8 Tips to Fall Asleep More Quickly, Backed by Science

Are you the type of person who can head off to dreamland anywhere, anytime? Do you fall asleep long before your spouse? Can you hit the hay long before an airplane takes off? 

Or, perhaps you’re one of the many people who have trouble falling asleep or getting a full, restful night’s sleep.  Since you’re here though, chances are you fit into the “can’t fall asleep” category.

Don't lose heart though! Here are a few science-backed activities that may help you not only improve your sleep hygiene and sleep habits, but also things that could lead to you falling asleep much faster. 

If you feel like it’s taking you too long to fall asleep here are some ways to help you fall asleep more quickly. 

1. Put away blue-emitting electronics to get to sleep fast

Put your mobile device to bed 

The science is increasingly becoming pretty negative when it comes to how our bodies react in bed sleeping with our phones nearby. For one, recent research connecting blue light and disruptions of our circadian rhythms have shown us that blue light-emitting devices can interfere with a good night’s sleep. 

Blue light signals to our brain that it is still daytime, effectively inhibiting our body’s production of melatonin, a hormone critical for initiating sleepiness and achieving good sleep.

As we've become increasingly more mobile phone oriented, many more Americans are using their devices before sleep, during sleep (playing music or podcasts), and even checking them when awakening in the middle of the night. 

Turn off the TV

Many people fall asleep with the TV or radio playing in the background, but it's better to turn them off. 

According to surveys from the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of Americans watch TV immediately before going to sleep. It's become part of our method of winding down after a day. 

Although you might be accustomed to falling asleep with the TV or music playing in the background, a part of your brain is still paying attention, which can interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Similar to cell phones, TVs emit blue light which suppresses natural melatonin production and disrupts your sleep-wake cycle. Avoid watching TV and looking at bright screens two to three hours before bed.

Ditch the laptop 

If you use a laptop throughout the day, chances are, the computer is pretty close at hand throughout the evening and night. Get in the habit of moving away from the laptop and incorporating shutting down work as your nightly pre-sleep routine. In a similar vein as laptops, computers, TVs and mobile devices, try to create a positive sleep environment in the bedroom that is free of these electronics. 

Speaking of keeping your bedroom, well, a sleeping-only room, you'd be surprised by the number of people who fail to connect that the negative habits they bring into sleeping quarters have to fail to fall asleep quickly, or even at all. 

One of the reasons may be related to conditioned arousal, and in order to break the cycle, you need to realize that the activities you've brought to bed may be keeping you awake much longer. If you keep a phone near your head, check emails, scroll through social media, or watch television in your bedroom, you're conditioning your body to think it should do more in a place where it really needs to do one thing -- sleep. By taking the excess activities -- including electronic gadgets away, you'll allow your brain to wind down faster, and fall asleep quicker. 

2. Fall asleep quickly with noise of many colors 

You've likely heard of white noise, but what about, pink noise. Or, even brown noise. 

Have we stumped you? 

White noise

White noise is probably the most familiar of the colorful noises, and one that people most closely associated with sleep. At its most basic definition, white noise is simply the sound that pushes across all of the potentially hearable frequencies. 

It's also noise (and frequency) that is consistent. According to research from the National Sleep Foundation, more than 5% of the population use a white noise machine to sleep. 

Many sleepers employ the use of white noise by available appliances or machines such as ceiling fans, air conditioners, stationary floor fans, and air purifiers — things that create a consistent and soothing, ambient auditory backdrop to help them sleep. 

There are numerous white noise machines (some even geared specifically for children), and even apps that help create a sonic white noise soundtrack in your room. 

And, research indicates that sleeping with a white noise machine may be beneficial. In a study of patients in a hospital coronary unit, the usage of white noise machines blocked out environmental sounds and helped improve sleep quality. 

Pink noise

Pink noise is similar to white noise, but it stands out mostly across lower frequencies. Pink noise is associated with the natural sounds we hear in the world -- raindrops falling on roof shingles or a window, a babbling creek, and leaves rustling in the wind. 

There's a fair amount of early research that indicates pink noise can help improve the ability to fall asleep but also has links to improved deep sleep and memory. Chinese researchers found that compared to sleeping with no sound, pink noise helped improve the duration of sleep at night. And, recently a study in Frontiers of Human Health discovered that pink noise sleep improved not only sleep quality, but also memory improvement in older adults. Most interestingly, a 2013 study in Neuron, showed that pink noise sleep led to some serious ability to recall specific information from the night prior. 

In that study, researchers synchronized pink noise with patient’s brain waves allowing it to play during deep sleep. When they study compared to no noise at all during deep sleep, patients who heard pink noise slept longer. Their memory recall also seemed to be strengthened. They also were able to recall almost twice as many words shown to them the night before they heard the pink noise. 

Brown noise

Brown noise, also known as "brownian" is like pink noise, but even deeper. closely resembling that of the ocean, big water waves, and very heavy wind. This helps explain why some people are so drawn by the beach, and why sleeping with windows open when in close proximity is so relaxing. There are also apps that help dial in ocean sounds. 

There's actually a litany of other color-coded noise frequencies including blue and gray. This article in The Atlantic does a good job of explaining the technical breakdown of each, and what frequency they impact. 

3. Try progressive muscular relaxation 

Vetted by the National Sleep Foundation as an efficient and fast way to fall asleep, they recommend trying progressive muscle relaxation to fall asleep more quickly. 

Think of this method as a meditative exercise that allows your mind to mentally imagine sections of your body, gradually working to flex, tighten, and release them before going on to the next muscle and part of the body -- usually in a specific order, like starting at the head and working down to the toes. 

According to the University of Michigan Health System, progressive muscle relaxation is a pretty good trick to help ease muscle tension caused by anxiety or stress. It can reduce also help reduce our heart rate and blood pressure, which can signal its time to sleep. 

Here are a few tips on using the technique to help you relax, soothe muscles, and get to sleep quicker: 

With the help of a soothing audio track in the background, and while lying down, start to 

  1. While breathing in, tighten (or tense) the first muscle group between four and 10 seconds. 
  2. Breathe out, then completely unflex (and untighten) the muscle. Avoid the gradual release of tension. 
  3. Before moving on to the next muscle, take a break up to 20 seconds. 
  4. After you've completed all of the muscles you've worked through, start to count backwards from five to one. This will help bring your focus back and bring a sense of relaxation. 

When tackling this technique, you should start from the top of the body and work your way down. The University of Michigan lists an example order that begins with the hands (clenched), wrists and forearms, biceps and upper arms, shoulders, forehead, eyes, cheeks, and so on. Another source recommends beginning with the face, neck and then down the body to the chest, abdomen, and arms. 

Whatever method you tackle, the key is that this is a lengthy, albeit very relaxing and rewarding technique to relax and soothe. It takes repetition to learn your preference for the order of how you relax each muscle group. You can also shorten the exercise to focus primarily on the four main muscle regions. In that case, it’s a perfect technique to instantly relax and bring focus among life's stressful events, or to quickly bring focus before bed. 

4. Avoid napping for better nightly sleep

It sounds counterintuitive, but it's better to skip the afternoon nap, especially if you've had a late sleep the night before. 

While napping may temporarily boost mood or stave off the effects of acute sleep deprivation, one study found that students who were long, frequent nappers experienced increased sleep deprivation and reduced quality of sleep at night. 

5. Set a consistent schedule for waking and sleeping

It's amazing what a regular, consistent schedule can do for the body. Our circadian rhythm, or our in-built, natural biological clock, requires regularity to be functioning optimally. This internal system governs many different crucially important bodily processes including sleep.

It's important to try and stick to a regular schedule every night so your body will find it's own natural cycle of sleep and wake. Irregular sleeping schedules can lead to some negative side effects that impact sleep and the ability to fall asleep as well as anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and difficulty concentrating. 

Even worse, many of those who report having inconsistent sleep schedules never truly enter the deeper stages of quality sleep that are so critical to a restful evening. 

6. Document sleep habits

If you struggling to fall asleep easily, or quickly, it's a good idea to start tracking your sleeping habits in an effort to find out what may be happening. 

By filling out a sleep chart or sleep diary for the course of a week or two, you can start to find overlap and inconsistencies in your sleeping patterns that may lead to clues as to why you're having problems falling asleep. Even better, you can start to capture some of the more environmental factors and personal habits that may be leading to your issues. 

There's room to record the food you ate, things you drank, and even medications you've been taking. You can also record how much you exercised, the type of devices or electronics you were using, and how much you napped or how tired you were during the day. 

A section in the morning to complete can reveal how quickly or easily you were able to fall asleep and after at least a week or two, you can chart out what nights provided difficulty or were the easiest to fall asleep. 

National Sleep Foundation provides a good free sleep chart for manually tracking your sleep. Using a sleep tracking device is another alternative.  

7. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before bedtime

Everything you eat, especially a few hours before bedtime, can have an impact on the quality of sleep, but how fast you fall asleep. 

This is especially true with alcohol and caffeine. Curtail alcohol and caffeine in the evening and don't eat too large of a meal before bedtime. 

Keep in mind, that according to research, poor and inadequate sleep can steer us to make poor eating choices -- and eating more food than we should, which has negative health consequences like increased risk of diabetes and hypertension. 

8. It’s all about the light: The dimmer the better

Earlier, we talked about the negative impact blue light from mobile devices and TV has on sleep. The glow of the lights and devices we have in our bedrooms has a huge impact on how well we sleep, and how quickly we can fall asleep. 

Recall melatonin is directly influenced by light, including sunlight we take in during the day, and the light in our homes and from our electronics. 

The bright screens we stare at all day actually is detrimental to the regulating hormones telling our body it's time to wind down and get ready for sleep. 

Dimmer lights and warmer light bulbs in the home are a good bet to help our bodies adjust, wind down, and understand that when our room is fully dark, it's time to fall asleep quickly. Although it’s a good idea to ditch the electronics before bed, apps like F.lux will automatically start shifting the color of your screen towards the warmer, longer-wavelength colors in the evening.  

How to fall asleep faster: The bottom line

If you’re finding yourself spending too much time falling asleep and are worried that it’s taking you too long to fall asleep, trying a few of these tricks will go a long way towards better sleep hygiene and might help you improve the speed you fall asleep. 

Sleep problems can be caused by many things other than unwholesome sleep habits. It’s worth mentioning that if you think your sleeplessness is caused by one of the many sleep disorders, it's best to consult a medical professional to rule out any physical basis for not sleeping. 

As a general rule, it’s good to first start by building these habits slowly and one at a time. Z’s also has a range of guided meditations that can help you relax your mind and prepare yourself for sleep. Learn more…

To supplement meditation, we’ve also compiled personalized sleep formulations of natural sleep aids to address all of the most common types of sleep difficulties  – the best of the east and the west. 

You can take the sleep quiz to learn more about your personal sleep formulation.

Glossary

Circadian rhythm: Our internal biological clock that plays an essential role in regulating and maintaining our sleep-wake times, eating cycles, and hormonal cycles.

Blue light – A type of visible light emitted by smartphone screens and backlights that can interfere with one’s sleeping patterns.

Deep Sleep: A restorative process for the body, comprised of Stage 3/4 and REM.