When it comes to sleep, we tend to focus on numbers, such as how to fall asleep within 20 minutes, is it healthier to get eight hours a night, and do you have a sleep problem if you can’t fall asleep instantly? (By the way, the answer to the last question is no).
This is especially the case when it comes to how to fall asleep faster at night. Thanks to the now legendary Military Technique to fall asleep, a lot of people have also become curious about whether it’s really, genuinely possible to fall asleep within 40 seconds (more on this below). The truth is, and as we discovered when speaking to a sleep doctor for our feature on why is sleep important, it’s normal to take up to 20 minutes or so to drop off, so if you fall within that bracket, all is well.
In this article, we’re going to answer these questions and cover some easy steps you can take to fall asleep faster tonight. Don’t forget that what you snooze on can impact your quality of shut-eye too. So if your bed has seen better days, check out our guides to the best mattress online, plus the comfiest pillows for sleeping.
How to fall asleep faster at night: Tips to try tonight
1. Practice good sleep hygiene
Ensuring you’re putting good habits in place to improve your sleep more generally can help you to fall asleep faster at night. Good sleep hygiene for you might include creating a calming pre-sleep routine, such as ditching tech an hour before bed and reading a good book instead, or dimming the lights in the evening and taking a warm bath with soothing essential oils.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day is another important aspect. You don’t need to start your pre-bedtime routine more than an hour before you plan on going to bed, so don't let it dictate your entire evening. For example, if you want to lie down to sleep at 11pm, start your bedtime routine no earlier than 10pm. Sleep is vital and should be prioritized, but you need to enjoy your evenings too.
2. Visualize calming imagery
Research suggests that imagining calming imagery before heading to bed could help you fall asleep faster. For example, you could visualize being near gentle, lapping waves on an idyllic beach.
This works for some people because it distracts the mind from unwanted thoughts and worries, such as those that occur when you’re dealing with stress and anxiety. If you’re grappling with the latter, we recently asked a psychologist about how to stop anxiety ruining your sleep.
3. Take deep, slow, calming breaths
Research shows the Bhramari pranayama breathing technique can be highly relaxing and might aid sleep. 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.
4. Practice a body scan meditation before bed
Body scan meditations became famous with the rise of mindfulness, as they bring your immediate focus to your physical body. This is helpful if you are already stressing about not being able to fall asleep, as a body scan gets you out of your head and, well, into your body.
Performing a body scan meditation before sleep requires you to focus on different parts of your body and to think about relaxing them in turn. You can download one of the best meditation apps and take part in a guided scan, or you try it yourself, starting at your feet and moving up through your body, loosening any tension as you go. Here’s a video on how to do it properly…
5. Use white noise to soothe you (and mask other noises)
Not everyone likes the sound of white noise, but some studies have shown that white noise can help certain people fall asleep faster. There are lots of reasons why this might work well, but one is that it’s a constant, predictable sound that stops other noises disturbing your sleep. If this sounds good, take a look at our guide to the best sound machines and white noise generators.
6. Journal your worries (and to-do lists)
Research suggests that journaling before bed could help you sleep better and fall asleep faster. Journaling is effective because it enables you to put thoughts and worries on paper, which might put them into perspective or lessen their hold on you.
Journaling is a way to declutter your brain before bed, but it isn’t a way to stop these thoughts completely. The best time to deal with them is to write in your journal in a different room (so not your bedroom) and before bedtime. You might also enjoy writing a quick gratitude journal before falling asleep, as this ends your day on a positive note.
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” and repeat it to yourself for ten seconds.
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 to fall asleep a little 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.