Even after three “snoozes” and more than your normal dose of coffee this morning, you’re still drowsy. You’re feeling crabby, rundown, exhausted, and you can’t shake the yawns. Why are you so tired? You probably didn’t go to sleep fast for the best sleep ever last night—and you’re not alone.
One-third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insufficient sleep is a health epidemic, and one that can have negative effects on your overall health and work performance. In fact, sleeplessness is linked to everything from car crashes and industrial accidents to “chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and depression,” according to the CDC.
Getting a good night’s sleep is just a dream for a lot of people—and it takes more than counting sheep to not only drift off, but to stay asleep. There’s certainly no lack of tips and hacks for how to go to sleep fast and have the best sleep ever. But they’re often as tired as the sleep-deprived people they’re meant to help.
The key to restorative slumber is making small modifications to your habits throughout the day, investing in your nightly shut-eye for the long run and knowing when your sleep troubles may be something more serious.
How to go to sleep fast
Don’t be just another statistic. Give these tips for how to fall asleep fast a try instead and reap the benefits of the best sleep ever:
1. Wake up at the same time every day—even on weekends.
It may be difficult to give up sleeping in on weekends, but inconsistent sleep patterns can make it harder to reach deep slumber. Studies show you’re also likely to put on a few extra pounds.
2. Catch rays early.
Re-align your behavior with your body’s circadian clock, or built-in timer, by getting exposure to sunlight soon after you wake up. “Morning sun is the cheapest and most widely available sleep aid,” says Robert S. Rosenberg, D.O., medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona, and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. “Exposure to sunlight within two hours of awakening is a strong signal to your circadian clock to reset itself for a new day.”
3. Exercise every day for the best sleep ever.
Did you know regular exercise can help you go to sleep fast? According to a Frontiers in Psychiatry meta-analysis, people who exercised regularly reported benefits in their sleep quality and the severity of their insomnia.
Keep in mind that though exercise can help you sleep better, you shouldn’t squeeze your workout into the hours before bedtime. A post-dinner stroll with Rover is fine, but don’t schedule a strenuous gym session within 3 hours of your bedtime. “Our core body temperature falls when we’re ready to go to sleep, and since an intense workout raises your body temperature, that can upset your circadian clock,” says neuroscientist Christopher Colwell, Ph.D., professor-in-residence of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.
4. Quit smoking and drink less for the best sleep ever.
Smokers are more likely to experience lower sleep quality and an increased number of sleep disturbances, according to a 2019 BMC Public Health study. Why? Because of the stimulating effect of nicotine, as well as “nocturnal sleep-disturbing nicotine cravings.” The bad habit can also lead to asthma and sleep apnea. So add “quit smoking” to your to-do list.
And while you’re at it, you should consider giving up that nightcap, too. Although alcohol might help you initially go to sleep fast, studies have found that it can negatively impact sleep quality and benefits and potentially heighten the risk of sleep apnea.
5. Ensure your room is the best environment to go to sleep fast.
Your bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet if you want to get the best sleep ever. The temperature should be set at around 65 degrees. If the room is too hot, it can interfere with your body’s natural dip in temperature throughout the night, disrupting your sleep. You also should make sure there is as little background noise and light as possible. Turn off the TV, use low-wattage bulbs in your bedroom and invest in blackout curtains to keep the room dark. Use ear plugs if you live in a noisy area or your partner snores.
The color of bedroom walls can do more than impact a room’s aesthetics. It can transform your room into a sleep haven if you choose wisely. Some colors are energizing and increase alertness, while others promote drowsiness. Experts suggest staying away from colors like red, purple, black, dark brown. Better choices to go to sleep fast include earth tones like blues, greens, beige, white and soft pink.
Additionally, some scents, such as lavender, appear to help people sleep better. One pilot study published in Scientific Reports found that participants who smelled lavender essential oils during sleep “showed increased delta activity in deep sleep and reduced alpha/beta activity during wake stages,” improving their sleep quality overall. This sleep hack involves mixing a few drops of essential oil and water in a spray bottle and spritzing your pillows before bed.
6. Make it a rule: Your bedroom is for sleeping only.
Your bedroom is where you sleep. It’s not where you watch TV, work or eat. Banish electronics from your nightstand. Your phone and its alarm should go across the room or even in another room. By removing life’s distractions and dedicating the space to slumber, you’ll go to sleep fast and sleep more peacefully.
7. Nap—the right way—to get the best sleep ever.
Naps help restore alertness, increase productivity and can be used as a sort of mini-vacation, an escape from reality. A 20- to 30-minute daytime siesta can be an effective way to recharge and boost alertness. But keep it short and schedule it for early afternoon—between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., Colwell says. Later or longer than that and you’re likely to wake up groggy and ruin your nighttime sleep.
8. Eat the right meals at the right times.
“Our bodies are designed to take in calories over 12 hours and fast for 12,” Colwell says. Research shows that disrupting this natural order by, say, snacking at 2 a.m., can lead to poor sleep, weight gain and the kind of metabolic disorders seen in people with diabetes.
Stay away from consuming large meals—especially ones that are acidic and spicy—before you hit the hay. Otherwise you’ll struggle to go to sleep fast because of digestion and heartburn. If you must satisfy your grumbling tummy, choose a snack that combines carbohydrates and calcium or a protein and the amino acid tryptophan to boost serotonin levels. Try a banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter or fruit with low-fat yogurt.
And don’t eat right before going to bed. Research has found that while eating or drinking up to 3 hours before bedtime may extend sleep duration, it also increases rates of “nocturnal awakenings,” negatively affecting your sleep quality.
9. Try one of these drinks.
Need to work late? Caffeine is the enemy when it comes to sleep—or at least that’s what you’re probably used to hearing. Yet an Australian pilot study found that people who took a “coffee nap”—that is, drinking one to two cups of coffee before a 30-minute nap—“showed marked improvements in both performance and alertness.”
Studies also show that drinking tart cherry juice improves sleep. It’s an effect that may actually have nothing to do with variations in melatonin and cortisol levels, as a 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health hypothesized.
10. Reduce the negative effects of blue light to go to sleep fast.
“Light is the biggest anchor for sleep,” says Colleen Ehrnstrom, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with ImpACT Psychology Colorado and co-author of End the Insomnia Struggle. Just as the light of dawn awakens us, the dimming of light cues our bodies to produce melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. The blue light emitted by our electronics is especially disruptive, suppressing melatonin twice as much as other wavelengths of light.
If you’re unwilling to banish technology at bedtime, you can mitigate its damage. For example, Apple’s operating system has the feature Night Shift, which will automatically shift your display to warmer hues at sunset. Or, you can install an app that filters blue light, such as f.lux or Twilight. Covering your screens with a color filter can also reduce your exposure to blue light.
11. Take time to unwind to get the best sleep.
Make time for a nightly unwinding ritual such as reading a book, taking a warm shower or bath, preparing for the next day or listening to soothing music. Activities like these will help ease the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness, which makes you feel more relaxed. But be careful not to overdo it with the electronic gadgets.
12. Reduce your stress to go to sleep fast.
When you’re worried, your sleep suffers. Manage your stress by relaxing and meditating before you get in bed. Create a ritual to purge your worries before bed. Write down your concerns, delegate tasks, create to-do lists for the next day or talk out your troubles with your romantic partner or friend so that you can free your mind.
13. Have a bedtime ritual.
Unfortunately, our brains don’t come with a power-off switch. “Our mind requires a little time to quiet itself,” says Alex Korb, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at UCLA in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and author of The Upward Spiral. Try to do something restful a few minutes before you hit the hay; jot down three things you’re grateful for, do a few yoga poses or sip a cup of chamomile tea.
14. Give yourself a bedtime to go to sleep fast.
Pick a time at night when you typically start feeling tired and go to sleep every night at that time—even on the weekends. Sticking to a routine keeps your biological clock in order so you’ll sleep more soundly. If you do have to change your sleep pattern, do so in small increments, such as going to bed 15 minutes earlier or staying up 15 minutes later.
15. Find the best sleeping position for you.
What’s your go-to sleep position—back, side, stomach? If you’re a back-sleeper, be sure that you have a pillow that properly supports your head and neck. What about side-sleeping? That’s good for overall health, but you’ll need a thick pillow to fill the space between your shoulder and ear. Stomach sleeping is the worst because it prevents your spine from being in a neutral position and puts pressure on your joints and muscles. If you can’t help but sleep facedown, at least get a thin pillow—or avoid using one entirely.
16. Try staying put.
Conventional wisdom says if you can’t go to sleep fast, get out of bed. But first, try this sleep hack. Lay in the dark with your head on a pillow and do deep breathing or visualization exercises until you feel drowsy. Don’t spend more than 20 minutes trying this, however. “If you spend time in bed worrying, your brain will begin to associate the two and not be able to sleep,” according to an article by Everyday Health.
17. Use these techniques to go back to sleep fast.
Waking up in the middle of the night is never an enjoyable experience, but it’s not necessarily detrimental to your overall sleep quality. However, no one wants to be left frustratedly trying to count sheep for the rest of the night. Try deep-breathing techniques such as the 4-7-8 method or listening to music.
And don’t underestimate the power of your mind—and imagination—to help you go to sleep fast. Try this: Imagine the night’s rest is over and it’s time to pop out of bed, jump in the shower, get dressed and leave the house… preferably on a cold, wet day. The contrast between that chilling prospect and a warm, comfy bed might just be enough to induce sleep.
Whatever you do, do your best to avoid screens or clock-watching in order to keep from stimulating your brain or inducing stress about not being able to return to sleep.
18. Know when you need a sleep study.
Sleep apnea is a stealthy thief that robs people of healthy slumber and puts them at risk for everything from depression and sexual dysfunction to heart attack and stroke. In sleep apnea, the tissues in the back of the throat collapse, blocking airflow and causing pauses in breathing. Some people may experience these apneas hundreds of times a night.
A meta-review of past research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine looked at the connection between obstructive sleep apnea and cognitive decline in adults.
The vast majority of Americans who suffer from sleep apnea don’t know it because they’re not fully awakened by the episodes, Rosenberg says. Often it’s a spouse, disturbed by a partner’s loud snoring or gasping, who notices the symptoms of sleep apnea. Alternatively, if you feel fatigued during the day and can’t focus—even though you believe you’re sleeping 7-9 hours a night—you’ll want to make an appointment with a sleep specialist.
For mild sleep apnea, losing weight, drinking less and using special pillows may be treatment enough. Mouthpieces or masks that keep the airwaves open are often prescribed for moderate or severe apnea.
19. Test new mattresses before buying for the best sleep ever.
Shopping for a new mattress—a necessity every 6 to 10 years—can be stressful. Michael Breus, Ph.D., a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and co-author of Energize!: Go From Dragging Ass to Kicking It in 30 Days, has two words of advice: lie down.
“Bring your own pillow and go mattress shopping at the end of the day wearing comfortable, loose clothes,” he says. “Remove your shoes, climb onto the mattress you’re considering and lie there for six or seven minutes, with your pillow, in your starting sleep position. Rotate to another position for six or seven minutes and then a third position for six or seven minutes. Only after about 20 minutes will your heart rate and your blood flow have become regulated to being in a recumbent position. That’s when you can assess the support of the bed.”
Remember: Mattress price isn’t necessarily a guide to good sleep. “I’ve had patients buy fantastic beds for $1,000 and crappy beds for $20,000,” Breus says. “I’m becoming less impressed with super high-end beds, but you should plan on spending at least $800 to $1,000 for a mattress that will offer lasting support.”
You’ll also want to swap out your pillows every 18 months to make sure they have the support you need, Breus says. The purpose of a pillow is to align your spine so there’s no bend or tension in your neck. Side sleepers will want a firm pillow thick enough to fill the space between the ear and shoulder; back and stomach sleepers will want a thinner pillow that cradles the neck at a natural angle. Suffer from back or neck pain? Try a contoured pillow.
This article was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated. Photo by Ground Picture/Shutterstock