You probably know some people who can fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. For others, falling asleep can be a tedious task. Whether that’s because you simply aren’t tired, have a lot on your mind, can’t get comfortable, or anything else, these common sleep issues can rob you of rest.
“Sleep is universally important and each sleeper has their own unique preferences for promoting sleep,” said Dr. Peter Polos, a sleep medicine specialist in New Jersey. “There are many elements that contribute to sleep onset and what works for one person may not work for the next, but the key is to find those elements that work for you and make an effort to maintain them at bedtime.”
With that in mind, we tapped a few sleep experts and doctors for their insights on how to fall asleep. They suggested a few five-minute sleep tips that you may want to try out when bedtime rolls around.
Do a brain dump
Anxiety is one of the main reasons people have trouble falling asleep and that can be a result of racing thoughts. One way to help minimize that is by doing a “brain dump.”
“Write down on a notepad everything that is on your mind. This ‘brain dump’ can help get thoughts out of your mind that might keep you awake,” said Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher and sleep expert at Oura, a device that promises to help maximize sleep, activity and recovery.
This will not only help clear your mind from the racing thoughts, but also will keep those thoughts in a tangible form, which is especially helpful for those who fear they’ll forget something important when they go to sleep.
Turn off your electronic devices
Whether it’s a computer, phone or tablet, you’ll want to steer clear of electronic devices before bedtime.
“I typically suggest placing these devices somewhere where you cannot easily grab them from your bed,” like under your pillow, said Dr. Kristin Gill, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Minded, an online psychiatry company designed for women. “This can be helpful for resisting that temptation to start scrolling through your email or perusing social media.”
With this tip, you’ll want to stay off of your phone for at least 30 minutes before you head to bed for the night.
“The blue light from these devices can interfere with the release of the natural hormone melatonin, which helps promote sleep,” Polos added.
Practice a breathing exercise to help you unwind
You may be familiar with breathing exercises as a way to cope with anxiety, but they also can be beneficial for preparing the body for sleep.
“Breathing helps reduce physiological arousal, which is when your nervous system is in a heightened or activated state, usually due to stress or excitement,” said Sarah Silverman, a holistic sleep doctor and behavioral sleep medicine specialist. “You don’t have much control over when you actually fall asleep. Sleep is a passive process and happens when you’re not actively trying to sleep. But you do have a lot of control over your breathing and what you do to prepare your body for sleep.
One of Silverman’s favorite breathing exercises is called boxed breathing, which involves inhaling for four seconds, holding for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds and pausing for four seconds.
Gill said guided meditations designed for sleep can also be helpful, as the soothing voice can help you to unwind and provide a sense of calm necessary for sleep.
Make sure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature
When bedtime approaches, you’ll want to make sure that your space is at a comfortable temperature ideal for promoting sleep.
“Sleeping in an environment that is too hot or cold can be disruptive, as it affects your core body temperature and can disturb your sleep in the early stages,” Polos said. “Setting your thermostat to a comfortable temperature can provide a quick fix that can help you get to sleep faster.”
Polos recommends 67 degrees to 69 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes no longer than a few seconds to make sure your thermostat is set properly and the payoff can be extremely beneficial.
Engage in a soothing and enjoyable activity
While television might be enjoyable, you’re better off engaging in an activity that doesn’t require a screen.
“Spend five minutes putting together a jigsaw puzzle, coloring a page in an adult coloring book, or playing a one-player card game like Solitaire,” Silverman said. “This is a way to do something lighthearted and also distracting, and it takes the focus away from trying to fall asleep and instead gives you something relaxing to do.”
Drink a calming beverage
You won’t want to drink a cup of coffee with a few shots of espresso right before you go to sleep. Gill recommends avoiding caffeine past 1 p.m. to help prepare the body for sleep. However, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to water.
“There are many natural and commercially produced drinks that are good for promoting sleep,” Polos said. “Natural drinks that have a history of promoting sleep include cherry juice, chamomile tea, valerian tea, peppermint tea and warm milk.”