Across the UK, the number of people with problems falling asleep has risen sharply. Particularly susceptible are women with young children, key workers from the healthcare, social, and childcare sectors, and people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups, largely due to stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Economic and Social Research Council for Population Change (ESRC) and Centre for Research on Ageing at the University of Southampton also shows that the pandemic lockdown led to a rise in the number of people suffering sleeping problems from one in six (15.7%) of their survey sample to one in four (24.7%).
In order to learn how to fall asleep really fast, it’s important to know that there are various tips and tricks backed by science and research that are available for you.
Doing certain yoga poses just before bed has earned a reputation as some of the best ways to fall asleep. A 2012 survey shares that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. Over 85% also said yoga helped reduce stress.
Yoga is helpful because its positions are designed to relieve stress and tension within your body. Yoga is known to put your body in a relaxed state called the relaxation response, which is the exact opposite of a fight-or-flight response. Remaining in a relaxed state can also cause lower amounts of blood pressure and lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Standing forward bend. It is done by standing feet and hips-width apart, inhaling deeply and then exhaling as you extend your torso forward and over your legs. This position is known to relax the tension in your neck and gently stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips.
- Reclining bound angle. This is done by lying down on a mat, bringing the sole of your feet together and allowing your knees to relax away from each other while placing blocks or firm cushions underneath your knees on each side to give hip support. This targets tension in the hips and groin area.
- Legs up the wall pose. For this pose, find an empty space near a wall and place your mat perpendicular to the wall. While lying back on the mat, bring your legs gently up the wall and relax your arms by your side. This pose helps recirculate blood flow especially in the feet and ankles, which can get swollen and tired at the end of the day.
Similar to yoga, various breathing exercises are designed to help your body fall into a relaxed, stress-free state.
Techniques such as the Ujjayi Breath are even meant to be done while doing yoga. This technique involves inhaling deeply through the nose, then exhaling while constricting the back of your throat as if you were saying “ha” (all while keeping one’s mouth closed). The Ujjayi Breath can also be an additional way to soothe your body while practising various yoga poses.
There’s also the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which is a variation of an ancient yogic technique that helps people relax as oxygen is replenished in the body. Here’s how the technique is done:
- Gently part your lips.
- Exhale completely.
- Press your lips together, then silently inhale through the nose for about 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for about 7 seconds.
- Exhale for 8 seconds.
- Repeat 4 times when you first start and slowly work your way up to 8 repetitions.
Control your stress and overthinking
People with trouble sleeping often cite stressful or intrusive thoughts as one of their main hurdles to falling asleep.
Schedule a designated “worry time”, a technique used in cognitive behavioural therapy. This means setting a specific time in the day dedicated to allowing yourself to think of every one of your worries, usually in a quiet and peaceful space. The technique is typically used for only twenty to thirty minutes, with the goal of eventually addressing the cause of worry before it spirals out of control.
Journaling is also a proven approach to confronting overthinking. Journaling allows you to freely express your thoughts without fear of being judged. When you write things down you will eventually start to notice behavioural patterns when it comes to your thoughts, actions, and reactions—which will become valuable information when changing your bad habits. These changed habits can then result in less stress and therefore better sleep.
Finally, remember to spend time with your friends and family. A study published in the US-based Journal of the National Medical Association found that people with more social support were less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, and even heart conditions. Having family and friends around was also linked to healthier habits overall, with social support linked to lower rates of smoking and high-fibre food consumption.
Better relationships have also been linked to better sleep. In one study involving 29 couples, women who reported more positive interactions with their partner also reported having a better night’s rest. Another study involving US college students also found that a general sense of security in their relationships with other people was linked to less disturbed sleep, regardless of whether they were in a romantic relationship or not.
Make changes to your sleeping environment
A comfortable environment is crucial for sleep and can mean the difference between a restful sleep or a restless night.
Temperature, for example, is crucial in that a cool room kept at about 18 degrees Celsius is ideal. A cool temperature is ideal because your body’s internal temperature shifts during a 24-hour period and your body sheds warmth as you go to bed. If the temperature in a room is too hot or too cold, it can affect your body’s drop in temperature and disrupt your sleep.
You should also avoid blue light, which is the light emitted by phone and computer screens. A study from the University of Haifa and Assuta Sleep Clinic concludes that exposure to blue light just before bed negatively affects the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes restful sleep. On average, exposure to blue light reduced the duration of sleep by approximately 16 minutes.
Pillows are another crucial part of your sleeping environment. The support that pillows give your body keeps your upper body in alignment while you sleep, as well as relieving pressure and counterbalancing the points in the body. Though pillows should adjust to fit people’s unique shapes and curves, you never want a pillow to be too high or low. One study found that the perfect pillow height is at about 4 inches, as this offers the best spinal alignment and greatest comfort. A pillow that’s too high can cause muscle strain on the back of the neck and shoulders, resulting in obstructed breathing or snoring. A pillow that’s too low can strain the neck muscles.
Having the right mattress will also help you fall asleep faster and better. When choosing a mattress to sleep on, you should also take into consideration the support your body needs. Recent research suggests that medium-firm mattresses may be the most beneficial at reducing pain and improving overall sleep quality, an important consideration for anyone experiencing back pain or pain in muscles, joints, and key pressure points like the shoulders and hips.
Given the importance of sleep, getting a good night’s rest should be a priority. The tips above on how to fall asleep faster show that falling asleep does not have to be a difficult task. Small lifestyle adjustments like setting aside a few minutes each night before bed to practice yoga or tweaking the temperature in your bedroom can pay off hugely in the long run.