You know the feeling: You're awake in bed, all-too-aware of the fact that the clock keeps ticking in the wee hours of the morning. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 30% of adults have occasional bouts of sleep concerns and struggle to fall asleep—even when they're tired.
Sleepless nights can be incredibly frustrating, but there are many things you can do to help yourself fall asleep naturally—all backed by sound scientific research:
Keep a regular sleep schedule.
Our bodies have an internal clock that is regulated by the rising and setting of the sun, called the circadian rhythm. When it's light outside, our bodies receive the internal signal to be awake and active and, as the sun sets, we receive the internal signal that it is time to rest.
According to physician and stress expert Eva Selhub, M.D., "Our [internal] clocks are actually fairly screwed up because we don't abide by nature's rhythms." She explains that everything from staying up late to eating a poor diet can mess with the circadian rhythm.
In order to get our best sleep, it's important to stay in sync with the body's natural rhythm. Selhub says, "The more regular your sleep, the better regulated your circadian rhythm will be."
If at all possible, get up and go to bed at the same time each day. Keeping a normal sleep schedule will help you stay in harmony with your body's internal clock, encouraging your body to fall asleep naturally.
Try a natural sleep supplement, like magnesium.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient and plays a role in more than 300 diverse biochemical processes in the body, including energy production, muscle function, the regulation of neurotransmitters, and more.*
When it comes to falling asleep, magnesium can help in a couple of ways.* First, it aids in stress management and promotes a sense of calm, both of which are important for preparing to fall asleep.* Additionally, it activates receptors for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that supports relaxation and sleep.*
Renowned integrative physician Robert Rountree, M.D., explains, "It helps the whole body calm down," adding that magnesium, "does basically all the things you want to do to get the body ready for sleep and to help maintain sleep."
Magnesium can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, but for a more targeted approach, try a supplement like sleep support+.
According to the American Psychology Association, 45% of adults report lying awake at night due to stress in the past month.
One proven way to quiet your mind and relax: meditation. A systematic review of seven meditation studies found evidence to suggest that meditation reduces sleep-interfering cognitive processes (like stressful thoughts) and improves sleep quality.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is linked to better sleep quality and feeling better the following day.
In a small study comparing sleep hygiene education and mindfulness meditation education, individuals who learned meditation techniques reported better sleep quality than those in the sleep class after six weeks.
Starting a daily meditation practice can help you manage stress and fall asleep worry-free.
Keep your bedroom cool.
As part of the circadian rhythm, the body's core temperature naturally drops at night. As such, it has been found that cooling down prior to bed helps you fall asleep more quickly.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the best temperature for your bedroom is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, although your personal needs may be slightly different.
Put away electronic devices.
Electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit blue light. This can be problematic before bed because blue light interferes with melatonin production, causing the brain to think it is still daytime.
If you just can't bear the thought of not using your devices near bedtime, consider wearing blue-blocking lenses about 90 minutes before bedtime or using an app on your device that blocks blue light.
Read a paper book.
Reading is a great way to relax before bedtime. However, make sure to read a good old-fashioned paper book rather than an e-book. E-readers, as electronic devices, have been shown to have negative effects on sleep, circadian rhythm, and alertness due to the blue light they emit.
In fact, in one study participants took on average 10 minutes longer to fall asleep on nights they used an e-reader compared to nights they read a paper book. Researchers found that the e-readers suppressed melatonin production and decreased reported "sleepiness."
If you really want to use an e-reader, wear blue-light-blocking glasses in order to avoid the effects of blue light exposure on your sleep.
Avoid social media.
Even with your trusty blue-light-blocking glasses on, you'll still want to log off Instagram before bed. Social media use, especially in the 30 minutes prior to bed, is associated with sleep disturbances in young adults, including trouble falling asleep.
Interestingly, a study of 1,788 young U.S. adults found that even social media use during the day can negatively affect sleep. Study authors suggest this could be due to the emotionally, cognitively, and physiologically stimulating nature of social media.
And certainly getting into a political argument or viewing disturbing news stories near bedtime is not a great way to wind down before bed.
If you find yourself feeling stressed after checking your social media accounts, it is probably a good idea to sign off of them early in the evening and find more relaxing ways to spend your time prior to bed.
Listen to relaxing music.
Music might help lull you to sleep. Research suggests that listening to music can be effective at improving sleep quality, especially in individuals who need additional help falling asleep.
One type of music that has been investigated for its effects on relaxation is meditative binaural music. In this type of music, the listener hears two different tones, one in each ear.
Classical music has also been found to promote relaxation.
Take a warm bath.
Need another excuse for a good self-care soak? According to a large meta-analysis, taking a bath one to two hours before bed can improve overall sleep quality and how quickly you fall asleep.
The analysis found that the ideal temperature range for a relaxing pre-bed bath or shower was 104 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Taking a warm bath stimulates the body's natural temperature regulation, supporting the circadian rhythm.
Try aromatherapy & aromatherapy-inspired products
Aromatherapy is the practice of diffusing essential oils for overall well-being benefits, with each oil offering its own unique benefits. Lavender essential oil, specifically, has been found to promote a sense of calm and create an atmosphere that encourage restorative rest. While there are many ways to utilize functional fragrance throughout out the day, pillow mists make for an easy way to cradle your senses in the nighttime.
Get a massage.
Nothing's quite as relaxing as a good massage. They reduce stress and pain, stimulate the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine, and relax tight, sore muscles, making it easier to fall asleep.
If you can't afford a professional massage, other options might be having someone in your household take a massage class or using a self-massager.
Turn down the lights.
The light bulbs we use in our homes also put out bright, blue light. The result is similar to the detrimental effects of electronic devices. Namely, the brain gets the signal that it is daytime, and we remain wide-awake.
To prepare yourself for sleep, it's a good idea to turn down all lights a couple of hours before bedtime.
Also, be aware that certain types of bulbs put out more blue light than others, such as LED and fluorescent bulbs. Although they are less friendly to the environment, incandescent bulbs are the best choice as far as limiting blue light exposure.
You can also look for LED and fluorescent bulbs that contain a special coating inside that filters out some of the blue light.
Get regular exercise.
Regular exercise has many benefits, from heart health to bone strength, but did you know it can also help you sleep at night? In fact, one small study found that participating in a six-month exercise program helped participants fall asleep almost 10 minutes faster on average.
While any consistent exercise is good, aerobic exercise, in particular, is associated with improving deep sleep.
Avoid daytime naps.
Napping during the day can throw off your circadian rhythm, causing your body to become confused about when it should be asleep.
If you find yourself feeling tired during the day due to poor sleep the night before, resist the urge to take a nap. It will be much easier to sleep at night if you don't allow your body to fall out of its daily rhythm of sleep and wakefulness.
If you've had a bad night of sleep, it can be tough to skip the coffee, but studies indicate that caffeine consumption can interfere with sleep, which could mean another night of tossing and turning.
Caffeine can make it take longer to fall asleep, and people tend to sleep for a shorter amount of time and wake up more often. One study even found that caffeine consumption six hours before bed still interrupted sleep quality and reduced sleep time by more than an hour.
If you must drink caffeinated beverages (which has its benefits, by the way), try to finish more than six hours before bed to avoid messing with your shut-eye. That includes coffee, tea, sodas, and energy drinks as well.
Sure, alcohol might make you feel drowsy and relaxed, but when it comes to getting some good zzz's, research says to skip it. Drinking alcohol within four hours of bedtime is associated with disrupted and poor-quality sleep.
As holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora, M.D., explains, "Though it can make it easier to fall asleep, it decreases the quality of sleep and makes it harder to sleep through the night," which means, you'll wake up groggy, not energized.
So, skip the booze and lean on the tips here to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Another vice that can mess with your shut-eye: nicotine. Using nicotine within four hours of bedtime is linked to poor-quality sleep and waking during the night.
If you want to fall asleep naturally and get a good night's rest, it's best to stay away from smoking, vaping, and other nicotine-containing substances.
Avoid eating late in the evening.
A large body of evidence suggests that meal timing can have many important effects on our body's functioning, including our sleep-wake cycle.
Researchers suggest meal timing is one of the ways that our body sets its internal clock. When we eat at the wrong times, it can throw our internal timekeeping mechanism awry, wreaking havoc on our sleep patterns.
In fact, several studies have found a link between eating late dinners or eating more calories late in the evening and short sleep duration (less than five hours). Although more research is needed to understand the optimal eating patterns for better sleep, it's probably a bad idea to eat late dinners or a heavy pre-bed snack if you want to get to sleep on time.
Instead, try eating your dinner early. And, if you absolutely must eat later, keep it light and only eat until your hunger is satisfied.
Make sure your bed is comfortable.
If you're sleeping in a bed that's less than comfortable, it's only natural that you're going to have a hard time falling asleep.
A mattress that's too lumpy or hard, or bedding that is too hot or scratchy is just plain irritating, and it distracts you from relaxing properly.
If you find yourself feeling dissatisfied with something about the comfort of your bed, it's important to correct it in order to create the best environment for relaxation and rest.
To keep your mattress in top condition, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that it should be replaced every five to seven years. Pillows need to be replaced annually.
Get more morning light.
To sleep well at night, it's important to keep our circadian rhythm on track. In order to do this, we must be exposed to bright light from the sun each morning. Sunlight contains the blue wavelength of light that communicates to our brain that it's daytime.
While this might seem odd given that we're trying so hard to avoid blue light in the evening, it's really all about timing. We need blue light at the correct time of day to tell our bodies when it's time to be awake and when to sleep.
One study, involving 109 office workers who were exposed to bright morning light, found that they had better self-reported mood and sleep. In addition, research indicates that blue-enriched light, like morning sunlight, can improve sleep, alertness, and performance.
Try taking a walk outdoors, or invest in a light therapy lamp.
Tossing and turning all night can be frustrating. But there are many safe, proven ways to help you fall asleep naturally. Try these tips and see what works best for your needs.
However, if nothing seems to be working, talk to your health care provider or consult a sleep specialist. There may be an underlying illness or sleep disorder, which requires professional assistance to treat.
Nancy Schimelpfening, M.S., earned her master's degree in Community Health Education from Old Dominion University.
She is a freelance writer and president of Depression Sanctuary, a non-profit organization that offers free support to those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses. She lives in San Antonio, TX.