Sleep. We think about it all day, but sometimes when we finally climb into bed, our heads race and sweet dreams evade us. In honor of World Sleep Day, we asked sleep and wellness experts to share some of their best practical tips to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep, so you wake up refreshed and ready to go.
Give yourself time to wind down
Jumping into bed and hoping to fall asleep in the first few minutes isn’t the best approach. Sleep Expert to ŌURA, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, recommends setting yourself up for success by setting aside 15 to 30 minutes to relax and unwind before bed. “Commit to a set of soothing activities that relax you, whatever that may be, such as reading a book, practicing mindfulness or breathing exercises, or taking a warm bath,” says Dr. Robbins. “We actually need that time to transition from our day to sleep.”
Casper sleep advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona Dr. Michael Grandner says, “the most important thing you can do is to give yourself enough time to wind down and prepare for sleep. You want to land into bed like an airplane, slowly descending, only touching the ground when you are ready.” He suggests setting a “wind-down alarm” to ensure you allot enough time to relax ahead of bed.
Take a nap if you need
We’re surprised a sleep expert recommended a nap to promote better sleep, but we’ll take it. Dr. Robbins says if “you accrue sleep debt from a long week at work or one to two nights out,” she explains. “Try to wake up at your normal time, then make up any lost sleep with a ‘power nap,’ which is a 20-minute nap in the afternoon.” If you’re extremely sleepy, she suggests shooting for a 90-minute nap, “which will allow for more sleep without adversely impacting your sleep the following night.”
Be mindful of your caffeine intake
“Caffeine has a half-life of six to seven hours—this means that after six to seven hours, there is still half the amount of caffeine in your system,” explains sleep expert and behavior coach Nicole Shallow. “What does this do to our sleep? Well, caffeine impacts your ability to fall asleep and allows your body to drop into a deep sleep. Even if you feel that you aren’t affected, you are. The research tells us this is true!”
Shallow advises avoiding caffeine after 12 PM, while sleep expert Sari Broda suggests cutting caffeine at 2 PM. “This allows your body to process the caffeine, so there is very little in your system once you climb into bed,” explains Shallow.
Don’t linger in the morning
Our first decision of the day is whether or not to hit snooze on our alarm, and Dr. Grandner recommends you skip sleeping the extra 15 minutes. Furthermore, laying in bed awake can also be detrimental to sleep.
“One of the best things you can do during the day to fall asleep faster is to get up in the morning and spend as little time awake in bed as you can,” says Dr. Grandner. “Staying in bed often leads people to feel even more sluggish.”
“Consistency and proper sleep hygiene are key to improving sleep,” says director of sleep health at Sleepopolis, Dr. Shelby Harris. She adds that being consistent about your sleep and wake times “seven days a week will help to regulate and maintain your circadian rhythm.”
Sleep on your left side
Any time I had a stomach ache growing up, my grandma would tell me to sleep on my left side, and it turns out her trick has some basis. Senior Ayurveda Physician at Ananda in the Himalayas, Dr. Naresh Perumbuduri, says “generally, Ayurveda recommends sleeping on the left side. Physiologically this aids digestion and lymphatic drainage.”
Resist sleeping in on the weekend
Although it’s a luxury many of us love, Dr. Robbins suggests avoiding sleeping in past your normal wake-up time by more than one hour on the weekends. “Sleeping in confuses our internal clock and can make it hard to fall asleep the following night,” she explains.
Have a healthy morning routine
Holistic nutritionist and wellness expert Jennifer Hanway says your morning routine is even more important than your nighttime routine when it comes to quality sleep.
“How you wake up, light exposure, temperature, food, exercise, etc. actually sets up your sleep/wake cycle for the day, so your morning routine,” explains Hanway. She notes that many people don’t focus on that aspect enough.
Go outside shortly after waking up
In accordance with Hanway’s advice, sleep consultant Kelly Murray suggests going outside within 30 minutes of waking up for two to 10 minutes without sunglasses. “When your eyes are exposed to sunlight, it will trigger the release of cortisol (the alert hormone),” says Murray. “You want a surge of cortisol in the morning so that it will rebound throughout the day, allowing it to be at its lowest point when you’re sleeping.”
Getting light and movement as soon as you can in the morning also helps set your circadian rhythm and prepares you to be able to fall asleep in about 16 to 18 hours, explains Dr. Grandner.
Have a nighttime routine
Dr. Harris suggests developing a nighttime routine. Creating a nightly routine to do 30 to 60 minutes before bed “can help the brain and body associate those activities or steps with sleep, reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and improving your sleep quality and quantity.”
Dr. Perumbuduri says the nightly routine should involve things that will lead to a nourishing night’s sleep. He suggests a quick shower, applying soothing oils to the palms, soles and chest and deep breathing. Then connect with the most positive part of the day and relive it, followed by humming bee pranayama (Brahmari) breathing. As you lie down, practice the reverse breath count technique.
“Lie down comfortably and place both hands—one above the other on your lower abdomen. The tips of the thumbs should touch your navel. Observe one’s breathing by keeping the hands on the belly going up and down with the abdominal movement,” says Dr. Perumbuduri. “Now start counting the breath in descending order 50, 49, 48, 47…Sync the count and breath. Restart the process if you miss the count.”
Distract your mind
The culprit keeping many of us awake at night is racing thoughts. Dr. Grandner says when the mind is stuck on a thought, oftentimes, the best thing to do is engage in a simple distraction technique. “Give yourself a simple set of problems to solve or work your way through some procedure you know—like math problems or reciting the lyrics of a song in the correct order.”
Adjust your lighting
“Light is your best friend when it comes to a healthy circadian rhythm,” says Shallow. “By exposing yourself to daylight in the morning, you can give your body the jumpstart it needs to feel awake—it’s even better than caffeine” (more on that later).
By simply dimming the lights and reducing blue light exposure, Shallow says, “you can create conditions that will signal your body to produce melatonin and start the process of prepping your body and mind for sleep.”
Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption
While alcohol can make people tired, Broda notes that it also decreases the quality and duration of sleep. “Alcohol reduces the amount of REM sleep we get each night, and this is the most important part of the cycle,” explains Shallow. “In REM sleep, we do all of our healing and cleaning out of our brains, so we feel refreshed in the morning.” Without sufficient REM sleep, you may wake up feeling tired and foggy.
Shallow recommends giving yourself a two-hour window between your last beverage and bedtime. In that window, she suggests consuming plenty of water to help move the alcohol through your system.
Keep your bedroom cool
“Create a sleep-inducing environment in your bedroom by keeping it cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable,” suggests Dr. Harris. According to Hanway, the bedroom temperature should be kept at a cool, not cold, temperature. She says 65 degrees is ideal to get restorative sleep.
Dr. Robbins says, “a bedroom that is too hot can cause sleep disruption and even nightmares.” On the other hand, “a cool sleep environment is associated with a shorter time falling asleep and less sleep fragmentation.”
If you’re too hot, Dr. Robbins suggests a cool shower and only returning to bed once you are cool and feel ready to fall back asleep. “Choose breathable, light fabrics for your bedding and your pajamas. Avoid heavy comforters or blankets,” says Dr. Robbins. “Choose pajamas that are made from breathable fabrics that wick moisture, or, if you’re comfortable, wear nothing at all!”
Block out blue light at night
“The number-one thing you must do to sleep well is to block out blue light in the evening. Light is our primary zeitgeber (factor controlling the circadian rhythm, and therefore, melatonin levels),” says sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo.
Blocking out blue light for two to three hours before bed will help “support your ability to fall asleep faster, sleep deeper and wake more refreshed.” Arezzolo is not insisting that you avoid your phone and TV all evening, but rather invest in some blue-light-blocking glasses.
Have a bedtime mantra
Broda recommends maintaining a mantra that you consistently say before bed. The mantra can be any phrase, meditation or prayer that you repeat to yourself when it’s time to go to sleep. Over time this may help your body sink into a routine.
Don’t eat too close to bedtime
Hanway says you should avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime since digestion can keep you awake and disturb sleep. The lighter in protein, the better, when it’s late. She suggests swapping red meat for plant proteins, fish, seafood, chicken or turkey.
Keep a to-do list by your bed
This may seem counterintuitive, but Broda says it can be a big help. She suggests you “keep a notepad next to your bed so you can write out anything that needs to be done.” Jotting running thoughts may help alleviate the pressure and help you drift off knowing you won’t forget to tackle it in the morning.
Don’t let yourself get stuck
We’ve all been there, desperately trying to fall asleep to no avail for hours. Dr. Gradner says staying in bed can “actually program your bed to send a ‘wake’ signal instead of a ‘sleep.’” In this instance, Broda suggests getting up and doing something else. “If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, leave your bedroom, do something relaxing, and then try again,” says Broda. Dr. Robbins suggests meditating or reading a few pages of a book with the lights low. “Another great strategy is progressive muscle relaxation, where you clench and release various muscle groups,” she adds.
Manage your stress throughout the day
Murray says it’s important not to put off destressing yourself until the evening. You need to manage your stress levels throughout the day. “A quick and easy way is to do some deep breathing exercises between meetings or every time you use the restroom,” suggests Murray. “A simple breathing exercise that helps to lower stress is to inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for two seconds and then exhale through your mouth for six.”
Take an epsom salt bath before bed
A bath before bed is such a soothing way to end the day, and now we’re giving you a scientific reason to back up the luxurious habit. “Epsom salt contains magnesium to help your mind and body to enter a relaxed state. When you get out of the warm water, your body temperature will lower, which will trigger the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone,” says Murray. “Our body temperature needs to fall by around two degrees Fahrenheit for our body to produce melatonin.”
Get enough exercise during the day
Just like a toddler, you need to tire yourself out too. Broda says that moving your body for even 15 to 30 minutes during the day can make a big difference when it’s bedtime.
Avoid vigorous exercise in the evening
“Exercise in the morning is great for setting up your circadian rhythm for the day. However, later in the evening, this can have a significant impact on your ability to fall asleep,” says Shallow. “This is because exercise causes our body temperature to increase, which is not ideal for falling asleep, and intense exercise can shift our melatonin secretion the next day.”
Shallow says it’s generally recommended that any vigorous exercise should be completed two to three hours before bedtime to give your body time to cool off.
Dr. Grandner recommends diaphragmatic breathing, which he promises is simple and can be done in just a few minutes, even in bed. “If your stomach expands as you breathe in and pushes in when you breathe out, you are breathing diaphragmatically,” he says. “The key is to take deep, slow breaths in, hold them for a few seconds, and then exhale very slowly.”