If you have trouble falling asleep or just want to get to sleep faster, then you’re in the right place. I’ve spent my life struggling with sleep and it just ain’t easy for folks like us, right?
These tricks in this article are some of the best ways I’ve found to fall asleep quickly, rather than having a wandering brain that wants to think about how annoyed you were at that thing Carol did today or rehearsing what you’re gonna say in that meeting tomorrow.
Believe me, I’ve been there on those nights where you’re in bed for 11pm and fall asleep at 3am. It ain’t pretty.
The trick with all these methods is to clear your mind, preventing yourself from getting worked up by anxious worries or replaying conversations or whatever it is your particular mind gets excited about.
Once you practice this stuff enough, it will be like second nature and you’ll fall asleep with the best of them, for beginners though, it’s nice to have a reliable method to fall back on.
Now it’s worth pointing out that these methods only work when you are well set up to sleep. If you’ve been pounding back the coffees all evening then I’m afraid the damage is done and you’re going to have to wait for your brain to process the caffeine.
I’ll get into the specifics of creating a mind that is ready for rest soon.
1. The 4-7-8 Method
Perhaps the most famous ‘trick’ to getting to sleep quickly and one where the inventor claims a 1-minute-fall-asleep-period is possible, is the 4-7-8 method.
Created by Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor with a focus on holistic health, this method is supposed to help even the most ardent insomniac fall asleep like a baby.
Bold claims require grand evidence and I must say that the idea that anyone can fall asleep within one minute is a little farfetched. Here’s an interesting piece by someone who tried it for three nights.
Their overarching conclusion? It was not a pleasant way to fall asleep and also did not help her fall asleep any faster. It seems that it takes weeks or even months for it to fully reach the maximum effect. In fact, one article mentions that it takes two bouts of practice a day for two months to be able to reliably fall asleep within a minute. (Who can reliably practice falling asleep twice a day? That’s perhaps a bigger question.)
My thoughts are echoed by Dr. Michelle E Gordon (from the same article) who said it didn’t work for her but also pointed out:
The breath does elicit a sense of relaxation and calm. I teach it to my patients as a means of keeping calm when having anxiety over surgery or post-operative anxiety. It works.
So like the other methods on this list, the general idea is to clear the mind of thoughts to let it rest. Let’s look at the five-step procedure that shows how it works.
1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
5. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Let’s play a little experiment. I want you to stop reading this article and just wait to see what the next thought is that comes into your head…
Good… For most people, it will be a strangely long time before a thought pops into mind, and that’s kind of what the goal is with meditation, to empty the mind of thoughts.
Here’s my personal method of choice, but perhaps the most difficult on this list to pull off successfully. Meditation is a great practice to get into, it has been linked with improved mental health and less anxiety and worrying.
One of my favorite authors, Yuval Noah Harari who wrote Sapiens among other, said this about it.
When I was studying in Oxford I couldn’t make sense of my life at all. A good friend said, “Why not try Vipassana meditation?” It’s about letting go of all the different fantasies that fill up our minds. It transformed my life.
One way to practice this is to simply watch and listen to your breathing, nothing else. You will naturally find that thoughts begin to intrude on this process, perhaps a small sentence that flitters away quickly, perhaps a long conversation that takes over your brain’s thought processes.
As soon as you realize you are not watching your breathing anymore, simply correct course and go back to the breathing.
A second strategy, and the one I find easiest, is to simply block thoughts. Watch your empty mind and when a thought appears, imagine yourself batting it away as if it is not welcome.
I find that this is the best way to keep an empty mind and sooner or later my brain gets bored and just accepts that I’m going to sleep.
This is a tough one because it takes practice, there are those who spend their lives dedicated to meditating and still find it tough to block out thoughts and keep an empty mind.
Accept that your first few attempts will likely end in failure and be happy for any progress you can make.
Perhaps take up meditation during the day without the intention to sleep. It is reputed to have amazing mental health benefits. Proponents claim that it reduces stress and anxiety, promotes emotional health and can help fight addictions, among other things.
As I said, this is how I get to sleep every night. It’s not always as quick as I’d like, it can be tough to make myself do it if I want to think about other things and (unfortunately) occasionally it doesn’t work at all.
I have also experienced some joy in practicing meditation during the day but this is an area I should (and would like to) work on more.
3. Army Method
There’s a saying that ex-army tough guy Jack Reacher from Lee Child’s novels that fits pretty well in this situation. It goes something like:
Sleep when you can, because you don’t know the next time you’ll be able to.
War is brutal and requires efficiency at every level, so you’d expect the army to have developed the best methods of helping their soldiers get some shuteye when they have a spare few hours.
People make mistakes when they are tired and fatigued, and nowhere are mistakes more critical than on the battlefield.
I’m going to discuss a method that was developed by the US Navy Pre-Flight School and first entered the public sphere with the publication of ‘Relax and Win: Championship Performance’ that was written by Lloyd Winter.
This article explains it in depth with the following encouraging quote.
The US Navy Pre-Flight School developed a scientific method to fall asleep day or night, in any conditions, in under two minutes. After six weeks of practice, 96 percent of pilots could fall asleep in two minutes or less. Even after drinking coffee, with machine gunfire being played in the background.
The method goes like this:
1. Relax your face. Concentrate on making every muscle in your face loosey-goosey as much as possible.
2. Go down the rest of your body making it all relaxed. Begin with the shoulders, then the arms, torso, legs, and feet. By the end of this process, you should have spent 45-50 seconds purely making yourself as relaxed as possible.
3. Clear your mind. Your aim is to not to think until you go to sleep. If you’ve done everything right then sleep should be forthcoming within 10 seconds. If you find it difficult to think about nothing then you can simply recite to yourself “don’t think, don’t think” although it is advisable to practice learning not to think, a real key in getting to sleep.
Like the other methods, you will find this most difficult the first time you try it, if you are able to instantly go to sleep within a minute or two then it’s probable that you never struggled to sleep that much anyway!
Stick with it, and you’ll see your rewards.
What if these don’t work?
The first thing to bear in mind is whether you fall asleep quickly. Some people, their entire lives, will drop to sleep the instant their head hits the pillow and will complain if it takes longer than 5 minutes to do so.
These people are the kind of people who when you tell them you struggle to sleep well, they will feel the need to point out that they always sleep fantastically. If you made it to this website, you’re probably not one of these people.
And in fact, you are more likely similar to me, in that falling asleep and getting good sleep is a real struggle much of the time.
If you are like me, a light sleeper we can call it, then these techniques are unlikely to have such immediate results.
You may have even tried stuff like this before, with no small amount of skepticism, only to discover that your attempt at using it is going to end just like every other night… 45 minutes of waiting for your brain to turn off (or worse…)
I can say that I now have eliminated 90% of the problems with falling asleep for me. In terms of the methods here, I have found that the meditation one is most effective but all three fulfill the same purpose – to stop your brain running away on a motormouth monologue that won’t let you rest.
So each night, when I lay my head on the pillow, I aim to clear my thoughts until sleep arrives.
The only reason that this works is because my sleep hygiene is on point. What I do has been subject to years and years of experimentation and I’ll share my biggest victories with you now.
What are some good sleep hygiene tips for falling asleep?
There’s a lot of reasons why you are unable to fall asleep quickly outside of whatever ‘sleeping genetics’ you have been blessed or cursed with. To speed you along the process
I’m going to outline my top 4 tips for good sleep hygiene, these are more big problems with sleeping that everyone trips up on, and each were the major reasons for my terribly sleepless past.
· No caffeine after 1pm. Here’s my hard and fast rule to sleeping at night, if you don’t follow this one then it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re fueling your brain with a psychoactive drug that will make it race with thoughts, not a good idea. A key point that not many people consider is that caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, that means if you drink a cup of coffee at 5pm then half the caffeine from that coffee is still in your system at 11pm! Half a cup of coffee when you go to bed is going to cause you BIG problems. Then factor in things like tea, chocolate or Coke/Diet Coke which all have appreciable amounts of caffeine in that some people don’t realize! And to be honest, I’d prefer this rule to be no caffeine after 9am I’m just being more realistic to people’s lifestyles.
· Don’t eat before bed. Your food is what fuels you, so is it any wonder that a big meal right before bed is going to make sleeping tough? You would so well in particular to avoid carbs, these being your favorite energy source but also spiking your blood sugar giving you problems in staying awake on multiple fronts. Eat as early in the evening as possible and avoid all refined sugars and sugary/sweet products and limit your consumption of bread, pasta, rice, and other wheat or grain-based foods. Get your fill during the day instead when you need that energy.
· Don’t nap. It can be pretty tempting to have a nap, many scientists say the human body is designed for a biphasic sleep pattern where we sleep away the hottest hours of the day. Your body becomes quite awake just after you sleep and slowly gets more and more ready for sleep, so we like to be awake for 8+ hours periods. If you could take a midday siesta that would be one thing, but the danger with napping is taking one when you come home from school or work as when you wake up your body primes itself to be awake for long period. Napping from 6pm-7pm and there is no way your body will be ready to sleep again at 11pm.
· Eliminate distractions. This will vary from person to person but could include any kind of noise or light, sound notifications on your phone or phone calls and also people around your house making noise. I use earplugs every day and an eye mask/sleeping mask regularly and they make a huge difference in reducing the amount of noise and light I have to deal with. Check out my recommended products for reviews of the ones I use. In addition, get that phone on airplane mode as soon as you put it on charge for the night, and aim to make it very clear to others in your house that banging around after a certain hour is unacceptable.
Do I get to sleep in under one minute?
Yes, but rarely. I’ve long accepted that I will never be able to sleep like the best of us and the idea of getting to sleep in one minute is not something I even aim for.
Generally speaking, I can confidently say that each night I will be asleep within 15 minutes providing I’ve not made any major sleep hygiene errors. That might not sound amazing but it truly is for me personally.
There were times when spending 1-3 hours trying to get to sleep was normal, and if there was noise to bother me it could end up being more than that.
There was one time I got 20 minutes sleep before work the next day despite going to bed 8 hours before my alarm went off, but I’ll leave that sad tale to another time.
It’s also important to bear in mind that reading this article is simply not going to allow you to hit the hay tonight and be out in 60 seconds.
You need to practice these methods and follow good sleep hygiene for weeks and months before you start seeing real results. It’s a lifelong commitment, but totally worth it.
I mean… you have to go to sleep every night, right?