How to Fall Asleep Quicker When You Have Insomnia

Updated on April 26, 2018
kate stroud profile image

Kate holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Sonoma State University and has become a master at overcoming her own insomnia issues.

Nothing perpetuates insomnia like the anxiety of insomnia, which I've been dealing with on occasion since high school. When I've gone through bouts of it, I've found myself staring blankly at the dark ceiling totally panicked about how exhausted I'm going to feel in the morning and how difficult it's going to be to care for my kids, turn my work in on time and get the dog out all while nursing a killer no-sleep headache and serious bags under my eyes. The fear of not being able to fall asleep ends up making it that much harder for me to fall asleep. As the years have gone on and I've spent more time getting to know what gets me to sleep—and what keeps me up— here are six tips for falling asleep faster when you're struggling with insomnia.

Overview of Techniques

Approach
Details
1. Read Something Relaxing
Read something semi-difficult, bland, or relaxing. Avoid the exciting thriller novels.
2. Use Calming Techniques
Utilize aroma therapy, calming sounds, and focus your brain on picturing relaxing scenes.
3. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Darken your windows, turn the air conditioning up, turn your alarm clock screen away from you, de-clutter your room, and have water nearby.
4. Get a Routine
Develop and use a relaxing routine before bed each night. Your body will come to expect sleep time.
5. Limit Your Screen Time
Turn off any electronic screens at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Limiting your exposure to these lights will help your body get to sleep.
6. Eat Smart Before Bed
Snack on walnuts, almonds, or cheese before bed. Avoid the deserts, especially those containing chocolate.
This is just a quick overview of the various techniques to get you to sleep faster. Continue reading for the details of each one and why they work.

1. Read Something Relaxing

Whether you read voraciously or avoid it altogether, the act of snuggling into that super plush comforter and reading by the light of a quaint bedside lamp may be enough to gently lull—or bore—you into much-needed slumber. Either way, it’s the end goal we’re looking at here.

The truth is, some experts aren't too keen on reading yourself to sleep. But if you avoid Stephen King novels and instead reach for a technical manual, books with words you have to sound out, or stories from a time of yore that speak in a language you can't fully understand, you just might calm that racing mind of yours. Make sure they're old-school, paper-and-ink, actual, real live books.

2. Use Calming Techniques

Relaxing, though counter-intuitive, takes a bit of work. Toss your iPhone facedown and out of reach, say, on your desk, in an effort to keep yourself from reaching for it out of habit. Using your phone to relax before bed can end up making it harder to sleep, especially if you end up going down the rabbit hole that is Reddit or Ranker and end up researching the top ten most horrifying serial killers of all time until 2:30 in the morning.

Instead, imagine a relaxing scene in your mind, use your phone to listen to quiet music (YouTube has hours-long recordings that are perfect for creating a peaceful sleep atmosphere), or practice aromatherapy by diffusing some lavender and chamomile at your bedside.

Shut your laptop and turn your phone over at least 30 minutes before bed, giving your mind and eyes time to relax before drifting off.
Shut your laptop and turn your phone over at least 30 minutes before bed, giving your mind and eyes time to relax before drifting off.

3. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Here are a few essentials for creating a peaceful, sleepy bedroom:

  • Turn the thermostat down (I keep mine at 67 for sleep) so you're not overheating and in turn waking up too early.
  • Change your sheets once a week to keep your bed feeling clean and cozy and avoid eating in bed (I know, we all do it sometimes) because sleeping on crumbs definitely does not equate to a rested nights sleep.
  • Turn the alarm clock away and plug your phone in on the other side of the room so that if you do end up waking before the sun is up you're not rolling over to check the time and realizing you've only been asleep for three hours, sending you into that insomnia-panic spiral I mentioned earlier.
  • If your bedroom faces the street, dress your windows in blackout curtains to keep as much light out as possible.
  • Devote ten minutes to tidying up your room before bed every evening. Just knowing that your room is cleaned up will help keep anxiety at bay as you drift off.
  • Keep a bottle of water on the nightstand. This way, if a dry throat is one of the perps waking you up in the middle of the night, you'll have a quick sip no further than arms reach and you won't be waking yourself up too much to quench your midnight thirst.

4. Get a Routine

Remember when you used to put on snuggly pajamas before being tucked into your comfy bed after a sweet bedtime story? It was the secret to a long restful night's sleep that made you a tolerable child the next day. Has much really changed? Well, it's something to ponder anyway. If you go straight from dinner to dishes to laundry to snoozing through Jimmy Kimmel, you'll likely climb into bed fully clothed and then lie awake wondering what happened to your droopy eyelids.

It’s been suggested that a period of time every evening for decompressing is important to a healthy night's sleep, which may or may not include setting aside time to put on your Sesame Street pj's after a bubble bath and a warm glass of milk.

5. Limit Your Screen Time

The fact that it's 3:00 am and you're reading this riveting piece on a screen of some kind is a tell for what may be keeping you awake in the first place. Emails on the laptop during dinner, two hours binge-watching Netflix, and a last check of the all-important social media on your phone as you slink into bed: all signs point to screen time hindering your sleep.

Phone and computer screens emit something called blue light which has been found to block your body's own production of melatonin—a helpful sleep hormone— which is the last thing you need to be in short supply of right about now.

Experts suggest turning off screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

6. Eat Smart Before Bed

Eating your last meal of the day too close to bedtime can have a whole host of negative effects on the quality of your sleep. However, modestly snacking on healthy things like walnuts, almonds, or cheese before bed can nudge you into a restful slumber, and these snacks have other qualities that encourage sleep. Walnuts cause your body to produce melatonin while almonds and Cheese both contain tryptophan (made famous by your Thanksgiving turkey) which helps your body produce serotonin, another nifty sleep regulator.

Steering clear of chocolate may be a good idea because of its sneaky caffeine content. Even the occasional breakfast cereal will contain caffeine, so nix these from the midnight snack section of your pantry—no matter how loud they call your name.

Almond milk, full of magnesium and the aforementioned tryptophan, is a great alternative to the usual glass of warm cow's milk.

A handful of almonds before bed is not only really good for you, but it'll help keep the hunger pains away until morning.
A handful of almonds before bed is not only really good for you, but it'll help keep the hunger pains away until morning.

When to Talk to Your Doctor About Insomnia

Long-term, insomnia gets pretty darn miserable but it's not uncommon. If you've been dealing with it for longer than two weeks you should call your doctor and find out what options you have for treating it. A few to go over during your visit include:

  • A melatonin supplement. I personally take this during times when my insomnia flares up. It's important to talk to your doctor to get the lowdown on how to use it properly and what the right dose for you is.
  • An over-the-counter sleep inducer like Unisom. Again, it's best to talk to your doctor about which brand, which type and what dose will work best for you, especially if you're pregnant or nursing or taking other medications.
  • Prescriptions sleep meds. Your doctor will probably only prescribe one if other methods haven't worked out. Make sure to set a plan in motion for weaning off as many can become addictive or interfere with your ability to perform daily tasks like driving.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Kate Stroud

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