If you fall asleep shortly after your head hits your buckwheat pillow, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. For many people, no matter how comfortable and supportive their pillow is, they spend twenty minutes or more tossing and turning until they finally fall asleep.
According to Dr. Michelle Drerup, it takes the average person five to twenty minutes to fall asleep. And although falling asleep quickly seems great, in some cases it may be an indication of sleep troubles. If you fall asleep in under 5 minutes after crawling into bed it can mean you are sleep deprived. Falling asleep too quickly can be an indication that you aren’t getting enough sleep and can barely keep your eyes open. If you feel exhausted throughout the day, this is likely the case, but if you feel refreshed when you wake up, you may just be very fortunate! Alternatively, if falling asleep takes you longer than twenty minutes, you could have insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder where you have trouble falling and/or staying asleep (read more about sleep disorders and disturbances here).
The good news is if you find yourself struggling to drift off each night, there are some strategies you can practice that will help you. Check out the following 7 sleep tips to fall asleep faster!
1. Make sure you have comfortable bedding
If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t fall asleep easily (unless, of course, you are already sleep-deprived). A good, supportive mattress, pillow, and soft bedding play an important role in helping you doze off.
Consider the mattress you have now. Do you wake up with back pain or find yourself tossing and turning to get comfortable? If so, it’s a good sign you need a new mattress. We all have different preferences when it comes to our pillow and mattress. Some prefer firmer support, whereas others like their bedding to be softer. Test them out when shopping for a mattress and see what you find most comfortable. And to be sure you are making the right choice, buy a mattress from a company that offers a trial period so that if you have several nights of lousy sleep, you can exchange it for a different one.
Body size also plays a role when picking out a pillow, as well as your sleeping position. For example, if you are a side sleeper, the distance from your shoulder to your head will differ from another person. Therefore, an adjustable pillow like a buckwheat pillow will allow you to get the perfect fit to keep your spine in alignment.
Lastly, choose bedding that is soft, breathable, and clean. If you are too warm, breathing in allergens, or feel irritated by scratchy material, you won’t fall asleep quickly. Look for breathable fabrics like Tencel Lyocell Fabric Blend. A Tencel sheet set is extra breathable, moisture-wicking, and excellent for temperature control.
2. Open a window, turn down your thermostat or have a warm bath
Studies have shown that cooler temperatures help us sleep better. As a result of circadian rhythm, our body’s temperature drops naturally and stays low while we sleep. However, one study found that individuals with insomnia tend to have an overall higher body temperature. The researchers concluded that both sleep onset and maintenance insomnia might be caused by impaired thermoregulation. Although this process happens internally, research has also shown that you can help your body regulate your temperature by keeping your bedroom cooler and using cool, breathable bedding.
If you feel too cold, you will be too uncomfortable to sleep, so adjust your temperature as it suits you. Sleep experts recommend trying 65 degrees but feel free to adjust as you like. Another trick to dropping your temperature at bedtime is having a warm bath roughly 30 minutes before bed. Your temperature rises while sitting in the warm water and will start to fall once you get out. This can amplify the body’s temperature drop, helping you sleep better. Alternatively, you can also help drop your temperature by losing the pajamas. Sleeping nude can help even out your temperature and keep you cooler during the night.
3. Eat a high-carb snack
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study on carbohydrates' role in sleep induction. The study examined the difference between a high and low carbohydrate meal before bed and its effect on sleep quality. It also reviewed the importance of timing, for example, a high carbohydrate meal 4 hours or 1 hour before bed. The study found that high carbohydrate, high glycemic index (GI) meals resulted in a shorter sleep onset time, and results were best when the meal was consumed four hours before bed. Look for simple carbs like potatoes, white rice, bread, and pasta. A study out of Japan also found that out of bread, noodles, and rice, rice provides the best sleep benefits.
4. Practice mindful breathing techniques (4-7-8 method)
Although spending time on your meditation pillow before bed is an excellent way to wind down, you can also practice mindful breathing techniques in bed. Your breathing affects your nervous system, heart rate, and muscle tension. It can make you feel more excited and alert or more relaxed and calm. Research has found that deeper, slower breaths will calm you and help you fall asleep. An easy wait to practice mindful breathing before bed is the 4-7-8 method. The method was developed by Dr. Andrew Weill and is easy to do.
While laying on your buckwheat pillow, place your arms to your side or gently rest them on your stomach. Now, place the tip of your tongue behind your upper teeth and exhale through your mouth. It will make a quiet swooshing sound. Next, through closed lips, inhale through your nose and slowly count to four. After inhaling, hold your breath and count to seven. Lastly, exhale through your mouth again while counting to 8. Repeat this process at least four times.
5. Try the “military method”
In 1981 the book Relax and win: Championship performance by Llyod Winder shared the sleeping method taught in the U.S. military. The military method only takes 2 minutes to complete, and you’ll fall asleep within the last 10 seconds – meaning you will be out in just 2 minutes! First, get into bed and then practice the following seven steps.
i. tighten and then relax all of your facial muscles, including your tongue
ii. drop your shoulders, lowering them and allowing arms to hang by your side
iii. inhale and exhale while relaxing your chest
iv. relax your legs
v. clear your mind, allowing thoughts to come and go with no judgment or attachment
vi. visualize a relaxing scene like lying in a meadow or picnicking by a river
vii. you should fall asleep within 10 seconds
Although referenced in the popular book, no scientific studies back up the method, so you’ll have to try it yourself to see if you can really fall asleep within 2 minutes!
6. Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relation shares some strategies with the military method but is focused more on breath and muscle relaxation. The techniques here combine muscle contraction followed by release, alleviating bodily stress. You will start by lying in bed with your eyes closed. Then, while slowly inhaling and exhaling, you will begin with your head and work your way down your body. For example, you will tense your facial muscles for 10 seconds before releasing and taking a few deep, slow breaths. Next, you will work your way down to your neck and shoulders, tensing for 10 seconds before releasing. Between each group of muscles, you should take 3 to 7 deep inhales and expands. You will repeat these steps until you reach your toes.
7. Make your bedroom a tech-free zone
When our ancestors went to sleep, the only light they had was from the moon. Many people now have televisions, computers, laptops, iPads, and phones in their bedroom. The artificial light and noise these devices give off can stimulate your brain and disrupt your circadian rhythm making it difficult to fall asleep.
Go prehistoric and rid your room of all the high-tech devices. Using your bedroom for sleep and sleep only trains your brain to automatically start preparing for sleep as soon as you lay down. Try to make your room as dark as possible with blackout shades and an alarm clock without a light. If you have a lamp on your bedside table, choose a warm-colored bulb or use an app to dim your light as you get settled into bed.
If, after trying these seven techniques, you still can’t fall asleep – don’t continue to lay there, tossing and turning. Sleep experts say this can cause anxiety and stress, making it even harder to fall asleep. Instead, get up and go to another room and do a quiet, relaxing activity like meditation or reading a boring book. Continue to keep lights low and avoid reaching for your phone. Within twenty minutes, you may find you are much more tired and finally ready to go to sleep!