to sleep despite your best efforts. These physical methods of stress reduction have been proved in scientific studies to result in better nightly sleep.
The military method is a common technique for relieving muscle tension that entails lying on one’s back and systematically loosening every muscle in one’s body, beginning with the face.
How to use the military approach to sleeplessness is explained below.
- Stretch out on your bed and let all that pent-up energy leave your body.
- Start at the top of your head by tensing your facial muscles and releasing them, and work your way down to your toes.
- When you’ve relaxed all your muscles, take some deep breaths to help you stay calm.
- Don’t let yourself think about anything for 10 full seconds. If you find your mind wandering, picture a serene scene, such a lake or open prairie.
- Let your mind, body, and breath unwind while you lie in bed.
8. Go Commando
That’s correct, you spotted a typo. Many nudists report feeling more at ease when they sleep without clothing. As a biological indication to tell your body that it’s time to sleep, sleeping naked can help you regulate your body temperature to come closer to the ideal figure of 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
9. Do a Body Scan
Self-body scans are an excellent stress-reduction technique. While a hospital body scan may sound daunting, a home body scan is a breeze that can be performed in the privacy of your own bed. Relaxation techniques like these, as well as the military way, have been demonstrated to enhance the quality of one’s slumber.
Simply relax each part of your body individually until your entire body is at ease, and then repeat the process. The 10-20 minutes it takes to complete a full body scan gives you plenty of time to focus inside, become aware of your body, and let go of tension.
When you can’t get to sleep, try this body scan:
- Get in bed and relax.
- From your head down, concentrate on relaxing each and every muscle until you feel completely at ease.
- Working your way down your body, start with your facial and neck muscles.
- Feel the movement down each arm, up the torso, and down the stomach.
- Take your time and unwind from your knees all the way to your toes.
- After 10–20 minutes, assess your level of stress to evaluate whether any more action is required.
10. Try Journaling
When you’re exhausted but can’t sleep because your thoughts won’t stop racing, writing in a notebook can help. Keeping a to-do list in a journal before bed has been shown to help people fall asleep far more quickly. If you’re having trouble falling asleep and find yourself counting sheep, try spending five minutes writing down a detailed to-do list for the next few days.
11. Focus On Your Breathing
It may help to focus within and on your breathing if you’re having difficulties sleeping at night. One technique for this is practicing regulated breathing, which entails taking several long, slow breaths to induce a state of relaxation. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is recommended by University of Arizona clinical professor of medicine Dr. Andrew Weil to deal with sleep anxiety.
Using the 4-7-8 technique to help you fall asleep when you can’t is as simple as:
- Take a deep breath in and slowly let it all out through your mouth and nose.
- Take a slow, four-second deep breath in through your nose.
- Take a deep breath and hold it for seven seconds.
- Keep your breath out for eight seconds.
- You should do this at least four more times.
12. Consider Taking Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone found in the body that has been shown to induce drowsiness. For those who have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep, melatonin pills can be purchased without a prescription.
In response to your internal body clock, the pineal gland in your brain converts serotonin into melatonin. Raised melatonin levels have been shown to reduce blood pressure and core temperature, two factors that may make you more sleepy. The time it takes for melatonin to take effect varies depending on factors like the individual’s age, coffee consumption, light exposure, body size, and smoking habits.
Soft ambient noises, such as those produced by an air conditioner, a babbling brook, or the rain, have been demonstrated to increase sleep quality and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep by up to 38%.
13. Put Your Phone Across the Room
Nine out of ten Americans use electronic devices in the hour before bedtime, and for most of us, that means scrolling through social media. Unfortunately, research has shown that using technology right before bed reduces the quality of sleep. This is in part due to the stimulating effects of blue light, which is emitted by displays.
If, after a few minutes of tossing and turning, you reach for your phone (no shame in admitting this), you may want to consider turning off the screen and putting your phone across the room.
14. Listen to Ambient Noise
White, pink, and brown noise, among others, can be used as a variety of ambient sounds to aid in snoozing. Although white noise has become the standard for “sleep sounds,” there are actually a number of other noises that can aid in getting a more restful night’s sleep.
- A humming sound is produced by white noise since it contains all frequencies. You can find white noise in the form of a fan, TV static, HVAC system, or purifier.
- Compared to white noise, the sound frequency of pink noise is lower. Pink noise can be created by a variety of natural phenomena, such as rain, wind, or rustling leaves.
- As opposed to pink or white noise, brown noise has a lower frequency. Waterfalls and thunder are two kinds of brown noise.
Big Picture Tips To Fall Asleep Easily
If you have trouble falling asleep on a regular basis, you may want to try incorporating some of these sleep-inducing strategies into your day.
15. Practice Sleep Hygiene
The term “sleep hygiene” is used to describe practices that can improve the quality of one’s sleep, both in terms of one’s own behavior and the surrounding environment. Good sleep hygiene entails establishing and maintaining routines both before bed and in the morning to ensure a more restful night’s sleep.
Simple practices that promote healthy sleep habits include:
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol if you want a good night’s rest. These substances have been shown to reduce the quality of your sleep and increase the frequency with which you wake up during the night.
- Keep the bedroom a place of rest and romance: When you use your bedroom for other purposes during the day, you may begin to link it with sleeping. Avoid this by restricting use of the bedroom to sleeping and making love.
- How to Lay Out a Bedroom for Maximum Comfort Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep rather than a place where you toss and turn every night by ensuring that it meets the needs of those who will be sleeping there. Making sure your bed is the proper size for the room is a great place to start. A king-size memory foam mattress, for instance, would look a bit out of place in a 10′ x 10′ guest bedroom, but would be perfectly at home in a master suite.
16. Kick the Afternoon Caffeine
Coffee may be associated with the morning, but many people like a second cup in the afternoon. However, a cup of coffee can keep you up for up to 10 hours, so that afternoon jolt could keep you working late into the night.
If you regularly consume two or more caffeinated drinks, try switching to a decaf beverage in the afternoon.
17. Exercise Earlier in the Day
While doing out at night can help you obtain more deep sleep, the “happy hormone” endorphins released during exercise may keep you awake. Medical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., claims that an increase in core body temperature caused by exercise sends a message to the brain that it is time to be awake.
Stop exercising at least an hour or two before bedtime to lessen the likelihood of negative effects from working out late at night.
18. Limit Your Naps
Three-quarters of all American adults regularly take naps. Power naps are great for helping you feel refreshed and ready to take on the day, but napping too frequently might throw off your circadian cycle, making you feel more awake at night.
Short naps of less than 30 minutes have been demonstrated to be ineffective for recharging, while longer sleeps may leave people feeling foggy upon awakening. If you want to wake up feeling refreshed rather than sleepy, keep your naps to about 20 minutes.
19. Create a Better Environment for Sleep
The foundation of a good night’s sleep is a comfortable and peaceful environment. In the same way that you want your office to inspire you to think outside the box and your gym to get your blood pumping, your bedroom should be a haven of peace and comfort.
The finest bedroom colors for sleep might vary from person to person, as can the best plants to have in a bedroom.
Several scientific studies have demonstrated the benefits of regulating environmental factors such room temperature, humidity, light, and noise to improve the quality of one’s slumber.
20. Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Even if you have an irregular sleep schedule, it’s best to stick to a routine if you want to feel refreshed and ready to take on the day. This occurs because your body follows what’s called a circadian rhythm, an internal clock that regulates when you should be up and when you should prepare for bed.
Aim for a consistent sleep pattern by gradually adjusting your routine, perhaps by 15 minutes every night, if you are accustomed to an irregular sleep schedule.
If you typically go to bed around 2 a.m. and wake up around 10 a.m. (hey, we’ve all been there), you could gradually adjust your sleeping schedule by going to bed at 1:45 a.m., then 1:30 a.m., and so on until you reach the time you want to be in bed.
21. Talk to a Sleep Specialist
If you’ve tried everything to get to sleep but nothing seems to work, it may be time to contact a sleep doctor. In-depth, personalized advice is available from sleep specialists who are educated to look for underlying issues like sleep disorders during an evaluation.
It’s quite annoying to be exhausted but unable to fall asleep. If you can’t fall asleep because of restlessness, getting out of bed in the morning may seem like an even bigger challenge. This book was written to assist you figure out what to do when you can’t sleep and give you some advice on how to fall asleep, whether it’s a one-time incident or you’re constantly awake counting sheep.
Get ready for lights out! To get the sleep of your dreams, peruse our selection of luxurious memory foam mattresses and ultra-plush, breathable sheets.