How to Fall Asleep Faster
What About You?
What keeps you up at night?
What's keeping you up at night?
If you are one of those people who's brain never stops, are constantly thinking and analyzing, or have dreams that are like epic action adventure movies, you probably wake up exhausted and never really feel like you've got enough energy. You might feel depressed or apathetic, and can't figure out why. When it's time to sleep again, exhausted as you may be, you will just lay there and think, worry, analyze, replay your day, etc.
I am such a light sleeper and my mind is so busy, that when I am trying to fall asleep, the rustling sound of my ear against the pillow can actually keep me awake! I will focus on it and my brain will stay active.
Here are my tips for getting enough sleep, from someone who can't sleep because her own heartbeat is too noisy.
The Usual Advice
Most "how to sleep better" articles will tell you the same basic advice:
- Make the room dark and quiet
- Don't eat or exercise within 2 hours of bedtime
- Avoid screen time before bed, or using your cell phone in the dark
- Use the bedroom for sleeping and sex only (ie. don't work in there)
- Keep a regular bedtime schedule
This is all very good advice, but it is not always practical. For example, sometimes it is difficult to make the room completely dark and quiet. My bedroom is right beside the furnace room, and there is a streetlight outside my window. I have hung curtains to darken the room, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about the furnace noise, or the sound of snow plows at 3am on winter nights (I live on a dead-end street so I can hear them beeping as they turn around - why does it take them so long?!). Other sources of noise could be outside traffic, general city noise, neighbour pets, your own pets, etc.
Most people have a busy schedule and if they want exercise in their day, it has to be either early in the morning or late in the evening, neither of which are practical, and both of which will eat into your sleep time. I often run later in the evening, sometimes as late as 9pm, and indeed it is harder to fall asleep on those nights, but I don't have the drive for early morning runs, so I deal with it.
The one I find the most challenging is "don't eat, exercise, or use a screen too close to bedtime". I am guilty of playing candy crush in my bed in the dark until I can't keep my eyes open, and yes, that affects my sleep. But the reality is that our lives our very much centered around screens and it can be difficult to stay away from food, exercise, AND screen time for 2 hours before you go to sleep.
The main challenge is that basically, if you were to follow all this advice to the letter you would become a slave to your sleep routine, and trying to fit perfect sleep into a busy modern lifestyle is just not going to happen. Here is my advice for making the best of it...
Invest in good earplugs
Ideally, invest in some good earplugs that you can clean and reuse night after night for a long time. My biggest problem over the last few years was that I couldn't wear earplugs for more than two nights in a row without getting irritation inside my ears. I was having to exchange healthy ears for a good sleep, and that was just not going to work. I looked harder and found better earplugs, and I now have 9 pairs of earplugs that I alternate between (and they can be machine washed), and I have been wearing them continuously for over 5 months with no itchy ears.
Fight Noise with Noise
White noise can make a world of difference. I use Sleepphones (headphones made for sleeping) and the Relax Melodies app on iOS. I wear them over top of my earplugs, and I am dead to the world like that.
There are many different apps dedicated to relaxing sleep sounds. My personal favourite combination is "brown noise" which has a deeper, more waterfall-like sound than white noise, combined with "night" which includes a gentle cricket sound and general nighttime-type sounds, and a "pre-sleep" binaural beat. The app lets you make any combination of sounds to fall asleep with, and you can set both a fade-out timer (I use 45 minutes) and an alarm for the morning. The app also includes both binaural beats which require headphones, and isochronic tones, which have a similar effect and can be played over a speaker if you prefer not to wear headphones at night.
Meditation Oasis have some really nice guided meditation podcasts. The "Deep Rest" one is especially nice to fall asleep with. I have yet to stay awake through the whole thing.
No Pets Allowed
As much as you love snuggling with your cat before you fall asleep, don't get suckered into waking up at 4 or 5 when cats are most active and ready to play. Cats are crepuscular, not nocturnal, so they might fall asleep with you but they will almost certainly wake you up before you are ready. I put my cat away in the bathroom at night where I can't hear him as long as I have earplugs in. It seems mean, but he's got a bed, toys, and water in there, and he naps there during the day so he can't hate it too much.
Going to bed early and winding down can help relax your mind before you fall asleep. If you tend to worry a lot, try going to bed half an hour or more before you actually want to sleep and either write in a journal, listen to a meditation or relaxing music, read a book, or find another way to relax and have some you-time before sleep. Stretching or doing a few yoga poses can help relax your mind before bed too.
I have a habit of using this time to play games on my phone, but I find that when I do that I concentrate on the game during that time, then when I settle down to sleep, my brain finally gets a chance to bring up all kind of things to think about. I always sleep better when I give my mind enough time to wander and chatter well before I start to feel stressed about how late it is and that I'm not asleep yet.
One thing I have learned from guided meditations is that it helps to tell yourself that "nothing matters right now". When my brain won't stop chattering, I use those words as a mental chant to myself that I don't need to do anything about anything right now. Now is a time to sleep and rest, and all other things can wait.