Like millions of others, I used to face a daily battle to quiet my busy brain. All day I would dream of sleeping, only to be wide awake when the moment I had been waiting for all day finally arrived: bedtime. According to the CDC, approximately 70 million Americans struggle with chronic sleep issues, and it costs us more than a good night’s rest, causing brain fog, fatigue, and diminishing productivity.
The process of slipping off into a restful and rejuvenating state of sleep was no easy feat. There weren’t enough sheep to count (or more realistically, the focus to count them), and in time, there wasn’t enough melatonin either. I ate well, I exercised, and yet I was failing to win the war on insomnia with the tools I had. In the wake of seemingly endless failing strategies, I found a winning one–no sleep aids required.
Here are nine ways to unwind and fall asleep fast without alcohol, supplements, or other assistance.
1. Dim the Lights
Many of us sit in well-lit rooms watching brightly lit screens before bed. But just because we can turn off the lights or the television in an instant, that doesn’t mean the brain works the same way. Start to dim the lights in your room, including any devices you’re using at least an hour before you want to go to bed.
This will help your brain release melatonin on its own, inducing sleepiness naturally. This is because melatonin is the only known hormone synthesized by the pineal gland and it is released in response to darkness. It is in fact why it’s referred to as the “hormone of darkness,” according to an article published by the National Library of Medicine.
2. Refrain From Caffeine 12 Hours Before Bedtime
We all know to avoid caffeine at night, but if you’re trying to fall asleep faster you might want to extend your no-caffeine zone to about 12 hours before your desired bedtime. So, for example, if you’re hoping to get to sleep by 10 p.m., stop drinking caffeine after 10 a.m.
Reason being, It takes an average of 12 hours for the body to completely remove the caffeine from the bloodstream, according to Medical News Today. So not surprisingly, that mid-morning coffee or soda at lunch might be interfering with your body’s natural ability to fall asleep later that night.
3. Eat Dinner Earlier
According to WebMD, If you have trouble falling and staying asleep, your battle with insomnia might start at the dining table, not in the bedroom. To sleep like a baby, you might want to try eating dinner much earlier, like a baby. The standard guideline is to stop eating at least three hours before bedtime to help give your body the time it needs to digest food. But digestion is just one of the reasons to avoid eating a late dinner or late-night snacks.
On top of digestion, the human body becomes more insulin resistant towards the end of the day-as does our ability to make smart decisions. So you’re more likely to cave to your sugar cravings and eat that ice cream or those cookies, which is all the more challenging for your body to recover from later in the day, according to the Cleveland Clinc.
4. Increase Your Protein Intake
When it comes to sleep trouble, it’s not just when you eat but of course what you eat. Sure, it’s best to avoid excessive sugar and alcohol if we want to sleep well, but what is lesser known is the impact protein has on our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Studies have found that nearly 50 percent of Americans do not consume an adequate amount of protein per day. Yet high-protein diets lead to better sleep and other benefits such as weight loss, according to the American Sleep Association. Just remember tip number three and avoid eating at least three hours before bed. Otherwise, protein will have the opposite effect, as it takes more energy for the body to break down.
5. Shower at Night
To fall asleep, our body temperature has to drop. It’s a process called thermoregulation. So while it might sound counterintuitive to take a hot shower at night, it actually helps us reduce our core temperature and fall asleep more easily. The reason is that upon getting out of the shower, our body temperature is much higher than normal due to the water temperature. And so our bodies actually flush out the excessive heat, effectively dropping our overall internal temperature.
6. Wear Socks or Slippers
Hands and feet tend to be two of the coldest areas of the body. So if our hands and feet remain cold, our core body temperature won’t drop. By increasing the temperature of our hands and feet, our bodies are at ease and able to drop our temperature.
Wearing socks or slippers can help a process called distal vasodilation, which refers to an increase of blood to your hands and feet that reduces your core body temperature quicker, according to the Sleep Foundation. The result is that we are able to fall asleep faster by helping to keep our feet warm.
7. Consider the Type Of Entertainment You’re Consuming
A recent study found that 60 percent of Americans watch television before bed. So if you’re one of them, think about the programming you’re choosing. Because it’s not whether you watch, but what you watch, that impacts your ability to fall asleep.
For example, as an admitted X-Files fan, I’ve come to find that it doesn’t put me to sleep but stimulates me. That means that if my desired bedtime is nearing, I need to switch to something more lighthearted and low-key, like Seinfeld (because yes, I’m stuck in the 90s). For others, it might mean avoiding news, dramas or thrillers–anything that has the power to engage your mind or boil your blood.
8. Find a Brain-Training Routine
Get in the habit of a pre-bed routine or ritual. The human mind is incredibly powerful–and trainable. Much like Pavlov’s bell experiment, using minor (yet consistent) indicators can help train our brains that sleep is soon to come. For me, it’s as simple as having chamomile tea, dimming the lights (which I progressively do as the night goes on), and consuming some sort of mindless entertainment.
Part of what makes a brain-training routine effective is that it’s training your circadian rhythm. In other words, we’re training our bodies every time we go to sleep, so consistency is crucial. We can’t expect to easily fall asleep at 9 p.m. one night if we went to bed at 11 the night before. But in those off times when we are going to bed outside our usual time, we can expect that our minds will expect sleep when we do the things we do before bed every night.
9. Give Yourself Downtime Before Bed
Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, and encourages productivity and creativity, according to Scientific American. So give yourself the time and space to wind down before bed, whether that’s 30 minutes, or a couple of hours. The idea of downtime can seem like a luxury we don’t have. However, creating space for downtime increases productivity and helps us avoid burnout.
The best strategy to winding down and falling asleep is often a multi-pronged approach, so it’s a good idea to try a combination of these strategies. It’s also worth noting that while it won’t happen overnight, in time it will begin to happen every night. In return, every day you’ll be more focused, energized, and productive.