1 in 3 adults is sleep deprived according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This article will show you how to fall asleep when you can’t, and discuss a few healthy sleeping habits to improve the quality of your sleep.
We know sleep is important – it is necessary to maintain biological health. Poor sleep deteriorates physical and mental health, cognitive function, and social functioning. For many reasons related to stress, environment, habit, and mental arousal, we are sleep deprived. These problems manifest via 4 common types of sleep disturbances:
- Shallow sleep syndrome and light sleep: Sleep that is easily broken and doesn’t have enough deep sleep that is supposed to rest the body and brain. If you have shallow sleep, you may wake up to the lightest sounds and feel tired or groggy the next day even though you slept enough hours.
- Sleep onset delay: A large gap (over 15 mins to hours) between the readiness to sleep after getting in bed and actual start of sleep. Time-in-bed is different from sleep time and usually, sleep-time starts shortly after time-in-bed. If you intended to sleep in bed at 11 pm and get on the bed (start of time-in-bed), sleep onset delay describes your tendency to stay awake till 12:30 am without getting sleep with instances where you feel your sleep starts but it doesn’t.
- Delayed sleep phase: A delay of more than 2 hours from usual sleep-wake timing. If you are used to sleeping between 12 midnight to 8 am, a delayed sleep phase problem will shift that timing to 2 am to 10 am. Here, the entire circadian rhythm gets delayed shifting the day-night cycle.
- Insomnia: A general difficulty in staying asleep or starting sleep, with related problems like difficulty in returning to sleep midway or waking up frequently.
Then the golden question is – how do we get some nice healthy, relaxing, cozy sleep and wake up feeling rested?
7 Ways To Fall Asleep Faster
- 1. Wear socks and warm your feet
- 2. Use blue light filtering apps, spectacles, and screens
- 3. Avoid procrastination
- 4. Spend your day productively and reduce worry
- 5. Prioritize your mental health to reduce sleep disturbances
- 6. Correct your initial posture & sleep environment
- 7. Exercise to improve the quality of sleep
- Preparing yourself to sleep well
7 Ways To Fall Asleep Faster
1. Wear socks and warm your feet
Some people love socks, some don’t. The thing about socks is that socks cover 2 of our appendages that play a role in regulating body temperature. When our body transitions into sleep, the core temperature of the body begins to fall and reaches its all-time low in about 4 hours. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, signals heat loss that makes us drowsy. When heat exits the body, a cascade of biological reactions occurs that initiate sleep. Lowering body temperature can trick the brain to begin sleep processes.
Because heat loss is easy from the hands and feet, the sock hack works remarkably. In a process called vasodilation, blood vessels dilate (expand) and it is easy for heat to exit the body. This lowers the core temperature. Socks (and other warming techniques) warm the feet which increases vasodilation. The vasodilation triggers heat loss, which artificially triggers the brain to initiate sleep.
Having a warm water bath before sleeping has a similar effect. Right after bathing, the body begins to cool down, which can make use drowsy. Warming feet (and hands) by wearing socks/gloves or heating in warm water can be a safe way to reduce sleep onset delay.
Healthy sleeping tip: Wear socks, have a warm bath, and warm your feet and hands.
2. Use blue light filtering apps, spectacles, and screens
Blue light is a short wavelength of light (450-490 nanometers) that contains relatively high energy compared to other visible wavelengths. Our eyes are also more sensitive to this light, so the effect of the blue wavelength is a lot stronger than other wavelengths. Academic and industrial studies show excessive blue light emitted by screens hampers sleep quality and strains the eye. When only this blue-colored wavelength is weakened, we don’t really feel the change in overall color, so glasses and screens can be designed to filter this light, and even apps can artificially block it. This is a passive, but occasionally costly hack as one can buy blue light filtering spectacles or download mobile and computer apps to remove the blue light emitted from screens.
Research shows that blue light interferes with sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin (a hormone that facilitates sleep). Suppression is bad for a healthy sleep routine. Not just that, as discussed in the previous point, a gradual drop in body temperature facilitates sleep and reduces the sleep onset time. Blue light seems to affect that as well. Overall, the research found that blue light disturbs the circadian cycle (internal body clocks), reduces sleep time and quality, and induces tiredness.
However, blue light is not always bad. Blue light from screens during the day can reduce the chances of daytime sleepiness, and improve alertness and concentration by reducing reaction time and increasing the attention span. This is not ideal during sleep or just before sleep, because even short exposure can continue stimulating the brain for a short while after exposure. This stimulation interferes with sleep onset. Use blue light filters at night for a healthier sleep cycle if you use a screen, or just avoid digital screens an hour before. A dark mode, low brightness, or night mode built into devices can help.
Healthy sleeping tip: Use apps to filter blue light, spectacles that remove them, and reduce pre-sleep screen time.
3. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination and quality of sleep have an intimate relationship. Procrastination can directly delay the onset of sleep, in fact, it has a term: sleep procrastination. It involves creating a “distance” between an activity and the present moment. The distance is created to avoid/delay anxiety about the outcome of a certain activity. It’s natural to procrastinate when the activity has some uncertainty, overwhelming complexity, and anxiety associated with it. This distance is filled with negative thoughts and those can hamper sleep.
Sleep, on the other hand, is literally filling up the distance with a lack of awareness. The pre-sleep anxiety about pending work isn’t delayed because it’ll appear immediately when one wakes up. So one might think, “the later I sleep, the more I can delay the problem.” This problem can be slightly reduced by making a to-do list of important future tasks at bedtime. The more specific the list is, the faster people tend to stop worrying and begin the automatic sleep routine. Writing about broad feelings or things that happened before might not help as much. This could be the last thing you do on your phone, or you may want to keep a diary next to you and update it with tasks.
Healthy sleeping tip: Don’t procrastinate, complete the work you’ve planned to do, and make a list of things to complete for tomorrow.
4. Spend your day productively and reduce worry
Productive days are characterized by finishing tasks, feeling satisfied with the work, and a readiness to end the day. An unproductive period of life or a new form of stress is a source of worry and stress, especially before bed because it is the day’s end. Worrying in bed can impair sleep, increase sympathetic nervous activity, and reduce parasympathetic nervous activity. The sympathetic nervous system alerts the body and the parasympathetic system relaxes it. So worry stimulates the body and hinders relaxation.
Thinking or overthinking before sleep is often mixed with feelings of dread, guilt, anxiety, self-loathing, and critical self-assessment about life, productivity, relationships, unfinished work, and future work. Such thinking can delay the start of sleep and even worsen the quality of sleep. Evidence suggests that work-related rumination has delayed effects on sleep and rest – stress today can affect sleep quality in a few days.
Having a productive day has 2 contradictory effects on sleep onset: One, recurring thoughts of incomplete work are less likely to keep you awake; and two, you may have recurring thoughts about the next day’s work. In the first outcome, transitioning to sleep gets easier. In the second, productivity creates mental arousal that delays sleep. But this can be dealt with too. Develop a routine conducive to productivity, so you feel you are in control of your work and have daily confidence that you can do the next day’s work.
You may jot down your tasks and duties. Just being aware of your work with a little bit of planning can counter work stress.
Healthy sleeping tip: Create a productive routine.
5. Prioritize your mental health to reduce sleep disturbances
Poor sleep is a characteristic of or a diagnostic criterion for many mental health problems (general issues & disorders). The body and the mind have continuous feedback mechanisms where one affects the other in simple and complex ways. Sleep is a complex way. Trauma can lead to night terrors, night terrors could lead to inadequate sleep, this could lead to fatigue at work, fatigue at work may lower productivity, leaving you burdened, and finally, it may again interfere with your sleep quality. This becomes a vicious circle.
Getting good sleep improves mental/physical health and good mental/physical health improves the quality of sleep. A body in a fight or flight conflict cannot easily relax for sleep. Disturbed sleep is a very common occurrence in anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxiety is often the biggest culprit and can exacerbate many other issues and worsen the quality of sleep.
Stress (work, familial, personal, external. & self-imposed) can lead to unhealthy behaviors that interfere with the quality of sleep- alcoholism, binge eating, drugs, smoking, social withdrawal, various addictions, etc. Stress also defaults us to habits and reduces the chances of thinking clearly.
If you want to sleep better, take care of your mental health. Negative thoughts and preoccupation with something upsetting are common reasons why people can’t sleep at night. If you cannot do it on your own, visit a professional. Here are some resources.
Healthy sleeping tip: Take care of your mental health. Have clarity in your thoughts and emotions to lower anxiety and stress.
6. Correct your initial posture & sleep environment
Most adults know what environment and accessories help them sleep. Different pillows, mattresses, blanket weights, clothes, lighting, and temperature, correcting your posture, and using sleep masks, earplugs, etc., might improve the quality.
Whether you initiate your sleep like a soldier in the attention posture or like a baby curled up on the side, sleep positions have different effects on your body. If you are prone to acid reflux, or backaches, it is best to meet a physiotherapist or a doctor to understand what is appropriate for you. Generally, sleeping on the left side helps to avoid the flow of stomach acids to the upper parts of the digestive system. Here are suggestions from Webmed.
The temperature around you affects sleep, and so does sleeping nude or semi-nude or fully clothed. Heat exposure may disturb sleep and cold exposure may initiate sleep faster. The national sleep foundation recommends a temperature of 60 to 67 F (15 to 20-degree Celsius). This temperature assumes regular breathable clothing and bedsheets on your bed as a part of your environment. A review of many studies confirms that heat exposure and cold exposure from the environment have potentially detrimental effects on specific aspects of sleep. But cold exposure might affect your sleep-wake cycle lesser than heat exposure, so comfortably cold can reduce the chances of disturbances.
Mild constant noise like pink noise or audio media may help people sleep. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt as research has not clearly defined its role. Abrupt sounds can interfere with sleep, especially during the lighter stages of sleep. A constant backdrop of mild noise may lead to habituation (getting used to) and not affect you. Background noise may also increase the acoustic arousal threshold which means you’ll need more noise to actually disturb you. Mild auditory stimulation in the form of light music and podcasts can also block anxiety-causing unwanted thoughts that make sleeping difficult. A core function of music is sleep regulation.
Weighted blankets are a great choice if you have insomnia and related psychological disturbances like depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety. According to a study, weighted blankets (as opposed to light blankets) showed dramatic improvements in the quality of sleep and daytime activity after just 4 weeks. Weighted blankets can be an effective way to reduce the severity of insomnia and reduce daytime lethargy.
Sleep masks (masks that cover only the eyes) and earplugs help many people sleep soundly in noisy/disturbing environments by blocking ambient light and sound. They also reduce the impact of sudden bright lights and loud sounds, which could zap the brain into wakefulness. Sleep masks and earplugs are likely to improve the quality and quantity of deep sleep by shielding the body from ambient light/sound, which may force the brain to transition into a shallow sleep with the readiness to wake up. This is how morning light helps the body end its sleep cycle. Deep sleep, also called slow-wave sleep, is when the body is most rested. An additional benefit of using sleep masks is that the improved deep sleep helps the brain encode episodic memories better (conversion of short-term memories to long-term memory for facts and events) and improves alertness the next day.
Healthy sleeping tip: Control your environment and posture, let the temperature be lower than your body temperature, wear breathable clothes, and use sleep masks, weighted blankets, and earplugs when necessary.
7. Exercise to improve the quality of sleep
Researchers have shown that aerobic exercise aids sleep and can even help insomniacs sleep better. The general consensus is that exercise helps in managing physical & mental health. Exercising a few times a week alleviates depressive symptoms and improves quality of sleep. While this seems obvious, the picture is not very clear.
Sleep and exercise have a bidirectional influence. Exercise helps improve the quality of sleep AND poor sleep reduces the quality and available resources for exercise. Exercise is not a cure for sleep disturbances. Some research shows that improving the quality of sleep does not necessarily improve physical activity during the day – a counterintuitive finding because people assume that getting sleep always improves energy the next day. With poor motivation for activity in the day, resources for exercise may be limited. Forcing oneself to exercise might not improve sleep in all cases, but it is a worth a shot.
Healthy sleeping tip: Do aerobic exercises a few times a week (walking, jogging, cycling).
Preparing yourself to sleep well
Here are some basic conditions that you should meet before you work on getting adequate quality sleep.
- The easiest way to prepare for sleep is to use the bed only for sleeping. Don’t condition yourself to associate the bed with wakefulness, worry, food, work, etc. Work and eat elsewhere, not the bed. Ideally, the bed should trigger only rest and sex.
- Reduce coffee before bedtime because caffeine blocks adenosine in the brain. Adenosine slows down the brain and induces drowsiness. But when coffee blocks it, you feel alert, and that drowsiness is canceled.
- Ensure you are mentally committed to working on your sleep habits. However, avoid being preoccupied with your sleep problems. Research shows that night-time sleep-related worry is bad for sleep because it could maintain insomnia. 2 mechanisms are possible here: night-time worry can counter relaxation or insomniac people have the additional opportunity to worry. Both mechanisms could become a feedback loop and a vicious cycle.
- Prepare your day in a way that you can afford enough sleep hours. I mean, don’t book an appointment for 7 a.m. if you can’t sleep before 1 a.m. the night before.
- Eliminate distractions such as notifications. Keep your phone next to you if you want to, just keep it silent so you aren’t alerted with noise. Avoid social media engagement because it could trigger social cognition (thoughts about people, comparisons with others, etc.) that could worsen the mood and engage the mind that could interfere with sleep.
- Eat healthily and drink enough water.
Hope these sleeping tips improve your sleep! Good night, sweet dreams.
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Hey! Thank you for reading; hope you enjoyed the article. I run Cognition Today to paint a holistic picture of psychology. My content here is referenced and featured in NY Times, Forbes, CNET, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, 10-15 books, academic courses, and research papers.
I’m a full-time psychology blogger, part-time Edtech and cyberpsychology consultant, guitar trainer, and also overtime impostor. I’ve studied at NIMHANS Bangalore (positive psychology), Savitribai Phule Pune University (clinical psychology), and IIM Ahmedabad (marketing psychology).
I’m based in Pune, India. Love sci-fi, horror media; Love rock, metal, synthwave, and pop music; can’t whistle; can play 2 guitars at a time.