Can't Sleep? How to Fall Asleep Instantly and Beat Insomnia—Tonight!
How to Fall Asleep Fast With Tricks That Actually Work
Insomnia is the worst. You know, that's why you're here and that's why I'm writing this. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, 1 and 3 people have mild insomnia. I've had my own struggles falling asleep when stressed, staying asleep, and waking up constantly tossing and turning. I've tried all kinds of tricks. I've taken over-the-counter sleep aids, practiced restorative yoga, consumed tryptophan, sat in a sauna, drank herbal tea, wore eye masks, wore earplugs, and even slept with crystals under my pillow. Don't worry, we'll skip over the generic sleeping tips and get to the good stuff.
One of my good friends was so troubled by her sleep disorder, she went to see a therapist. Her therapist told her that years ago, humans used to be on the go, hiding from predators and sleeping when they could. Sleep disorders weren't a thing. Nowadays, with all the noise pollution, light pollution, and the stress of the daily grind, we are plagued with insomnia, worries, aches, and pains. So, what's the solution?
The Golden Rule: Stop worrying about not being able to fall asleep.
Now that that's been addressed, let's get into the tools you can use to customize your nighttime routine so that once your head hits the pillow, you're out. My favorite sleep aids include valerian root tea, essential oils, custom-fitted earplugs, and binaural beats.
The Most Common Sleep Remedies
You have probably heard of all of these tried-and-true methods for falling asleep, but they are still worth revisiting:
- Put the cell phone and laptop away
- No lights or LEDs in the bedroom (no clocks, monitor lights, city lights, etc.)
- Avoid naps
- Cut out the caffeine early
- Take a warm bath or shower
- Lower your room temperature
- Sex (solitary or with a partner)
- Establish a regular schedule
The 4-7-8 Method: Fall Asleep in Under 5 Minutes
This trick is trending and people swear by it. The technique is called "The Relaxing Breath," and it works a number of ways by increasing vagal tone. What does that mean? Deep breathing, otherwise known as diaphragmatic breathing, has been around for thousands of years. Diaphragmatic breathing is scientifically proven to decrease sympathetic nervous system activity (think fight-or-flight response, adrenaline, cortisol, walking down the aisle, skydiving, job interviews, etc.).
The solution therein lies in stimulating the vagus nerve. By increasing vagal tone, we tell the body it's time to "rest and digest" and slow down. By slowing down our breaths, slowing down our heart rate, and increasing gas exchange in our lungs, we are essentially giving the body a clue that it's time to sleep and that it's safe to do so. The following technique was termed the natural tranquilizer, and developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a renown integrative medical professional.
The Relaxing Breath Trick
As you engage in this breathing practice, focus on letting your chest and your belly rise as you breathe. You want your entire diaphragm to expand, much like bellows stoking a fire. Allow your lungs and stomach to fill like a balloon and equally deflate just the same; this is one of the most important aspects of deep breathing. Here's how to use this technique:
- Get ready for bed. Turn off your phone, turn off the lights, remove all distractions.
- Close your eyes, and rest your tongue against your gums just behind your upper front teeth or incisors.
- Exhale all of the air from your lungs through your nose.
- Begin by inhaling through your nose, and count for four seconds. If it helps, count "one, one thousand, two, one thousand . . . " silently.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.
- Repeat four times minimum, and continue until . . .
Research has found that exposure to blue light suppresses the production of melatonin.— LiveScience.com
Do You Work on a Computer? Combat Blue Light Insomnia
I'm particularly sensitive to blue light, so when I started writing for long hours on my computer, my sleep cycle was all over the place. If you use reading glasses, you are in luck. You can actually purchase lenses that specifically block harmful blue light frequencies from your devices such as computers and smartphones. In addition to disrupted sleep, blue-violet light can lead to an increased risk of macular degeneration. According to Livescience.com:
"A study by the University of Toronto found that those who wore glasses that blocked blue light wavelengths produced more melatonin than those who didn't during night shifts. Other studies have found that blue wavelengths suppress delta brainwaves, which induce sleep, and boost alpha wavelengths, which create alertness."
Want to take it a step further? You should also consider downloading f.lux, an app that uses your time zone to create a natural sleep cycle for you. I currently use it on my Mac and it drastically improved my sleep (I've been using it for 6 months). The blue light frequencies which are said to affect our biological rhythm are cut out from your screens gradually throughout the day. Your screen will take on an orange tone as you approach your ideal bedtime. What I like about f.lux:
- Instant results (I fell asleep two hours earlier on the first day of use).
- The application is discreet—no interruptive, obnoxious software, or harassing pop-ups.
- It's all customized. You simply tell f.lux when you wake up and when you go to sleep.
Trust me, you will not be disappointed. You may not even remember reading this article because you'll be asleep before you finish.
Does Tryptophan Make You Sleepy?
Tryptophan. Your new best friend (and mine). Despite all those myth busters out there, it is scientifically proven to make you sleepy. Turkey isn't the only food that is known to contain tryptophan, so let's talk about how you can use this essential amino acid to your advantage.
Tryptophan works as a precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin (two hormones that heavily contribute to a healthy sleep cycle). As the body metabolizes tryptophan, it is converted into 5-HTP which is further converted into serotonin and melatonin. Therefore, by consuming tryptophan-rich foods, you are more likely to experience calmness, reduced anxiety, and are more likely to fall asleep. According to WebMD:
"When levels of serotonin are high, you're in a better mood, sleep better, and have a higher pain tolerance," says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD.
Humans don't produce tryptophan, so our only source is from our diet. I prefer to naturally incorporate tryptophan into my diet because it is much safer than taking a supplement. Tryptophan, if taken as a supplement, may cause serotonin syndrome and should not be used by individuals on SSRIs or MAOIs. Talk to your doctor if you are on medications, pregnant or breastfeeding, or have outstanding health issues.
Tryptophan for Sleep Disorders
Experts recommend consuming 1–2 grams of tryptophan at bedtime for sleep disorders and insomnia. – Draxe.com
Foods That Will Help You Sleep
1 oz; 28 grams
egg white (dried)
1 cup (sifted); 107 g
1 cup chopped; 34 g
turkey (light meat)
1 unit; 136 g
1 cup; 226 grams
1/5 block; 91 g
1 cup (not packed)
Can the Melatonin in Cherries Help You Sleep?
The simple answer is yes. According to a study published on The National Center for Biotechnology Information website, titled, The Effect of Tart Cherry Juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality:
"There were significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency total (P < 0.05) with cherry juice supplementation."
This study was conducted on a group of 20 volunteers for 7 days; individuals consumed either the placebo or tart cherry juice. Results showed that for the average adult, tart cherry juice consumption improves one's ability to sleep and one's quality of sleep. I prefer to consume cherry juice and melatonin naturally as opposed to taking supplements.
How to take cherry juice for sleep:
- Acquire tart Montmorency cherry juice
- Dilute 30 mL of juice (90-100 cherries) with 200 mL of water (approximately 42.6 mcg melatonin per dose).
- Take one dose 30 minutes after waking up and 30 minutes before your evening meal (twice daily).
Melatonin as a supplement may cause serotonin syndrome and should not be used by individuals on SSRIs or MAOIs. Talk to your doctor if you are on medications, pregnant or breastfeeding, or have outstanding health issues.
Sleep Like a Rock With ASMR
ASMR Hypnosis Videos May Help You Sleep in 60 Seconds
What is ASMR? You may have seen it on YouTube. ASMR stimulates a biological response similar to auditory-tactile synesthesia where certain sounds induce a sensation in the body. ASMR stands for "autonomous sensory meridian response," and occurs when acoustic stimuli trigger a tingling sensation on the scalp or even low-grade euphoria. ASMR is fairly new age and was formally synthesized in 2010 by Jennifer Allen. According to Wikipedia, Allen elected for the acronym ASMR as follows:
- "Autonomous – spontaneous, self-governing, within or without control
- Sensory – pertaining to the senses or sensation
- Meridian – signifying a peak, climax, or point of highest development
- Response – referring to an experience triggered by something external or internal"
The experience is said to originate neurobiologically and varies per individual. Some describe ASMR videos as physically relaxing, while others describe them as meditative. Videos range from whispering and soft speaking, to mundane tasks, storybook reading, and similar low-level sonic variations. Although some experts argue that individuals may become dependent on ASMR for sleep just like with white noise machines, it is still considered an excellent natural alternative for sleep disorders. Simply search for "ASMR videos for sleep" online and check out the results—it may work for you.
What Is Reflexology? DIY Reflexology and Acupressure for Sleep
Reflexology has been a mainstay in Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese medicine for several thousands of years. In 1917, Dr. William Fitzgerald adopted these traditional techniques for "Zone Therapy," which were later adapted for modern use by Eunice Ingham, "the mother of modern reflexology," according to www.FindTranquility.com.
Reflexology is based on the premise that certain regions or points on the body correspond to organs, glands, and systemic functions. By working on these points with the application of pressure, we can coax the body back into balance and enhance overall wellness.
The above video uses the follow reflexology or acupressure points on the hand and employes a caterpillar "walking motion" across the following regions:
- the diaphragm line: organs of the chest (breathing)
- the spine reflex (on the thumb): works on the central nervous system
- the head, brain, and neck reflex
- the pituitary gland pressure point: master gland, endocrine system
- the pineal and hypothalamus: sleep-wake cycle control
- solar plexus or pericardium 8 (chakra): calms the spirit
- heart 7: calms the mind
Watch the video above for an excellent instructional and give it a try!
Binaural Beats for Deep Sleep
How Do Binaural Beats Work for Better Sleep?
Our brain waves increase and decrease according to our state of excitement and level of mental stimulation. Delta waves are associated with deep sleep (ranging from 1-4 Hz), and correlate with maximized cellular regeneration and the loss of bodily awareness. Theta waves, 4-8 Hz, are associated with dream state. Theta waves range from "dream state (low theta), deep meditation (mid theta), intuitive awareness," according to Sixstepstosleep.com.
Binaural beats can be used for waking states and may help to lower anxiety or create a sense of euphoria, but when it comes to sleep, we want to prime the brain for deep sleep and relaxation. Here's how to benefit from binaural beats:
- Consider using theta waves or high delta waves several hours before bedtime.
- Transition to delta waves as you start your evening sleep routine (generally half an hour prior).
I find binaural beats to be soothing and quite effective. Avoid technical tasks while listening to sleep-inducing binaural beats.
The Best Aromatherapy Essential Oils for Deep Sleep and Relaxation
The benefits of essential oils are no mystery. They have been used for centuries in all sorts of therapies. Time and time again, studies have proven the usefulness of essential oils for remedying various ailments. Lavender, for one, has been used in hospital environments to help calm patients. Some top-rated essential oils for sleep and relaxation include:
- Lavender: doubles as a culinary herb, widely used; deep relaxation
- Vetiver: distilled from the roots, earthy; commonly used in fragrance
- Ylang Ylang: floral and fruity
- Sandalwood: warm, creamy wood scent
- Cedarwood: derived from conifers; comforting
Always purchase your essential oils from a reputable source, and opt for 100% organic, unadulterated oils. Oils can be used in diffusers, combined with carrier oils and applied topically, added to baths, added to products (lavender-stuffed eye pillows), added to bedroom mists, etc.. Get creative.
Always be sure to research proper dilution methods and avoid diffusing oils that may be harmful to children and/or animals. Check with your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing before incorporating essential oils into your nightly regimen.
Essential Oil Safety
Be sure to dilute your essential oils correctly. Never ingest any essential oil without the supervision of a qualified professional. Some essential oils can lead to severe toxicity, coma, and/or death.
Valerian Root Tea to Treat Insomnia
Valerian root tea is one of my favorite remedies for insomnia. It has a mild sedative effect and anxiolytic or anti-anxiety properties. When I'm anticipating a particularly difficult night, I make myself some valerian root tea. The nice thing about valerian root tea is that you don't have to go find it in an obscure herbal shop (you can if you want to). It's sold as a tea at many commercial stores such as Safeway, Whole Foods, etc.. Sleepytime Extra (there's regular Sleepytime, too, for newbies), is made by the major label, Celestial Seasonings. This is the brand that I trust. Drink this tea 30 minutes before your desired bedtime, preferable on an empty stomach. Trust me, it works.
As with all herbal preparations, there is always the risk of side effects. Check with your doctor before consuming. Nursing and pregnant women should not consume valerian root. Individuals on medications (natural or synthetic), should obtain approval from a health care professional to avoid possible side effects and adverse drug interactions.
Is Your Partner the Problem? How to Handle a Snoring Spouse
This issue is complex, but I thought I'd throw it in because so many people struggle with snoring and/or a snoring spouse and it can majorly affect even the heaviest of sleepers. Here are some tips for dealing with a snoring spouse or significant other:
- research companies that offer custom-fitted earplugs (many companies will do this by mail)
- heavily dust your environment or invest in an air purifier (opt for a purifier that uses HEPA filters)
- purchase a body pillow to place between you and your partner
- consider using a white noise machine
- encourage your partner to get healthy (weight loss, quit smoking, quit drinking before bed . . . all snore triggers)
- get a proper diagnosis; some snoring issues are serious
- discuss corrective surgery with a doctor; though finances can be a real deal breaker with these procedures, fixing a deviated septum with nasal septal surgery and the removal of redundant tissue may help
- worst case scenario: consider sleeping in separate beds if you have the space
The Best Sleep Aid Ever
This may not be the answer that you're looking for, but the best sleep aid available is: routine. That is, creating a routine that works for you. My personal evening routine is as follows: consume a tryptophan-rich food item with my dinner, prepare valerian root tea, take a warm bath with lavender essential oils, put my phone on airplane mode, play binaural beats, hide or turn off all devices with LEDs, and plug in my custom earplugs. So, there you have it.
Think about what tips and techniques might work for you. It may take some trial and error. Be kind to yourself, most importantly, and understand that one of the most effective ways for reducing sleep disorders is by managing your stress levels. If your sleep interruptions are so severe that they are impacting your daily life, seek out professional help or counseling. Some sleep disorders may require treatment by a medical professional.
- Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.
Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16. doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7. Epub 2011 Oct 30. Randomized Controlled Trial
- How Blue LEDs Affect Sleep
Research has found that exposure to blue light suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin more than any other type of light.
- Get More Tryptophan for Better Sleep, Moods & Fewer Headaches - Dr. Axe
Is it true that the reason you're sleepy after your Thanksgiving meal is due to the tryptophan in turkey? What else can tryptophan do for you?
- 8 Essential Oils For Sleep
Lack of sleep is a huge problem for many people, but essential oils can help! Here are 8 essential oils for sleep.
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.
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