How to Fall Asleep Fast

Simple Changes May Enhance Sleepiness and Circadian Rhythm

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be making sleep worse for a lot of people, causing insomnia and evoking strange dreams. Increased stress may exacerbate anxiety. Fundamentally altered routines—from work to exercise—may further unravel normal sleep. Isolation may cause additional disruptions to circadian patterns and social lives. If difficulty falling asleep is a problem, discover some simple steps to take to fall asleep faster tonight.

If it takes longer than 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, and this leads to negative daytime consequences like mood problems and fatigue, this may be a sign of insomnia. Similarly, if after waking it is difficult to get back to sleep, this may be significant. If this is present, no matter the reason, what can be done about it? Consider these recommendations.

How to Fall Asleep Faster in Uncertain Times
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

Go to Bed Later

The desire for sleep is dependent on the homeostatic sleep drive and the circadian rhythm. The longer a person stays awake, the more that a chemical signal for sleepiness (called adenosine) builds within the brain. Sleep is, at least in part, a process of removing this chemical. If someone stays up later, more adenosine accumulates and it can become easier to fall asleep. Try delaying the bedtime by an hour to fall asleep faster.

Unwind Before Bedtime

It can be easier to fall asleep if time is spent unwinding and relaxing before the anticipated bedtime. It may important to spend one to two hours engaged in these activities. Consider time spent reading, watching television or a movie, listening to calming music, taking a bath, praying, or meditating. Put aside work. Avoid stressful interactions, including on social media. Do not engage in any activities that provoke stress. This is the perfect time to reconnect with a pastime that is enjoyable and soothing.

Avoid Late Caffeine or Alcohol Consumption

Caffeine from coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, or chocolate is a stimulant that promotes wakefulness by blocking adenosine within the brain. It takes four to six hours for the levels in the body to drop by half, so it is best to avoid caffeine beyond early afternoon to minimize sleep disruption. For sensitive individuals, it may need to be eliminated completely.

Alcohol, though it can make someone feel sleepy, is metabolized quickly. It will fragment sleep, initially suppressing deep and REM sleep. It can also cause snoring and sleep apnea. Do not use alcohol as a sleep aid, and try to avoid it in the hours preceding bedtime.

Respect Your Circadian Rhythm

Some people are naturally night owls. If they try to go to bed earlier than their body’s internal clock desires, they will potentially lie awake for hours. Many people with this delayed sleep phase prefer to fall asleep closer to 2 a.m. and may want to wake closer to 10 a.m. Getting up earlier may be a struggle, and going to bed too early may set a night owl up for failure. It can be helpful to lock in the circadian pattern with 15 minutes of morning sunlight exposure upon awakening, but it may also be important to avoid artificial light (especially in the blue spectrum) in the hours before retiring to bed.

Create an Optimal Sleep Environment

Try to reserve the bed as a space for sleep. Keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark or only dimly lit. Do not use the bedroom for stimulating activities; it cannot be a multipurpose room. This may require avoiding work, television watching, or gaming in bed. Leave the smartphone in the kitchen to charge overnight. As much as possible, when bedtime approaches, crawl into bed after turning out the light with the intent of immediately falling asleep. Set an alarm, but then cover up the clock to avoid anxious clock watching.

Go to Bed Feeling Sleepy

It may seem like an odd suggestion, but it is an important realization: to fall asleep faster, only go to bed when feeling sleepy. Sleepiness, or drowsiness, reflects the state that exists just prior to the onset of sleep. It may be characterized by heavy eyelids, blurred vision, a warm feeling that sweeps through the body. This feeling may seem foreign in the throes of insomnia. It is not the same as fatigue or tiredness (which may reflect physical sensations, felt especially deep within the muscles or bones).

To strengthen this sensation, avoid naps, try to get some exercise or physical activity during the day, and protect the time to unwind before going to bed. Do not go to bed earlier than the goal bedtime, so as to optimize the onset of sleep and the continuity and depth of sleep through the night.

Reduce Stress

Stress and anxiety are not conducive to sleep. In some cases, periods of extreme stress may lead to unrelenting insomnia, severe sleep fragmentation, and bizarrely vivid dreams. It may be necessary to dial this back through behavioral techniques, via counseling, or through medications.

There are some sources of stress beyond an individual’s control. It may be helpful to compartmentalize this and focus on tasks that may be manageable.

Consider prior stress management techniques that have been helpful in the past: exercise, time spent outdoors, playing games, cooking, talking to family or friends, journaling, and myriad other hobbies. Relaxation techniques—including breathing, muscle relaxation, and guided imagery—may also be helpful. It may be important to reduce stress in the hours preceding bedtime.

Consider a Sleep Aid

In some cases, it may necessary to rely on the help of a sleep aid to fall asleep faster. Melatonin is available over-the-counter and should be used at low doses. Certain medications that contain diphenhydramine or doxylamine, though potentially beneficial, may have higher risks of side effects. 

If a sleep aid is needed for more than a few weeks, evaluation by a board-certified sleep physician and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) may be recommended.

A Word From Verywell

It is normal to have an occasional rough night of sleep. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, these difficulties getting to sleep that characterize insomnia may be more common. It is possible that changes in our lifestyle—sleeping in, disconnecting from natural light exposure, taking naps, not exercising, drinking more caffeine or alcohol, and going to bed early—have provoked additional difficulties. Fortunately, simple changes to revert to our healthy baseline may get someone back on track and help them to fall asleep fast. If problems persist, get help from a sleep professional.

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