How to Fall Asleep Fast and Sleep Better
It’s no secret getting a good night’s sleep can do wonders for your mood, energy, and overall productivity the next day. But if you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably struggled with getting a sufficient amount of deep sleep each night. And if you can’t sleep, your whole next day suffers.
It’s been reported that trouble sleeping affects up to 70 million Americans every night – showing that getting adequate sleep isn’t always as easy as counting a few sheep.*
And the trouble with falling and staying asleep is that it can be due to so many things. Stress, pain, diet, and physical activity can all play a role in how well you get your needed hours of sleep each night.
That being said, luckily, there are many ways and approaches you can take to reach your sleep goal. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of person when it comes to something as important as sleep. Here are a few of my favorite tricks to falling and staying asleep, how to sleep better, as well as some common sleep problems.
How To Fall Asleep Fast
When trying to fall asleep fast and stay asleep, taking a holistic approach to yourself and your surroundings is key. First let’s explore how to set your sleep stage up for success.
Set Your Room Up to Fall Asleep Faster (and stay asleep)
Keeping your room cool at night has been proven to help you stay asleep and increases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Studies have shown when people are exposed to a cold environment, they are less likely to wake up when compared to a hot or humid environment.*
The reason you need a cooler environment while you sleep is our bodies naturally cool off as we sleep. As nighttime approaches, your brain releases the hormone melatonin to help you relax and start to feel tired. This also slows the rate of natural heat production from your body, causing you to slowly cool off as you get ready for bed – as early as two hours before you hit the pillow! Your body chills out and stays cool while you sleep, with slight changes within the various stages of sleep.
So how cool should it be? The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 60-67 degrees Farenheight.* Obviously setting your thermostat is an easy way (although can get pricey) to set the right temp for sleeping, but here are a few other ways you can keep your bedroom cool:
- Increase circulation with a good fan.
- Use breathable sheets so you don’t get too hot under the covers.
- Pick a mattress that doesn’t trap body heat like innerspring or hybrid mattresses.
- Experiment with your PJs, choose breathable fabrics like cotton or linen, or see if sleeping without clothes keeps you the most comfortable.
- Don’t work out right before bedtime as exercise increases your body temperature making it harder to fall asleep.
Sleeping in a dark environment is the other key factor to getting your room (and body) ready for sleep. Studies have shown that sleeping in a lit room has the same effects as a physical stressor would, and can increase neurological function, plus increase your heart rate and breathing rate. *
Turning the lights, iPad, and TV off and using blackout curtains can help keep your room nice and dark. Eye masks are another great and affordable way to reduce your light exposure at night. They can also be helpful if you need a night light for safety or can’t avoid all sources of light in your room.
While we’re on the topic of light, discussing the importance of avoiding blue light before bed can’t be overstated. As we live more and more in a digital world, we are exposing our brains to blue light wavelengths more than ever. If you can't fall asleep, blue light might be the culprit.
Blue light is helpful during the day as it boosts your attention and mood, but one of the ways it does this is to suppress your sleep hormone melatonin. Blue light blocks melatonin more than other colors of light, making it extremely disruptive when it comes to falling asleep and staying asleep.
Most phones and devices have a blue blocking filter you can apply in the evening, but the best thing is to avoid bright screens 2-3 hours before bed if possible. Wearing blue-blocking glasses that filter blue light can also help if screen time can’t be totally avoided.
But you don’t want to avoid bright lights all the time – exposing yourself to sunlight and bright lights during the day, especially the morning, can help keep your hormones and circadian rhythm in balance. *
In addition to keeping your room dark and cool at night, reserve your bedroom for two things: sleep and sex. If you work, watch Netflix, eat, and hang out in your bedroom during the day – it can send mixed signals to your brain and body about what you’re there for.
Set your Mind and Body Up for Sleep Success
Setting your environment up to help you sleep is important, but if your mind is running all over the place or your heart is racing after that 5pm espresso you felt you had to have to finish your work project – a cool, dark space won’t do the trick.
I’ve talked about ‘mental flossing’ before and how beneficial it is to sleep. Decluttering your mind of problems, to-do lists, and stressors will help you fall asleep and stay asleep. But if it were as simple as telling your brain to shut off – we wouldn’t have a country full of sleep-deprived people.
Creating a mindfulness practice can help you actively declutter your brain before bed. This can look like mediation, breathwork, journaling, or any number of ways to check in with your stress level.
A 2019 study looked at the benefits of using a phone app to facilitate slow-paced breathing for 15 minutes before bed in otherwise healthy individuals. Researchers found sleep quality and cardiovascular function were improved in participants who used the app versus those who spent the time looking at social media. *
Another study evaluating the usefulness of bedtime writing found writing specific to-do lists (versus more generic writing about the day’s completed tasks) led to falling asleep faster. *
By transferring your never-ending list of tasks from your brain and onto paper - you’re relieving some of your stress to make room for quality rest.
Not only do these tricks help you fall asleep and stay asleep, they help you move through the various sleep phases. These phases consist of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. The sleep phases are still not entirely understood, but it is well accepted that in order to fully rest and recover, you need to move from one to the other throughout the night. REM sleep is a period where our brains are active and our eyes twitch (hence the name rapid eye movement). *
REM sleep typically occurs later in the night and happens after a period of deep non-REM sleep. You tend to have most of your dreams during REM sleep. Sleep phases have been studied extensively and although the exact mechanism is still unclear, it’s been proven that when someone is deficient in REM phase sleep, they are at a higher risk of many health problems. *
Natural Sleep Supplements
If you’ve tried all the usual tips and tricks to falling asleep and still find yourself staring at the ceiling, it may be time to consider a natural supplement to try. Melatonin and GABA are two of the most common ones used as they’re both effective and relatively safe to use.
Melatonin is your body’s own sleep hormone.* When working correctly, your body slowly releases melatonin in the evening, causing you to become more drowsy and relaxed. This release occurs when it becomes less bright out and the sun goes down.
But due to our ever-increasing exposure to bright fluorescent lights and blue lights, we aren’t always getting the release of melatonin that we need. This is where supplementing with melatonin can be helpful.
Melatonin is considered a safe and natural sleep supplement with few to no adverse effects. Melatonin has been proven to help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and have an increase in overall sleep quality. Melatonin has been widely used to help manage sleeping problems due to age, jet lag, shift work, and other common issues.
In addition to melatonin (which is a hormone) your body uses an amino acid called Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short, to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it slows down neurological function. GABA helps slow your mind and racing thoughts down and helps your muscles and nerves relax as you prepare for sleep (and stay relaxed while you are sleeping). *
Natural GABA supplements have been shown to promote sleep and reduce anxiety.* There are GABA supplements available to increase your overall GABA levels, but there are also many natural foods and products which enhance your own GABA function – making GABA more effective at helping you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Various teas, like green tea and oolong tea have been shown to promote GABA function. There are teas available that are fortified with even more natural GABA supplement to boost their effects. A study with GABA-fortified oolong tea showed to help with relaxation and heart-rate regulation. * The tea worked quickly to reduce the overall stress response showing how sipping on some tea before bedtime can help you fall asleep faster.
Valerian root is an herb commonly used to reduce anxiety and relaxation. Studies have shown valerian root to potentiate (or encourage) GABA function and make it more effective when it comes to treating anxiety and helping you fall asleep faster. *
Magnesium is also commonly used as a supplement to help relieve anxiety and promote sleep. Magnesium is a mineral found in many foods like greens, nuts, seeds and dry beans.
Avocados, bananas, potatoes, and dark chocolate all have substantial amounts of natural magnesium. Oddly enough, pumpkin seeds are one of the most potent sources of dietary magnesium with 168mg per one ounce of seeds! *
And like valerian root, magnesium stimulates GABA function and increases how well it works when it comes to helping your body and mind relax. * There are many different types of magnesium supplements available to take if you don’t feel like you can get enough in your diet, or if you want to boost your GABA function more quickly at bedtime.
Studies have found if the magnesium supplement dissolves well in liquid, it usually is getter absorbed in the body. Some examples include magnesium aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride (versus magnesium oxide and sulfate). *
- Keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and reserved for sleep and sex can improve your sleep quality
- Decluttering your mind and reducing your stress throughout the day also increases how fast you fall asleep and stay asleep
- REM sleep phase is extremely important to overall health
- Melatonin and GABA are both helpful and natural ways to improve sleep quality