Have trouble falling asleep? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, many people are feeling more sleep-deprived these days, especially those who already suffer with anxiety. And while some people pop sleeping pills to address this problem, it’s not a good option for everyone. Going to the doctor and filling prescriptions costs money you might not have on an already tight budget. Or, maybe you’re trying to cut down on how many pills you take daily for various health issues. Regardless of your reasons why, these five scientifically proven tips can help you fall asleep faster and improve rest quality. And best of all, they’re all free!
1. Give Your Bedroom A Light-Reducing Makeover
Everyone knows it’s easier to fall asleep in a dark room, but some light sources are worse than others. Start with blocking out as much ambient light as you can from external sources, such as street lights and traffic. You can even use thumbtacks to hang an extra sheet folded double over your bedroom windows, if needed. In addition, put your alarm clock face-down on your nightstand or the floor beside your bed. That way, you can still hear and reach it every morning, but without any visual distractions.
Now, let’s talk about screens: Do you keep a TV in your bedroom? What about a laptop, tablet or e-reader? It’s best to avoid watching TV in bed because it emits blue light that stops your body’s normal melatonin production. If you can’t move your television, set a timer so it turns off automatically at least one hour before bedtime. In addition, you should move the charging cords for your tablet and/or smartphone into another room. Blue light exposure tells your body the sun is still up, and prevents you from falling asleep. If you must keep your smartphone nearby (i.e., you’re on-call overnight for work), install a free blue-light reducer like f.lux. And if reading before bedtime does help you fall asleep, a book always works better than your Kindle.
Bonus tip: If you don’t already have blackout curtains on your windows, consider investing in some when you can. People that don’t work 9-to-5 daytime jobs often struggle with insomnia because their circadian rhythms are already off. Recreating the same dark environment your body evolved to expect at bedtime can improve your sleep time and quality!
2. Take a Hot Bath or Shower 90 Minutes Before Bedtime
A July 2019 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found hot baths or showers can improve sleep quality. To get the most benefit, make sure your water temperature falls somewhere between 104-109 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, you want to time this bath or shower about 90 minutes before your usual bedtime. This shift in core temperature helps aid your body’s natural circadian process and improves your overall sleep quality. It should also help you fall asleep about 10 minutes faster than you normally do. For reference, the average 40-year-old takes about 17 minutes to fall asleep. A hot bath 90 minutes before bedtime should help you fall asleep in 7 minutes or less, on average. (It takes about 1 additional minute to fall asleep at age 60, and 19 minutes once you turn 80.)
3. Adjust Your Thermostat To Cooler Temps Around 9pm Each Night
Humans have a natural 24-hour circadian rhythm cycle that tells our bodies when to wake up and fall asleep. And while light is the #1 reason we feel awake or sleepy at any given time, temperature’s a close second. You may notice feeling colder the closer you get to your normal bedtime each night. In fact, your body cools down between 2-3 degrees once you enter your deepest sleep cycles every night. Scientists wondered: When should I turn down my bedroom temperature to help nudge this process along, and by how much? Here’s what one French study found, based on your current age:
- Adults aged 18-65: 60F-72F
- Older adults aged 65+, babies, toddlers: 65F-70F
Which temperature’s best to help you fall asleep quickly and reliably while maximizing your sleep quality? If you wear pajamas to bed and sleep under at least one cover, 66F is likely your best bet. Sleep mostly naked or use just one sheet, but no duvet/coverlet? Pick the higher number in the suggested temperature ranges for your age. Adjust by a degree or so until you find the ideal thermostat setting to fall asleep faster every night. Wondering why we chose 9pm as the ideal time to manually change your thermostat? Most central heating and A/C units take three hours to cool your home down 10 degrees. Setting your nightly bedtime between 9pm-midnight improves your chances to sleep for a full eight hours. No central A/C in your home? You can also open your window or use a fan to cool your bedroom down each night.
4. Listen to This 8-Minute Song Specifically Designed To Help You Fall Asleep
Many people with tinnitus or anxiety need either white-noise machines or similar soothing sounds to fall asleep. If this sounds familiar, Marconi Union’s eight-minute song “Weightless” is designed specifically for people like you. Research from neuroscientists at Mindlab International in the UK found that listening to this song can:
- Reduce anxiety levels by 65%
- Lower your resting heart rate and average blood pressure by 35%
- Measurably reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body
- Naturally slows down your breathing to match the tune’s 50 beats per minute
In fact, so many study participants grew drowsy listening to “Weightless” that Mindlab recommends people avoid it while they’re driving. Need even more relaxing music that can help you fall asleep? Here’s a 50-minute public playlist available to stream on Spotify for free.
5. Use Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing Method To Fall Asleep In As Little As 60 Seconds
The right breathing technique helps you quickly relax and prepare both your mind and body to fall asleep. Dr. Andrew Weil based his 4-7-8 breathing pattern on an ancient yoga technique called pranayama. I myself am not a yoga person; in fact, I’ve struggled with anxiety issues my whole life. The idea of sitting still and meditating in different poses sounds insane to me — I’m entirely too fidgety for that. But as a lifelong insomniac, I was willing to give this move a try.
Here’s how the 4-7-8 breathing technique works:
- Push your tongue against the roof of your mouth directly behind your two front teeth.
- Purse your lips and then breathe out only through your mouth, so you make a whooshing sound.
- Close your lips, then breathe in through your nose while you silently count to four.
- Count to seven in your head while holding your breath.
- Repeat Step 1: Open your lips, and exhale so you make the whooshing sound for a silent eight-count.
Repeat this cycle no more than four times when you first begin the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Eventually work your way up to eight breath cycles to help you fall asleep in as little as one minute. If this still doesn’t do the trick, try thinking “don’t fall asleep” repeatedly during your seven-second breath hold. It may sound silly, but that reverse psychology move actually tricks your brain into doing the opposite!