20 Expert-Backed Ways To Fall Asleep In Minutes
My dad is a man of many talents. One of which is the ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time, in a matter of seconds. Granted, the man wakes up before sunrise every morning, so he's likely exhausted by lunchtime, but there are plenty of early risers who can't figure out how to fall asleep fast and stay asleep throughout the night. So how can you go from wide-eyed to shut-eye in a matter of minutes? Here's what the experts have to say.
The stages of falling asleep.
According to sleep expert Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. (aka The Sleep Doctor), falling asleep is a physiological process that happens in stages, the first having to do with a sudden dip in your core body temperature.
"Sleep follows the rise and fall of the human body core temperature cycle," explains Breus. When your core temperature hits its peak, a quarter to half a degree Celsius drop signals the brain to tell the pineal gland (a pea-shaped gland in the brain that regulates some hormonal activity) to produce melatonin, which Breus says, is "the key that starts the engine for sleep."
The release of melatonin occurs at the same time your autonomic nerve system (ANS) begins regulating for sleep, a process all its own. It involves the parasympathetic nervous system (which regulates bodily functions and conserves energy) and the sympathetic nervous system (which stimulates the body's seemingly unconscious fight-or-flight responses) moving in slightly opposite directions.
Parasympathetic tone increases, while sympathetic tone decreases, all while a cascade of hormones, neurotransmitters, and amino acids also produce the melatonin needed to fall asleep, Breus says, adding that a simultaneous accumulation of adenosine, a natural compound that relaxes blood flow and heartbeat, also contributes to the body's sudden wash of sleepiness.
But the act of falling asleep is as mental as it is physical. Major Allison Brager, Ph.D., a neuroscientist involved in the U.S. Army's Holistic Health and Fitness System specializing in sleep, refers to it as "neurological downscaling," when the brain decreases its state of activity.
"This state is as close to that of someone who is trained in practicing meditation and mindfulness in that there is little deep thought, emotional attachment, and judgment of the world around you," explains Brager.
When all goes according to plan, Brager says, on average, it should only take you 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. But factors like physical health and nutrition, mental wellness, and environment can make it harder for some people to fall asleep than others.
20 expert-approved methods for falling asleep quickly:
Kill the lights.
Brager says when it comes to falling asleep, the darker the room the better. "This includes no night lights," she tells mbg, adding she'd even go as far as putting electrical tape over any electronics emitting a small amount of blue or green light. "It can, in fact, disrupt sleep."
Warm sleeper or not, turning down the thermostat in your bedroom at night is a crucial part of good sleep hygiene. Brager stresses the sweet spot is lower than 72 degrees Fahrenheit but no less than 65 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a meta-analysis of the ideal sleep environment completed by NASA sleep scientists back in 2019.
Eliminate any noise pollution.
Noisy neighbors, dogs barking, a traffic jam outside your window are only a handful of noise-induced sleep disruptions you might experience on any given night. To drown out the noise and keep your bedroom peaceful, Brager recommends investing in a white noise machine.
"Sleep is meant to be rapidly reversible because sleep for our ancestors used to be a vulnerable state," she tells mbg. "Therefore, to prevent yourself from abruptly waking up to traffic outside or maybe even a snoring partner, use a sound machine."
Identify your chronotype.
For those who don't know, your chronotype is a reflection of your body's sleep-wake schedule. If you're a wolf chronotype, you're naturally inclined to stay up late and sleep late. If you're a lion chronotype, you wake up early and go to bed early. Dolphins and bears fall somewhere in between.
According to Breus, scheduling your bed and wake times around your chronotype gets your body accustomed to falling asleep at a certain hour, therefore making it a whole lot easier to shut down at the end of the day (not to mention, naturally wake up at the same time each morning).
Cut out caffeine after 10 a.m.
I realize switching to decaf before noon is a big ask for coffee and tea drinkers, but according to Breus, the more caffeine you put in your body throughout the day, the harder it is for your body (and brain!) to calm down at bedtime. Ergo, the earlier you can take your last sips of the stuff, the better.
Enjoy your nightcap early.
As is the case with caffeine, alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle by disrupting your body's melatonin production. Victoria Albina, N.P., MPH, previously told mbg that alcohol "can make you feel like you're sleeping deeper, but it can cause problems with sleep architecture, namely affecting the second half of sleep, meaning you spend less time in REM." This leaves two choices: Have your last alcoholic beverage three hours before bed per Breus' instruction, or don't drink it at all.
Chances are by now you know scrolling before bed is doing you zero favors. Countless studies1 show the blue light emitting from your devices disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes it harder to fall asleep at night, so the answer should be an obvious one: Ditch your devices before bedtime. Ideally, at least one hour before bed, Breus tells mbg that this includes smartphones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and, yes, even television.
Resist the urge to nap.
If you want to fall asleep at bedtime, NYC-based neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D, says catnaps are a no-go if you're hoping to fall asleep faster at night. This is because prolonged or frequent naps increase your alertness and therefore interfere with nighttime sleep. By reducing or stopping naps, Hafeez tells mbg, "You will be at your most tired by bedtime, letting you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer."
Don't exercise too close to bedtime.
Not only can exercise "pump you up," but it may also keep you up and awake if you work up a sweat too close to bedtime. This isn't to say if your schedule doesn't allow for a morning workout that you shouldn't exercise in the evening, Hafeez says. You just want to make sure you're squeezing it in at least three hours before your targeted bedtime, as moderate to vigorous routines increase heart rate, body temperature, and adrenaline levels, which won't be conducive to sleep.
Create a calming night routine.
Your nighttime routine might include taking a warm bath, following a calming yoga sequence, reading a book, or utilizing your favorite soothing scent (be it through a diffuser or pillow spray). The end goal, Hafeez says, is to bring yourself into a state of relaxation and create an atmosphere that encourages natural rest.
Reserve your bed for sleep & sex only.
Your kitchen is for cooking. Your bathroom is for bathing. Your bedroom is for bedroom activities, so keep it that way. Hafeez tells mbg your bed should be reserved for two things: sleeping and sex. If you keep attention-grabbing things in your bedroom (your phone, tablet, a television, etc.), you're sending a message to your brain that the bedroom serves as more than a sleep space. By eliminating these distractions, you can condition your brain to know that being in the bedroom means it's time to get ready to fall asleep.
Follow a breathing exercise.
Whether it's the 4-7-8 method, a guided breathwork practice, or diaphragmatic breathing, research shows2 self-regulated breathing exercises are an effective relaxation technique that can help you fall asleep and improve your sleep quality overall.
However, some people find focusing on their breathing makes them anxious. It's kind of like when you think about blinking or the fact that you can technically always see your nose; drawing attention to these things can make you hyper-aware of them. If you can relate, stress expert Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., MPH, shares these two practices to manage your breathing in a way that is not as stress-inducing.
Relax your muscles.
Relaxing physically is just as vital as relaxing mentally when it comes to your ability to fall asleep at night. Rituals like taking a bubble bath and following a gentle yoga class can help, but if you need additional soothing, a 2021 study3 found that just 30 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation, during which you would tense the muscles all over your body and relax them one by one, resulted in "reduced heart rate, improved sleep efficiency, reduced sleep onset latency, and shortened the time to reach slow-wave sleep."
Practice mindful meditation.
Like mindful breathwork, meditation can be difficult and stress-inducing for some people, but if you can find a way to make the practice work for you (many different types of meditation don't require you to sit still and be completely silent with your thoughts), it's worth a try.
A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis4 of randomized controlled trials showed meditation does improve sleep quality. However, the authors note it's not uncommon for feelings of anger, sadness, or fear to crop up in those new to meditation, as "present moment awareness can highlight emotions." Therefore, if you're struggling with anxiousness or major life changes that are causing you to stress in such a way that it's affecting your quality of life, you must speak to a professional to get the help you need.
Conduct a full-body scan.
Body scanning is another great mindfulness practice that can help you get out of your head and tune in to any physical sensations or stress you might be experiencing. Reiki master and meditation expert Susy Markoe Schieffelin previously told mbg the practice involves taking notice of a specific body part, "and then consciously relaxing it." In doing so, the body and mind become more in sync and can, together, help you relax at any time of day but especially before bed to promote better sleep quality5.
Snuggle under a weighted blanket.
While not the same as getting a big, supportive hug from a loved one, weighted blankets can offer users a similar form of comfort on nights when everyday stressors make it hard to fall asleep. According to a randomized controlled study evaluating the effects of weighted blankets, participants saw a significant improvement in their sleep maintenance (plus a reduction in anxiousness) in just four weeks after using them.
Snack on sleep-promoting desserts.
When late-night cravings creep up, do yourself a favor and reach for sleep-promoting desserts like a Greek yogurt banana split or a few pieces of sugar-free dark chocolate rather than ice cream and cookies that will spike your blood sugar. Remember: Food is fuel, and the sweet stuff won't lull you to sleep but rather will provide enough energy that you'll likely stay awake past your intended bedtime.
Write down your mental stressors.
When stressful thoughts are on a loop, it can feel almost impossible to quiet your mind and score the much-needed shut-eye you crave. Rather than let the record run on repeat, let them out in a journal and leave them on the page where they belong.
Read a book, not your social feed.
Little ones get a bedtime story to lull them to sleep, so why not continue the tradition as an adult? Unlike your smartphones, which emit stimulating blue light, a physical book will be easy on the eyes. Depending on the subject matter (functional medicine expert Stacie Stephenson, D.C., CNS, always opts to keep inspirational reads on her nightstand), a book will also get you in the right state of mind for snoozing.
Take a sleep supplement.
If you've tried all of the aforementioned options and you're still not falling asleep quickly enough at night, you can consider taking a sleep supplement.* The mindbodygreen sleep support+ capsules, for example, are packed with relaxing essentials like magnesium bisglycinate, jujube, and PharmaGABA® to calm the mind, promote relaxation, help you fall asleep faster, and make sure you stay asleep throughout the night.*
The bottom line.
Various factors may be keeping you awake longer than you'd like. The good news is, there are countless science-backed ways to wind down, as well as products like sound machines, weighted blankets, and supplements that can help you fall asleep faster than you can say "Lights out."*
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.