Are you one of those people that can’t fall asleep easily?
I am, and let me tell you that I usually get frustrated when I do internet research on beating insomnia, because most of the advice out there is, in a word, unrealistic. Notably, that often-repeated recommendation of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day makes sense in theory, but is not suited to the real world, right?
I mean, who can really keep that up every single day? I can say that I’ll sleep from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM every day, but all sorts of things will get in the way: work, TV shows, weekend outings, text messages, etc.
So given all of this unrealistic advice, I decided to find out what really works, and is easy to apply in real life. After many hours and nights of research, I’ve personally found that the 7-step sequence I’m about to show you is both powerful and effective; in fact, you don’t even have to follow the 7 steps each night – test it out, and see what works for you.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – this is based on my own investigation and experience. For medical advice, talk to a doctor.
How to Fall Asleep in 7 Easy and Effective Steps
Don’t Eat So Much Food that You’re Bursting, and Hold the Salt and Fat
Have a nice, balanced dinner that fills you up so that you don’t go to bed hungry, but that’s not so big that you go to bed bursting. To avoid that heavy, overfed feeling, I recommend steering clear of foods that are very high in salt and fat (such as a lot of pizza).
Avoid caffeine and more than one alcoholic drink. Caffeine is obviously a stimulant, while too much alcohol can unsettle your stomach and make you pee too much.
Have a Calming Tea Right After Your Dinner
And I mean right after dinner, or else you’ll have too much liquid in you and might, again, have to pee too much too close to bedtime. There are a number of teas with proven calming power, which should help any insomniac slow down as the night progresses. In particular, you’ll want to look for lavender, valerian, chamomile, or passionflower.
Personally, I find valerian very effective. If necessary, use two tea bags for a stronger brew to combat your sleep deprivation.
Avoid Activities or Conversations that Might Agitate You
You know what your triggers are. For example, if you tend to get very agitated when you watch a certain fast-paced TV show, perhaps the evening hours are not the best time for it. Also, avoid conversation topics that might lead to stress or even arguments with your spouse or kids, such as money or politics.
Do A 5 or 10 Minute Meditation Before Beginning Your Bedtime Routine
To calm down even further and stave off insomnia, do a short, guided meditation before beginning your bedtime routine. I find apps to be very effective for this; I use Headspace.
Climb Into Bed and Watch an ASMR Video
ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is this new thing whereby you can calm yourself down by watching YouTube videos of people doing ordinary things like cooking, but in a very slow, deliberate way, while speaking in low tones and emphasizing every little thing they do.
You have to see it to understand it, since it’s a little strange (but effective):
Take One or Two Sublingual Melatonin Tablets
According to the Mayo Clinic, “[m]elatonin is a hormone in your body that plays a role in sleep…Research suggests that melatonin might provide relief from the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep (insomnia) by slightly improving your total sleep time, sleep quality and how long it takes you to fall asleep”.
I’ve taken melatonin for my severe insomnia for years, and can tell you that it definitely works. So if you can’t sleep, give it a try.
But don’t get the pills you swallow. Rather, buy the ones that you dissolve under your tongue. They act much quicker and are far more powerful, in my experience. I suggest starting with one 2.5 mg tablet, and taking a second one if necessary. Take the first one a few minutes before turning off your bedroom lights.
If It’s Going to be a Rough Night, Take Doxylamine or a Prescription Sleep Aid (But Check for Interactions Before)
The above six steps should be enough to avoid everyday sleep deprivation. However, if they’re not enough on a particularly difficult night, it’s time to take out the big guns: sleeping pills. From experience (I’m not a doctor) I don’t recommend you use these more than once or twice per week, since they’re powerful drugs. Still, when you need them, the benefits probably outweigh the costs.
You can get these from your doctor or, over the counter, doxylamine succinate. Unless you’ve built up a tolerance to it, I can tell you that doxylamine will knock you out when you can’t sleep, but might leave you feeling groggy the next morning. So, I suggest starting out with half a tablet (12.5 mg), since that will often be enough.
And, don’t forget to use an interactions checker to ensure that the meds won’t conflict with anything else you’re taking.
A Word About Electronic Devices and Insomnia
By now everyone knows that using your phone in bed is not a good idea, especially if you can’t sleep. Still, I live in the real world, and know that we often can’t contain ourselves (I use my phone in bed all the time).
If that’s your case, I highly recommend that you set it to any “night mode” that it may have. I have an iPhone, and have it set to switch to “warm” colors as of 11:00 PM, and to auto-dim the screen if it’s dark. So, when I turn off the lights, I end up with a very dim and orange-looking screen.
I can tell you that while the ideal routine would be to avoid using the phone, using it in these modes helps tremendously.
Bonus: How to Fall Asleep Fast (Shortened Routine)
If you don’t have time for all of these steps, you can do an abbreviated version. Here’s how to fall asleep fast:
- Do a quick 5 or 10 minute app-guided meditation to help you calm down.
- Get into bed and put a sublingual melatonin tablet in your mouth.
- As you dissolve that tablet, you can watch an ASMR video.
- Once you dissolve the first tablet, turn everything off and put the second one in your mouth. This should be enough to fall asleep fast.
Alternatively, you can take a doxylamine pill, though I recommend only using these when absolutely necessary, since it’s a powerful drug. In fact, half a pill works for me.
Summing It Up
That’s how to fall asleep in 7 realistic and easy steps. Try them, and test them out to see which work best for you; after all, sleep deprivation can have severe consequences, including a reduction in cognitive performance, nastier moods, and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease (New York Times).
You probably won’t have to go through all of the steps in a perfect sequence every night, but I can confidently say that they each contribute to reducing your insomnia.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep!
What do you do when you can’t sleep? What are your best tips for how to fall asleep?
Research Update 1 (February 11, 2019)
Rocking Yourself to Sleep
As reported by The New York Times, emerging research suggests that gentle rocking may help adults fall asleep, in the same way it helps babies. It also may increase the quality of sleep: “the researchers found that rocking caused the subjects to fall asleep more quickly and increased their amount of slow-wave deep sleep, a phase of sleep that is associated with feeling refreshed and rested upon waking. They also experienced fewer periods of spontaneous arousal”. However, I don’t know of any device that rocks adults to sleep, so this seems mainly theoretical, for now.
Prescription Sleeping Pills Can Help You Fall Asleep Fast, At A Cost
Per The Washington Post, there are a variety of sleeping pills, with different effectiveness and side effect profiles:
- Benzodiazepines (Ativan, Xanax) can be helpful in the short term, but can be addictive and have serious side effects that may include cognitive impairment, falls, and possibly dementia.
- Z-Drugs (Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata) are effective, but can create dependency (in addition to other unwanted effects).
- Antihistamines (diphenhydramine, doxylamine) can help you fall asleep, but with side effects that include morning grogginess and dry mouth.
- Newer antihistamines (doxepin) are still being studied, but may be better than the older ones.
- Orexin blockers hinder one of your body’s wake-promoting signals. One of these drugs (Belsomra) may help prolong sleep.
Last updated on February 11, 2019
Tom @ Dividends Diversify says
Hi Miguel, I have no issue falling asleep. I know it can be troubling for many folks. However, my problem is I wake up at 2 or 3am and sometimes can’t get back to sleep. Tom
For me it’s just the opposite. It’s very hard to fall asleep, but once I do, it’s really tough to wake up. I can easily sleep until almost noon.