Do you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies the lack of sleep in the United States as an epidemic? (Source) A pandemic is a disease that has spread rapidly within a given population in a short period. This is not surprising if you consider that one in three adult Americans reports not getting sufficient sleep (Source).
Even though no single factor has been attributed to many Americans’ sleeping challenges, researchers have found insomnia, exacerbated by constant exposure to significant amounts of stress, to be a significant contributing factor (Source). A 2019 survey by the American Psychiatric Association reported that many Americans experience higher stress levels than average (Source).
While the insights above may appear bleak, sleeping challenges can be solved. In this article, we discuss why sleep is essential for the mind, body, and health. We will also try to identify the factors that can make sleeping faster and better, more difficult. Lastly, the article provides 20 tips that can help you fall asleep faster and enjoy better sleep.
Importance of Healthy Sleep
In an article published by the US National Library of Medicine, Susan Worley writes that “studies are strengthening known and suspected relationships between inadequate sleep and a wide range of disorders, including hypertension, obesity and type-2 diabetes, impaired immune functioning, cardiovascular disease and arrhythmias, mood disorders, neurodegeneration and dementia, and even loneliness” (Source).
Worley continues to note that no matter how busy our lives can get, “we can no longer afford to ignore what research is telling us about the importance of sleep for our safety, and mental and physical wellbeing” (Source).
Let’s look at some of the benefits of healthy sleep to our brains, bodies, and general health.
Researchers have discovered that sleep correlates with three essential brain functions: concentration, cognition, and productivity (Source). The impact of sleep on these brain functions is documented in a Norwegian study that showed links between sleep patterns and academic performance in primary school-aged children.
Adequate sleep has also been found to boost an individual’s mood as the brain tends to process emotions better while you sleep (Source). In a paper published by the Journal of Sleep Research, Veronica Guadagni, Ford Burles, Michele Ferrara, and Giuseppe Laria conclude that adequate sleep improves mood and makes individuals have more emotional empathy. Emotional empathy denotes the ability to feel the emotions of others.
Sufficient sleep is also linked to preventing depression. Studies suggest that a lack of sleep is a contributing factor to suicide. People with insomnia are more likely to be depressed (Source).
When it comes to sleep and weight gain, results from research are generally inconclusive. However, those studies that conclude that lack of sleep may lead to weight gain argue that inadequate sleep may impact an individual’s willingness to maintain a healthy lifestyle (Source).
A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America suggests that not getting enough sleep affects the balance of leptin and ghrelin in the brain, which are the hormones that regulate appetite. It concludes that as individuals remain awake, they tend to eat more than they need as “a physiological adaptation to provide the energy needed to sustain additional wakefulness” (Source).
Although the recommended daily amount of sleep for the average adult is 7 to 9 hours, athletes are advised to sleep for as much as 10 hours a night (Source). The National Sleep Foundation highlights four reasons for this recommendation, saying that more sleep means athletes would be faster, it would boost their intensity, improve their mental strength, and increase their co-ordination.
According to the CDC, “Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems, including a heart attack, asthma, and depression.” It adds that “some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke” (Source).
A study published by the World Journal of Gastroenterology states that “individuals with sleep abnormalities are also at greater risk of serious adverse health, economic consequences, and, most importantly, increased all-cause mortality.” The same study also notes that research supports the view that there is a link between sleep problems and inflammation and immune function (Source).
What the above studies show is that adequate sleep is not just nice to have, it is an essential part of a fully functional human being.
Things That Make It Difficult to Sleep Faster and Better
While many people occasionally have periods when they have difficulty going to sleep, if this happens to you at least three nights a week for three months, it may indicate a sleep disorder like insomnia (Source). Before presenting some tips to alleviate your sleep-related problems, let’s look at some of the causes of sleep-related challenges.
The American Sleep Association identifies five factors that make falling asleep difficult. These are stress, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and sleep disorders (Source). These factors have varying effects on sleep patterns but can, in most cases, be managed by following recommended sleeping practices. You will realize that most of the tips below are linked to these five causes.
Tips to Fall Asleep Faster and Enjoy Better Sleep
Suppose you wonder how you can easily pay up your sleep debts and avoid falling into a sleep deficit. In that case, we recommend that you try the following 20 methods:
1. Turn off the Busy Mind
We live in a fast-paced world where information is everywhere, including places like social media and the news. This information overload can leave our minds racing and prevent us from falling asleep. Just as you turn off the lights before you go to sleep, learn to switch off your busy mind too just before you get to bed.
Some of the recommended techniques to help you switch off your mind include listening to a calming podcast, doing breathing exercises, trying a guided meditation, sound therapy, and reading a not-so-exciting book before bed. Other simple methods include dimming the lights a few minutes before you go to sleep. Talking to someone you trust can also help relax your mind.
2. Release Muscle Tension
Having tense muscles and body aches can make falling asleep difficult (Source). You may try Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), which is based on the assumption that “by physically tensing and then relaxing their muscles, [you] would at the same time relax [your] mind.” (Source). See a detailed description of how to carry out PMR here.
3. Avoid Things That Make Your Heart Pump Faster
Stress is usually manifested through an accelerated heart rate. Associated with this are other factors like muscle tension and an escalation in automatic arousal, making it a challenge to sleep (Source).
Also, some caffeinated beverages like coffee, soda, and energy drinks can adversely leave your heart beating faster. It is recommended that you drink soothing bedtime teas like chamomile tea, passionflower, and magnolia (Source).
4. Learn Some Relaxation Exercises
Besides PMR, journaling has also been found to be beneficial in managing stress. Putting down your thoughts in black and white can help clear your mind and process the emotions that keep you from sleeping.
It is also beneficial to practice yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. These help reduce stress, increase melatonin levels (the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle), improve focus, and aid better sleep (Source).
5. Do Some Exercises During the Day
The NHS recommends that moderate exercise regularly can reduce the tension that builds up during the day. It recommends exercises like walking or swimming later in the day. However, vigorous exercise, like the gym or running, too close to bedtime, is discouraged.
6. Create a Pre-sleep Ritual
Studies have also shown that listening to classical music (or any music that you find relaxing) in bed helps you fall asleep faster. A few other studies have suggested that taking a warm bath before bed will “make it easier to pass out and make you sleep deeper once you are asleep.” (Source).
Besides journaling, writing in general as a pre-sleep ritual can aid sleep (Source). A study found that writing a to-do list is more effective than journaling in helping young adults fall asleep faster (Source).
You could also prepare everything you will need in the morning, like ironing your clothes, preparing your packed lunch, and packing your bag. This could help relax your mind knowing that everything you will need in the morning is in order.
7. Follow a Schedule
Developing a consistent sleep schedule can help your body fall asleep faster. This is a view supported by the United Kingdom National Health Service, which recommends that individuals “keep regular sleep hours” and “get into a daily routine” to beat insomnia.
8. Ensure Adequate Darkness
The body secretes more melatonin (a sleep hormone) in darkness and starts doing so about two hours before bedtime. It is recommended that you dim, or better yet, turn off the lights in your room before bed.
Avoid any nightlights as your brain interprets this to mean that it’s still daytime. Exposing yourself to enough sunlight during the day also helps you fall asleep faster at night. It ensures that your body identifies each part of the day and acts accordingly (Source).
9. Don’t Look at the Clock
Clock-watching is a harmful practice that exacerbates insomnia. It leads to more frustration about sleeplessness, which makes things worse (Source). Remove the clock from your bedroom, or turn it away from you if you need it for your morning alarm.
10. Avoid Taking Naps During the Day
It is also generally known that taking naps during the day, especially late in the day, can make it more difficult to sleep at night. A study involving 440 college students concluded that “college students who are self-reported frequent, long, and late nappers may have a higher risk of poor nighttime sleep quality and more severe sleep deprivation” (Source).
11. Eat With Care During the Day
For its general functions, such as remaining awake and sleeping, the body needs essential nutrients and vitamins. Thus, it is essential to be careful about what you eat during the day, particularly before bedtime.
To sleep faster and longer, you should also avoid heavy nighttime meals, shun bedtime alcohol, and drinking too many liquids in the evening. Reduce the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates (Source).
12. Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Create an environment that induces sleep by keeping your room cool, dark, and quiet, and making sure your bed is comfortable (Source). Having a light and pleasant scent like lavender permeate your room could also help induce sleep.
13. Breathe Consciously
Conscious breathing can help reduce anxiety. The Harvard-trained medical practitioner, Dr. Andrew Weil, recommends the 4-7-8 technique for mastering slower, deeper breaths. See the steps to the technique here.
14. Manage the Temperature in Your Room
A 2008 study looking to find correlations between body temperatures and insomnia discovered that people with insomnia have higher average body temperatures. Harvard Medical School recommends a temperature of between 60 and 75°F as the sweet spot for better sleep.
15. Don’t Try to Fall Asleep
There is not much science to back this tip. Still, one behavioral and cognitive psychotherapy study tried a method called ‘paradoxical intention’ (trying not to fall asleep) on patients. This experiment succeeded in making them fall asleep faster.
16. Learn Methods of Getting Back to Sleep
Rather than try too hard to get back to sleep while in bed, you should get up when you have trouble sleeping and find something relaxing to do until you feel somnolent again (Source). You may decide to read a book or engage in any other non-stimulating activity that you like (Source).
17. Only Use Your Bed for Sleep and Intimacy
It is essential to condition your mind to associate your bed with sleep and intimacy alone. Engaging in any other activities in your bed could interfere with that association and present issues with sleeping (Source).
18. Keep Your Feet Warm in the Winter
Ask anyone who has ever tried to sleep with cold feet and they will tell you that it’s almost impossible. We recommend wearing socks to bed or using a warm water bottle to warm up your feet before you sleep in the winter.
19. Relive Happy Memories
Unwanted thoughts and images contribute to challenges with falling asleep. For instance, if you replay that heated interaction that happened between you and your boss, you may find that you get too agitated to fall asleep.
Replacing unpleasant thoughts and memories with pleasant ones (just like that last romantic or family trip you had last summer) can distract your mind from your worries and help you enjoy deeper and richer sleep (Source).
20. Figure Out What Works for You
In the diversity of all the tips and tricks for falling asleep quickly and sleeping better, what really helps them come together is you. Take a cue from the Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” and strive to understand what works for you and what doesn’t.
Mix things up a little and try to combine two or three different tips at a time, taking note of how they affect your results.
If none of the tips above works, speak to your doctor as there may be a more serious underlying issue.