Pop Quiz: What’s more important, sleep or exercise? Hint: If you don’t do one of them for a week, you will start to look and act like Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Yes, sleep is essential to be an even partially functional human. And the more high-quality sleep we get, the more stable, bright, clear-eyed versions of ourselves we become. But how does one get great sleep? Or, for those of us juggling it all, how does one fall asleep faster, and therefore getting more of it.
The short answer is that it’s all about your environment and routine. Are you draining a late-night beer before getting horizontal to watch some videos on your phone until you’re (further) bleary-eyed? That’s a routine and environment that will lead to you laying wide-eyed until 2 a.m. Are you unplugging, drinking chamomile, and taking a 10-minute meditation sesh on the couch? Welcome to dreamland. Fort those looking to fall asleep faster, or just get better sleep, here are 12 science-backed tips that should get you there in no time.
1. Sleep better with meditation.
It makes sense that the ability to live in the here and now and let go of stressful thoughts should help you fall asleep faster. And indeed, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who took a once-a-week meditation class for six weeks had less insomnia and restlessness at night than those who received traditional sleep counseling. Another study found that weekly meditation sessions were just as effective as taking sleep medication in helping people with chronic insomnia.
2. Lower the thermostat, fall asleep faster.
Warm and cozy may sounds ideal, but 79% of people say cooler temps are where it’s at for better sleep, according to a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation. So where should you set your digital dial? Experts recommend between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (about 10 degrees colder than most homes are set). The reason lower is better: Your body temperature naturally dips a few degrees at night to slow you down for sleep; a cooler room may trigger the same get-ready-for-bed signals in your brain.
3. Stay asleep with white noise.
They say the sound of silence can be deafening, and that might be true if you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep. Enter: the white noise machine (or pink noise or brown noise — noise comes in many colors these days). The premise is that a slow, steady hum of background sound can lull the brain into sleep mode. According to one study in the Journal of Caring Sciences, hospital patients previously getting less than five hours of sleep a night boosted their zzz’s to over seven hours when white noise machines were placed in their rooms.
4. Ditch the blue light, sleep better.
You probably have heard by now that you should turn off the TV and put away from your smart phone before bed. But do you know why? Blame it on the blue light these devices emit—this type of light stimulates the production of chemicals in your body that tell you it’s time to wake up. In fact, research shows that of any type of artificial light, blue light has the greatest impact on your body’s circadian rhythms, making it tougher to fall asleep fast.
5. Fall asleep faster with progressive muscle relaxation.
Working your way from your toes to your head, imagining inch by inch that your body is relaxing and letting go of tension — that’s progressive muscle relaxation in a nutshell, one of the first techniques sleep specialists discovered could increase the speed with which people were able to fall asleep. In a seminal study, scientists at the University of Michigan found that progressive muscle relaxation cut the amount of time it took insomniacs to fall asleep by an impressive 23 minutes. Interested in giving it a try? Follow the steps here.
6. Paint your bedroom for more quality sleep.
Admittedly, the scientific evidence here is slim, but if you’re desperate to fall asleep faster, consider painting your bedroom walls blue. A survey by Travel Lodge (yes, the hotel chain), found that people who sleep in blue rooms clock more hours of — 7 hours and 52 minutes on average each night — than any other bedroom color. The only question: sky blue or midnight?
7. Let lavender lure you to sleep.
Pleasant smells relax you, and the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to fall asleep. So it makes sense that lavender scent has been associated with sleep for centuries. Research suggests it may serve as a mild sedative, helping people nod off more quickly, while other studies, like this one from researchers in Japan, indicates that lavender has calming properties, as measured by lower levels of the stress marker chromogranin A in people’s saliva after exposure to the scent. You don’t need to get all fancy — just add a few drops of essential oil to your pillow at night.
8. Try CBD to fall asleep faster.
The use of hemp-derived cannabidiol (or CBD) for sleep is still a relatively new concept, but research suggests it is a promising alternative to traditional sleep aids. Here’s why it may work: Your body’s so-called endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating feelings of sleepiness. The cannabinoid receptors in this system hook up with the chemical compounds in CBD, sending signals to the brain that it’s time to chill the heck out and go to sleep. While more research needs to be done, there’s little downside to supplementing with CBD before bed.
9. Get control of your caffeine to get a handle on sleep.
According to research in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, caffeine within six hours of bedtime has a measurable impact on your difficulty falling asleep. What’s a java lover to do? Pretty easy, actually: Switch to de-caf starting around 3 pm. The caffeine in your system from your morning coffee or lunchtime cola should still power you through to the end of the workday without disturbing your sleep at night.
10. Take a bath, fall asleep faster.
We hear you. Bathing is for babies. Except, maybe, when you’re so tired of feeling tired from lack of sleep that you’re willing to try almost anything. This is good because, in fact, warm baths for just 10 minutes before bed can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes people to drift off, according to a meta-analysis of 13 studies by researchers at the University of Texas. (PS: Warm showers appear to work as well.)
11. Fast for better sleep.
No seriously — heavy dinners in your stomach or greasy snacks before bed send messages to your body that it’s time to fire up the engines and break that shit down—and that is not the restful state you’re going for. In fact, a study this winter in BMC Nutrition found that people following an intermittent fasting plan (curtailing their eating to a 9-hour window each day and fasting for the rest), significantly improved their sleep quality over the course of three months.
12. Find an app to help you fall asleep faster.
In the age of COVID, self-soothing apps like Calm and Headspace have multiplied exponentially. The anxiety triggered by the pandemic has sent people in search of ways to comfort and chill, and these apps fit the bill with their guided meditations, calming mental imagery, and sessions devoted to the art of sleep. Next time you find yourself lying awake in bed, give one of these DIY approaches a try.