by Josh

For practically all my life I’ve had trouble going to sleep. I’m not an insomniac…I just think a lot. I’ll lie in bed thinking about what I want to do tomorrow or what I should have done today or how much I love eating cold pizza or how absurdly messy my desk is….you get the idea. And when I say I have trouble going to sleep…I’m not talking 20 or 30 minutes…I’m talking 2 or 3 hours. Because what will happen is after about 45 minutes to an hour of trying to go to sleep, I start thinking about how I’m not asleep but I should be…and thus the cycle begins.

Now, I may be a bit of an extreme case here, but I know for a fact that there are others out there who have trouble going to sleep. So, I’ve pieced together various bits of advice I’ve received over the past few months that have not only helps me get to sleep faster, but helps me get a better nights sleep.

  1. Don’t watch TV or even so much as look at a computer screen atleast 30 minutes before you lie down. The light from both a television as well as a computer monitor mimic the same intensity of light as sunlight. This fools your body and brain into thinking it’s nowhere near time for sleep.
  2. Drink milk. Milk has an amino acid in it called Tryptophan that increase the levels of serotonin and/or melatonin in the brain which slow down brain activity. It’s science folks.
  3. Go to bed when you are tired. Different strokes for different folks here. Just because your wife goes to bed at 9PM doesn’t mean you are ready. You might only require seven and half hours of sleep while she might require ten. If you aren’t tired, do something low-key until you are, like read a book, play solitaire (NOT on your computer), or play with some legos.
  4. Reserve the bed for bed things (ie sleep and sex). I for one don’t strictly follow this rule as I’ll read some before I go to sleep, but for some people this is a must.
  5. Meditate. No, don’t cross your legs and hum, but focus on relaxing…if that makes sense. Take deep, long breaths. Tense each muscle one at a time from head to toe. Focusing on doing this takes your mind off of other things and you’ll be in lala land in no time.
  6. Excercise during the day. I emphasize during the day. Excercising at night just gets everything going instead of shutting down for sleep. But excercising during the day tires the muscles out and makes for a solid nights sleep.

These are the majority of the things I have either tried or actually do routinely. What are some things that have worked for you?

157 Comments on Tips for getting to sleep faster & sleeping better

  1. Drew Bell says:

    Good tips all. That warm milk, though, will only make you sleepy on an empty stomach.

  2. Good tips. I have trouble with this too, and here’s what I found useful:

    DON’T GET OUT OF BED and go ‘do stuff’, this will totally mess up your cycle.

    RELAX before going to bed. Make sure you’re not moving from quantum mechanics, complex math and academic-level accounting right into bed. Round up your work, take at least an hour to relax and only then go and try to sleep. Otherwise you’ll continue your work in bed.

    Build a cycle–as obvious as it sounds, I find it very difficult. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Don’t allow your body to get confused.

  3. Lea says:

    An ongoing problem for me too – I used to lie awake for hours every night. I tried everything and nothing worked – my eventual solution isn’t very useful to most people. I had kids. When my eldest was a baby I used to say that I fell asleep *just before* my head hit the pillow :)
    They are older now and I am just coming back to my insomniac ways, but as I stay up way later (trying to get some work done…) than I used to, I really am exhausted when I get to bed…

  4. Jay says:

    Ok this is what I do. This is a bit of a weird one. When I got to bed, I have a long running story that I make up in my head. Within 20 minutes os so I drop off. This stops my brain from wandering and
    gets me away from thinking things I have to do and such like. It also stops me from being bored and restless and trying to get to slepp. Sometimes it can be difficult to get me to focus on the story but I just have to kepp trying. Sometimes this means that I’m bored with the story and I ahve to make up a new one. I’ve been doing this ever since I was young so it’s pretty natural. I don’t know what it would be like to try and implement it or whether it would work for anyone else, but it might be worth a try.

  5. daan says:

    I’m like you w.r.t. thinking about how I’m not falling asleep. As soon as I first think that I know I’m lost!
    The one and only thing that works for me (and somehow I keep forgetting that) is to read a book (preferably not too exciting – historical books work wonderfully). It stops my mind from going and tires my eyes.
    Other tips like taking hot showers, drinking warm milk, exercising before bed may help; but for me it’s all about occupying my mind.

  6. Damien Blake says:

    I’m also quite an insomniac, and am just after returning to Ireland from a few weeks in the USA so my body clock is really messed up.

    I appreciate your tips, and will give it a shot.

    I have to agree with Jay. I’ve found the “story” method effective at times. It’s strange, but you seem to pass from having a story in your head to having a dream. I can’t describe it any better.

    My problem is with the story telling. It can’t be too active, or else you’re keeping your brain active. And it can’t be too passive, or else I’ll get distracted by something else. It’s a case of having a finely balanced thought in your head, much like day-dreaming.

  7. I found I only have to sleep 5 hours a day, while other people need at least 8. It is hard for a few days to sleep only five hours a day, but you get used to it and no, I don’t go zombie all the day long; I’m very proactive (as much as I can be) so this tips are really a life saver!


  8. Duane says:

    Learning how to meditate/relax has been the biggest bonus for me. Many times now I will find myself lying in bed, paying attention as I fall asleep. It’s a weird feeling, but much better than “Ok, I’m not asleep yet….not asleep yet….not asleep yet…maybe I should get up and go do something…”

    I am a bad sinner on the “no tv or computer for 30 minutes before bedtime” rule. I have both on right up until the moment I go to bed. :) Maybe I’ll switch to a period of light reading before bedtime…just not in the actual bed.

  9. Michael Hessling says:

    For me, the most effective trick is waking up at the same time every day. I get up at 4a, and, generally, by 10p, I’m ready to go to bed. If I’m not tired at 10p, the 4a wakeup call ensures that I will be the following night.

    Having children works, too.

  10. I know this problem very well – I stay awake for one or two hours, lying in my bed and thinking. Mostly it helps to stand up and write down the stuff I just thought about to relax and finally fall asleep. Thanks for your tips!

  11. Ivan Minic says:

    Tried :) Seem to have effect :)

  12. Mike J says:

    One method for me is focus. Once getting to bed, think the primary task is to sleep. Not thinking something else. If thinking something else, that is not the purpose to go to bed for sleep. The hardest thing is brain do not stay there. It is easy to slip to different place which you are not expected. Relax and Feel the natural feeling of your body. If brain slips off the road, bring it back to relax and think of the things only, only around your body and your bed. Constrain your imagination space as small as just around you.

  13. Jahn Chez says:

    My sister (sleep issues are a family problem I guess) uses the story method so I tried it as well and it worked great until I started writing so well that I needed to capture it to a micro-cassette recorder I keep by my bed. My fail-safe method is to use visualizations that take over my brain completely. My favorite is visualizing my self driving to someplace from the house. I notice every mailbox, telephone pole, trees, etc. to make the visualization as real as I can and when my mind wanders… (which it does often) I have to start the trip all over!

  14. Brandon says:

    I started doing this at school, when I slept in the same room as my computer which I left on all the time:

    I noticed that focusing on the sound of the computer’s fan kept my mind from drifting toward the high mental activity that was preventing me from falling asleep. Now that I don’t sleep in the same room as my computer anymore, I focus on the quiet, but constant whining in my ears when I need help concentrating on sleep.

    If you’re not lucky enough to have such a mild case of tinnitus, you can generate your own white noise by turning on a fan, space heater, or a radio set between stations. If you put your radio on a sleep timer, just make sure it isn’t going to trip until well after your asleep (2 hours, at least).

  15. kath says:

    As far as the “use bed only for sleep and sex” goes, sex is kinda like exercize, so I dunno if it’s just better to have sex first thing in the morning then…

    Also, I’ve been told that if you’ve been in bed for 20 min and can’t sleep, get up and do something else for a while till you feel tired enough to try again. As you say, if you just lie there, you’ll start concentrating on how much sleep you’re not getting, and what you could better be using your time for.

    I don’t make up stories in my head, I do math problems… yea, I’m strange. I try to figure out how to trisect an angle… yea, it’s impossible, but hence I can repeatedly think about it… and I believe thinking about the same thing each night in bed gets my mind into sleep-mode.

  16. Donnie says:

    I have many of the same problems. However, I have found that when I exercise, regardless of the time, I can fall asleep much easier. Usually, I exercise between 7-8pm and have no trouble falling asleep by midnight.

    Sometimes there are those days when you are anticipating something the next day and “need” to get to sleep early when you just lie there calculating the hours of sleep you will get.

  17. Neil says:

    Great tips! I always found watching TV kept me awake longer, but I never really thought about WHY.

    As for getting to sleep, my studies of hypnotism taught me a lot about relaxing, and relaxing quickly. I’d advise anyone with insomnia to study self-hypnosis.

  18. Helpful Former Tosser N. Turner says:

    Serotonin is very close in both structure and function to melatonin. 5-HTP is a chemical precursor to serotonin and works wonders.

    Purchase 5-HTP in capsule form (Jarrow makes a good one). Before bed, “unscrew” the capsule and dump the powder under your tongue. Chalky, but effective.

  19. Amit says:

    I physically exhaust myself before I sleep. I try to do some sort of exercise daily but not before sleeping.

    Don’t take any caffeine before sleeping. It’s tough to sleep with an energy drink in you. I know first hand.

    Try to sleep at a temperature around 65 F. You sleep better at certain temperatures.

    Keep the room dark. I usually don’t need to do this, but for some it is important.

    Try to sleep in the same room. It should not be the room you work in because you look at your desk you start thinking about work.

    Reading before sleeping is good. Read something boring, an interesting book will keep you awake longer. Read something like an encylopedia or the dictionary if you start getting desperate.

    Sometimes quiet soothing music helps. Classical music, but quiet and slower. Fiery, energetic music like the 1812 Overture or the Firebird Suite are not recommended.

  20. billg says:

    To point to the obvious, watch the caffeine. It remains active in the body for several hours. Your inability to fall asleep at midnight might be due to nothing more than that habitual mug of coffee after dinner.

    Our ability to tolerate caffeine decreases as we get older, so those six lattes a day you drank in college might be off limits for you at 30.

  21. Wes says:

    My wife falls asleep when the lights go out. I sit there thinking about, well, anything.

    I too find that milk before bed and exercise during the day make me fall asleep quicker. And of course watch the caffine, I especially try not to have coffee anywhere from four hours before bedtime.

    When I was in university cramming for a test would often make me crave sleep; but I think it had more to do with procrastination. Anyway, I never had problems falling asleep if there was an exam the next day. Weird.

  22. Jeff says:

    I overcame a very similar sleep problem through polyphasic sleeping. I am not currently doing it, but learning it once has taught me how to fall asleep in a consistent manner.

    One difficulty for me was that I felt sleep was a burden. I had so many other things to do that I wished I could find a way to sleep less. Much, much less. Enter polyphasic sleep, where I could survive with only 3 hours of sleep per day. Suddenly, I had an abundance mentality.

    For this to work, however, I needed to learn to fall asleep quickly and consistently. I learned to relax, to modulate my own breathing, and to put off thoughts of “I need to ____”. Because I had only 25 minutes at a time to sleep, I needed to adapt to falling asleep fast.

    The “transition period” where I was — instead of getting sufficient RAM sleep — becoming more and more sleep deprived taught me the value of sleep. And where I was only “wasting” a couple of hours per day sleeping, it was an easy investment. Plus, the mental benefit of sleep was accessible to me throughout the day via periodic naps. All positive stuff. Plus, six naps a day made for a lot of practice fast.

    In the end, I discovered that, for me, falling asleep was a learned skill. Discovering my own patterns, and practice, made all the difference in the world.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Meditating is really helpful for me, but I always seem to convince myself that I need to sleep RIGHT NOW, and so instead I toss and turn under the covers for one to two hours and finally exhaust myself.

    I think I can get over this. Thanks for the tips.

  24. Harmony says:

    Good tips all, thanks for posting them :) I seem to have no trouble at all getting to sleep these days, usually within 15 minutes of crawling into bed, and I just use a variation of the breathing exercise you mentioned (I visualise the breath as mist/white air as I breath in and out and concentrate entirely on that, sends me to sleep in no time).

    I also sleep a maximum of 6.5 hours per night, often less. I’ve found with sleep it’s quality not quantity that counts for me, it’s like my body knows I’m only going to give it limited time each day to get sleep so it makes the most of the time I give it. Even on 4 hours I’m usually ok, but I can’t do that every night ;)

  25. Keith says:

    This is great stuff, thanks Josh. I usually sleep pretty well for the first part of the night and again just before I’ve got to get up. But I’m a pretty light sleeper and I always toss and turn in the middle. I’ve found that some of the things you mention (like hitting the hay when I’m really tired and wearing myself out) really help me get over that middle of the night hump.

    Good stuff and lots to try.

  26. Vikram says:

    Hello Josh,

    All the points you mention are mentioned in ancient spiritual sciences like Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine (not sure for this but am sure they too have mention of this)

    These ancient spiritual/medicinal approaches did not go far enough to identify the amino acids in milk, but they work at more macro level.

    try Yog (Yoga is anglicized work) and you will notice that your whole life will improve… not just sleep problems

    Best Wishes

  27. Lyndsey Hume says:

    I use a combination of factors to get of to sleep but the two I feel are crucial are exercise and ventillation. Sport before 8pm on a semi regular basis and ensuring ventillation in the bedroom. Despite the fact I live in Scotland I keep my window open just a fraction throughout the night. I also try and go to bed at roughly the same time each night and make sure that I have done something relaxing an hour or two prior to bedtime.

  28. will says:

    I go to bed and imagine a map of the usa and Im above it in the sky, I slowly look back and forth over the map ( left to right ) and say the word “the” over and over again under my breath so that thoughts cant get through because I am talking lightly

    got to sleep in 2 min on avarage… seriously try it, it works!

  29. Dee says:

    Great Tips!

    thanx for those.
    What I do for a good sleep is to take deep breaths. At first, they seem to be a laborious thing. But as you are trained with it, it will take you into deep sleep quickly. It is a kind of meditation. You will know that you are slipping into sleep by sensing the keyless, uncontrolled streams of thoughts/scenes that fills your mind. I remember waking up at this stage and recalling what rubbish i have been thinking of. Also if you find yourself awake in the middle of sleep, get up, walk a bit and try to realx. Think of the beautiful day to come. Drink some water if necessary and lay down calm. Take deep breaths again. I dont know if these would work well with everyone. These are the methods I do follow and gives me sound results. :)

  30. JayMan says:

    I have no problems sleeping. I have a strict routine before sleeping that takes at least 10 minutes to do.
    1) Brush teeth.
    2) Use Toilet
    3) Check on kids
    4) Make sure any electronic devices are off (computer, tv etc)
    5) Turn off all lights (except the 1 kitchen night light)
    6) Make any last minute wardrobe changes (take off t-shirt or socks)
    7) Lay down
    8) Turn on fan
    9) Get into position
    10) Sleep

    I try to go to bed, every night at about the same time. I only vary about 30 minutes.

    In general I avoid caffine after 4pm. And excercise in the early morning.

    No problems sleeping what so ever. Except maybe in times of extreme stress.

    That’s all.

  31. AlexT says:

    A colleague of mine only sleeps with the TV on, channel set on any non-stop news and the volume as low as possible but still hearable. I had to endure this once in a hotel, and wasn’t that annoying…

  32. Joey Jo Jo Jr. says:

    I have no problems getting to sleep, even in times when I am stressed out and good sleep is more difficult. The key is thought control. I always make sure I ‘go to bed’ about half an hour before I actually want to go to sleep. This gives me some quiet time to lay there and let my mind go wherever it wants to. The problem, particular when I am under stress, is that given a free reign my mind would continue this all night long and I would never get to sleep. So after I let it run around for a bit, I take control and guide my thoughts away from reality and into a SAFE fantasy. What is a safe fantasy? It is a fantasy that has zero correlation to any events in your life. The reason for this that any similarities to real world problems in your fantasy will quickly draw your mind back to tackling those real problems. So I imagine a scenario and place myself into it and begin day dreaming about it. An example is that I imagine the world is being attacked by aliens and that I am leading the underground war against them. Not very much in common with my real life there. As long as I focus my mind to stick with the dream and not wander back to reality, it works like a charm and I am asleep in minutes. [email protected]

  33. Jason says:

    Marijuana people works every time.

  34. toad says:

    I used to toss and turn a lot. I couldn’t sleep in general without a two hour wait. I used to lament about all the time I was using up that could have been put to productive uses. Often would simply stay up to absurd hours to get things done because I knew it would be no used to sleep.

    I tried a lot of things. One that helped was having some ambient noise, in my case a fan blowing in the background helps drown out thoughts.

    Lately I’ve been exercising (weight lifting) before bed and I have discovered that when my body is tired, I’m pretty much guaranteed to fall asleep almost instantly.

    The biggest offender ended up being caffeine. It never affected me as a kid but now, I will drink 3 or 4 sodas at work, and then after 4 pm I will not touch the stuff. I won’t drink anything sweet at all for that matter. It not only allows you to fall asleep sooner, but you will get a much deeper more restful sleep. I had no idea how much of an affect it had on me until I stopped drinking it after work.

    Other things that help me when I still have difficulty is the relaxation technique someone mentioned above where you relax, and try to ‘feel’ every limb from toes to fingers in your body. When you get done with that you are pretty damned relaxed.

  35. Glen C. says:

    I don’t know, my friend is a huge proponent of watching TV before bed because it makes it so you don’t think about anything and thus keep yourself up. I’ve tried all of this stuff and none of it works for me.

  36. Geo says:

    TV == the opiate of the masses!

  37. sobelius says:

    If your mind will not shut off, sit in bed and write down (not type on a laptop) everything you are thinking about. Write it all out until there is no more left to write. If more thoughts come up, write them down as well.
    Start using this as a way to preserve what you’re thinking about, and your mind will relax and let go of the thoughts because it now knows they are stored somewhere. It will eventually get to the point where it trusts that if you have written things down, it doesn’t need to keep dwelling on them.
    Writing stuff down can be whatever you need it to be — pictures, words, scribble, or carefully written, doesn’t matter.

  38. vildur says:

    I really appriciated this tip list :)
    “Don’t watch TV or even so much as look at a computer screen atleast 30 minutes before you lie down. ” helped me a lot.

  39. Robert says:

    I used to have this problem and still do occasionally. I just don’t go to sleep until I’m about to just pass out… I guess that’s probably not the healthiest approach but it works for me.

  40. Brian says:

    When I’m stressed and my eyes fly open in the middle of the night, I count backward from some very high number. I’m usually asleep before I reach the 4th or 5th number.

    One Trillion, Eight Hundred Thirty-Two Billion, Ninety-Three Million and Eight, One Trillion, Eight Hundred Thirty-Two Billion, Ninety-Three Million and Seven, zzzzzz…

  41. Jeff says:

    Re: Tryptophan

    Get some 5HTP from the vitamin store.

  42. Jim Thompson says:

    I have the same problem you do: I can’t turn the brain off sometimes. Lately, I’ve hit on some things that work well for me:

    Avoid caffeine. My tolerance for (and need for) the stuff declined rapidly after age 35. I never drink anything caffeinated after noon.

    Go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time every morning. I find when I have a regular schedule, I don’t even need an alarm clock.

    Drink a slug of Scotch or a couple of beers before bed. The “experts” say that alcohol interferes with sleep, but they’re talking about getting drunk. I find that I just a little alcohol helps me fall right to sleep.

    Have a “wind-down” routine. This meshes with the suggestion not to look at a computer or TV before bed. Keep a book in a chair in the bedroom and read half an hour in between brushing your teeth and going to bed. Keep all the lights off but your reading lamp. Make this a regular habit.

  43. Dan says:

    I watch movies. Movies, that is, on the back of my eyelids. If you just relax and pay attention to the “noise” your brain generates, it’s invariably entertaining and soothing. Sometimes it’s a scene with people and activity, sometimes it’s just abstract, moving shapes. I think it’s really no more than one’s pattern-seeking brain organizing random neural firings, but it’s never the same show twice. Sounds weird, but give it a try — the simple act of focusing lets the rest of the body slip into sleep.

  44. Great and insightful article, with good tips!

    What usually works for me is having the room temperature set fairly low. Around 17 degrees Celsius makes me fall sleep far easier and also increases the quality of sleep.

    If I can’t sleep however, I get up after an hour or so and do something (most often on the computer). After approx. 30 minutes I go to bed once again, but this time it is far easier to fall asleep for some reason. I guess the body is more relaxed the second time.

    Also, if something is nagging me or I think of something I just have to remember, I just write it down and try to think of it no further until the next day.

  45. Robbien says:

    If you have a serious sleep problem, Smoke a little bit of marijuana.
    I guarantee it’ll work.

  46. Larry says:

    This topic has elicited a lot of ideas–very good! The secret to me is not going to bed until I am tired–DEAD tired.

    Every minute spent lying waiting to fall asleep is pretty much wasted. Ocassionally I use those few minutes to line up what I have to do the next day, etc., but “clearing” my mind like that rarely enables me to fall asleep.

    I stay up, even on the computer or watching TV (violating that rule observed by others), until I literally cannot keep my eyes open. I fall asleep immeidately–NO wasted time! The funny thing is that if I fall asleep like that, it almost doesn’t matter how many hours I sleep. It can be 6.5 or 10, I feel about the same.

    The other end of the equation is to not use an alarm clock or other artificial means of awakening. I sleep until I am rested, then get up, no matter what time it is.

    Not everyone has that luxury, but if you can, you will benefit in many, many ways: 1) rarely tired while awake; 2) never lie awake in bed wasting time; 3) have a greater sense of freedom because you are not ruled by the clock.

    That is really the key: smash the clock. Never sleep or wake based on the clock. Rely solely on natural needs.

    (Btw, same for eating–only eat when first noticing you are hungry, not by the clock. And don’t put off eating because you have to do something else first. Eat something when your body says it wants energy!)

  47. drted says:

    I second (or third) the recommendation for 5-HTP. Intense, long dreams. Of course, your mileage may vary. Marijuana? – not so much. Like alcohol it prevents deep, dreamful sleep, and I find myself waking up constantly if used before bed. Glad those days (years) are over.

    Like mentioned before, a healthy lifestyle will promote good sleep. Eat right, exercise, cut out sugar and caffeine, and you won’t have to rely on tricks to sleep.

  48. danilo says:

    I force myself to sleep by telling “I need to sleep and rest so I can make good decisions the next day, if I don’t’, I’ll get ptoblem”

  49. vinu says:

    some things I do:

    1. read a book
    2. if the book is too interesting or mind intensive. read on something that will put your to sleep.
    3. have nice glass of juice instead
    4. have a warm bath
    5. put your foot in a hot tub – nice way to relax

  50. schmelding says:

    If “meditating” by thinking of your breathing sounds boring…it is.

    Try this form of mild self-hyponsis (nothing magical here, folks — just another relaxation technique).

    First, get in a comfortable position. (duh)

    Next, imagine your feet getting heavy and turning into lead.

    Then, imagine your feet (and subsequent parts) sinking into the bed from the weight of the bed. As you feel your feet getting “heavy” move up to your ankles and calves (calfs? I dunno). Then your knees and thighs, waist, torso, chest, etc.

    About the time you reach your waist you’ll begin to feel a light floating sensation, even though you’re thinking about getting heavier.

    Soon you’ll be having a pleasant conversation with Mr. Sandman. I’ve been doing this trick since I was a teenager and I’ve never made it past my chest. Even during the most stressful times in my life, this has worked like a charm.

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