Fall asleep faster

Dear Alice,

I can't go to sleep at night. What are some helpful ways to help me go to sleep faster?

Dear Reader, 

Sleep can sometimes prove elusive. Even more mystifying is the fact that each person’s sleep latency—or the time it takes to fall asleep—is different; some people can be in dreamland in ten minutes while others struggle to get quality shut-eye and may take close to an hour to nod off completely. The toll of being tired is nothing to yawn at, especially when you have to be up and at ‘em early in the morning for work, study, or even play. If you’ve been consistently unable to fall asleep at night, you’re probably beyond counting sheep and drinking a glass of warm milk before bed. 

Have you thought of your nighttime habits and how they might impact your ability to fall asleep? For example, is there something keeping you up at night? While there are many different conditions that can keep you from getting shut-eye, some are under your control. Here are some changes that you can consider making to your day that may make it easier to sleep: 

  • Create a bedtime schedule and routine. By going to sleep and waking up at the same times each day, your body may learn when it should prepare to rest and therefore allow you to fall asleep easier. Doing the same activities before going to bed such as reading a book or taking a bath can also help signal to your body that it should get ready to sleep.  
  • Keep your bedroom at a cooler temperature. As your body naturally decreases its temperature in preparation for sleep, keeping your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit may promote restfulness.  
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet to limit distracting stimuli. Turning off lights and drawing the blinds can help signal to your body and brain that it is time to sleep. It’s also a good idea to reduce screen time (i.e., phones, laptops, TVs, tablets) before bedtime.  
  • Engage in regular physical activity. Even following a low-impact fitness routine such as walking or yoga can reduce pent-up energy and make it easier to fall asleep at the end of the day. 
  • Finish eating meals about two or three hours before going to bed. Having a full stomach can make falling asleep uncomfortable.  
  • Consider an herbal remedy to help you sleep. Some medicinal plants that have been noted for sleep latency reduction are valerian, Indian ginseng, and Californian poppy. If you’d like to try these, it’s a good idea to talk with your health care provider first.  
  • Limit alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine intake close to bedtime. These three substances can disrupt sleep and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Therefore, you may find that reducing the amount that you consume before going to bed makes it easier to get some rest. 

Ask yourself if environmental factors, eating habits, or daily routines may be keeping your eyes wide open. If it turns out that you already have the prime conditions for sleep established, it could be that stress or other worries are making it difficult to get some rest. Trying these suggestions may bring you some relief and get your mind to stop going into overdrive at night: 

  • Do something enjoyable and relaxing prior to bedtime. You can take a walk, chat with a friend, read something not related to school or work, take a bath, masturbate, etc. The idea here is to take your mind away from anything stressful or activating, allowing for greater ease into sleep. 
  • Make tomorrow's to-do list before you call it a night. Not only might you be more organized for the next day, you may also have fewer dreams about to-do lists and a better night's sleep overall. 
  • Instead of lying awake with worries, write them down in a journal. When you're done, close the book and put it away. Better to leave your stressors on the night table than take them to bed with you. 
  • Listen to music or a guided imagery tape to help ease you into Zzz-land. While these techniques by themselves don’t necessarily improve sleep, they may help you relax so your mind is more ready for sleep. Research has also found that mindfulness meditation leads to improved quality of sleep for those with insomnia. You can find videos or playlists online that have pleasant scenes or narrations in which you visualize yourself relaxing. Progressive muscle relaxation is another exercise that may ease your body into sleep.  

If these suggestions alone aren't enough to address the factors that are causing you lost sleep, combining them with counseling or speaking with a health care provider can be a sleep tonic worth considering. 

Last updated Dec 09, 2022
Originally published Oct 08, 1999