Sleep initiation is a fancy term for how long it takes you to fall asleep, and it's something you’ll hear sleep experts mention when discussing various sleep issues. It also crops up when people talk about how to fall asleep faster at night, because what they’re really asking is, “How can I initiate sleep?”
The truth is, you can’t make yourself fall asleep, but you can put steps in place to help you fall asleep quickly, as our Top 10 tips below will show you. In our feature on why is sleep important, we discovered that it’s normal to take up to 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. Interestingly, if you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow you may be experiencing sleep deprivation.
In this article, we cover some easy tips you can follow to help you fall asleep faster at night, and many of them take place before you even hit the bedroom.
How to fall asleep faster: The Military Technique
The military technique for falling asleep, also known as the military sleep method, is a set of steps that reportedly helps people fall to asleep within 120 seconds.
It’s called the military technique because it’s allegedly used by the US military with high success rates, and was shared in a 1981 book called Relax and Win: Championship Performance by Lloyd Bud Winter.
According to The Independent, this is how you should perform the Military Technique for falling asleep faster:
- Relax the muscles in your face, your jaw and the muscles around your eyes
- Drop your shoulders down, then your upper and lower arm on each side
- Breathe out, then relax your chest and legs
- Spend ten seconds clearing your mind, then think about one of these images: Lying in a canoe on a calm lake with clear skies above you; or lying in a black velvet hammock in a dark room
- Finally, say “don’t think, don’t think, don’t think”. Repeat it to yourself for ten seconds
How to fall asleep faster at night: Top 10 tips
1. Lower the temperature
If your bedroom is too warm, you may find it harder to fall asleep. This is why many struggle to sleep when it’s hot. Setting your thermostat to a cooler temperature could help. The best temperature for sleep is between 60–67°F (15.6–19.4°C)
Think about body temperature too. Taking a warm bath or shower will encourage your body to cool down after you get out, which can signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep.
2. Get comfy in bed
A comfortable bed makes all the difference to how well you sleep. While medium-firm mattresses are superb for most people, pillows for sleeping vary wildly. You need to pick one carefully as they can affect your sleep comfort and your body temperature.
3. Take a walk early in the day
Light can influence your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) which regulates sleep and wakefulness. Blue light exposure at night from digital displays can disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep. Getting outside for a daily walk around midday, when the sun is high, helps regulate your circadian rhythm, making it easier for you to fall asleep quickly at night.
4. Watch what you eat and drink
Several studies have looked at how different foods and drinks affect our sleep. Caffeine and alcohol are common culprits behind poor sleep and could make it hard for you to fall asleep quickly. Caffeine has a half-life of up to eight hours, while alcohol dehydrates you, causing you to wake up regularly.
High carb meals should also be avoided in the last four hours before bed because you won’t have enough time to digest your food. And if your body is hard at work digesting, your temperature will be raised and you won’t be focused on sleep.
5. Create a bedtime routine
Good sleep hygiene includes creating a calming pre-sleep routine, such as ditching tech an hour before bed, or taking a warm bath with essential oils. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day is another important aspect.
You don’t need to start your pre-bedtime routine more than an hour before bed. So if you want to lie down to sleep at 11pm, start your routine at 10pm. Don't let it dictate your entire evening or it will overwhelm you.
6. Practice a body scan meditation before bed
Body scan meditations are good if you're stressed about how long it takes you to fall asleep, as scans get you out of your head and into your body. This is because you have to focus on different parts of your body, relaxing them in turn.
You could download one of the best meditation apps for guided scans, or you try one yourself, starting at your feet and moving up through your body, loosening any tension as you go. Here’s how to do it…
7. Visualize calming imagery
If the body scan meditation is too much for you, research also suggests that imagining calming imagery could help you fall asleep faster. For example, visualize being near lapping waves on a beach. This works for some because it distracts the mind from unwanted thoughts. If you’re grappling with the latter, learn how to stop anxiety ruining your sleep.
8. Try a breathing exercise
The Bhramari pranayama breathing technique can be highly relaxing and might aid sleep, science says. To do it, cover your ears with your thumbs. Then place your first and middle fingers over your eyes and breathe in and out through your nose while making an “om” sound.
9. Use white noise to mask other sounds
Some studies have shown that white noise can help people fall asleep faster. There many reasons why it works, but one is that a constant, predictable sound (like white noise) stops other sounds from disturbing your sleep. If this appeals to you, read our guide to the best sound machines and white noise generators.
10. Journal your worries
Journaling could help you fall asleep faster at night. It's effective because it gets your worries out of your head and onto paper, lessening their hold on you. Always journal in a different room and before bedtime, so your worries don't follow you into bed. Also try a gratitude journal, as this ends your day on a positive note.
Products to help you fall asleep faster at night
This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, $29
This popular sleep spray contains a mixture of essential oils, including lavender and chamomile, which help some people fall asleep easier. To use it, simply spritz your pillow a few minutes before going to sleep, and the spray will continue to work throughout the night.
Marpac Dohm Classic Sound Machine, $44.95
If you find white noise soothing, consider investing in a small, dedicated machine that produces different types of white noise, such as this Dohm classic. You can also use it to help you regain calm and focus throughout the working day, so it's versatile beyond the realm of sleep too.
This super-popular mindfulness app has an entire section of guided meditations, visualizations and soundscapes dedicated to helping you sleep better. It includes Bedtime Stories for adults, narrated by celebrities including Harry Styles, Kate Winslet and Matthew McConaughey, to help you fall asleep easier and faster.
Why do we have trouble falling asleep?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder, but there are different types of insomnia, some short-term, some long-term, yet one of the main symptoms of every type is not being able to fall asleep - or taking ages to drift off. There are many reasons why people might have trouble falling asleep. Some are easily explained, like drinking too much coffee, jetlag, or feeling stress.
Other reasons or insomnia triggers might only cause a problem now and again. For example, people who menstruate might have difficulty falling asleep in the week leading up to their period. Depression and anxiety also affect sleep in that anxious or intrusive thoughts make it harder for a person to fall asleep at night.
What’s more, if you have trouble falling asleep, it might be to do with your age. Studies suggest younger people tend to have the most trouble falling asleep. This could be due to phase delay syndrome, which means sleep is delayed by a few hours compared to the average person.
Is it really possible to fall asleep in two minutes?
Some people are naturally able to fall asleep much faster than others, and researchers believe this is genetic. However, if you’re keen to learn how to fall asleep faster at night, there are a number of different techniques you can try, and there are people who have found success with these step-by-step methods.
That said, others find they don’t make much of a difference – especially people with health issues or long-term insomnia. If that’s you, we recommend first speaking to your doctor to see if CBT-I training is appropriate for you, and to discover the small steps you can take to improve your sleep over time.
A good approach to sleep hygiene can help you snooze better generally, but keep in mind that if you focus too hard on how to fall asleep faster, all that fixating and worrying about your sleep will only make things worse.