Having trouble falling asleep from time to time is quite common. At some point, everyone has experienced tossing and turning for what feels like hours before finally falling asleep. There are just a few nights when sleep doesn’t come so easily.
Experts say the average time it takes an adult to fall asleep after the lights have been turned off – a period of time they call sleep latency – is about 10 to 20 minutes. This usually varies from individual to individual, affected by many factors such as age or the number of naps during the day. But taking an exceptionally long time to fall asleep at night can lead to shorter sleep duration, which can eventually cause daytime fatigue, slower reaction time and trouble concentrating.
We know that it is sometimes difficult to switch off the brain. If it takes you forever to fall asleep at night, here are some science-backed strategies you can try to get that much-needed sleep.
Practice breathing techniques
Doing these breathing techniques before bed tends to help people relax at the end of the day. It can induce sleep at night by relaxing the body and distracting the mind from the worries and stresses of the day before or the day ahead, says Raman K. Malhotra, professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Our sympathetic nervous system – a division of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that activates the body’s fight or flight response – often becomes hyperactive due to the stress of our modern fast-paced lifestyles, which affects sleep. Deep breathing alleviates this by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, which regulator the ANS and the fight-or-flight response, says Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University.
Try progressive muscle relaxation
(Credit: Auttapon Wongtakeaw/Shutterstock)
Those of us who have trouble falling asleep can also try muscle relaxation, a technique that involves gradually tensing and relaxing each muscle group throughout the body. This allows people to focus on the tension in their muscles and how the muscles feel relaxed.
“[It] is a technique to help relax your body and reduce your stress or anxiety before bed,” says Malhotra. “Reducing stress and relaxing your body can be an important step when trying to fall asleep at night.” In addition to helping people fall asleep faster, progressive muscle relaxation may also promote better sleep. Some studies have shown that it can improve the sleep quality of mothers of premature babies during their postpartum period and burned.
Stay away from electronics
Many of us are guilty of scrolling through social media until fatigue takes over; however, it can actually to prolong the time it takes you to fall asleep. It’s true that using electronics engages the mind and makes it more active (not exactly a good thing when you’re trying to turn off that brain), but there’s another reason why it can prevent people from falling asleep.
Melatonina hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycles and triggers the sleep process, is secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness. However, most devices emit blue wavelength light, remove melatonin and tell the body to stay awake.
“Our bodies use light or the lack of light to help regulate our sleep and wake cycles,” Malhotra explains. “By getting artificial light from your device into your eyes before bed, it can delay the normal processes that are supposed to happen before bed that prepare the body for sleep.” Reduce your exposure to blue light (and same ambient light) at night can not only help you fall asleep more easily, but also get better sleep.
Exercise during the day
Studies have shown that exercise provides positive benefits on sleep latency. For example, a systematic review 2012 published in the Physiotherapy Journal reported that participants who followed a physical training program for 10 to 16 weeks experienced significantly reduced sleep latency compared to a control group. A more recent 2017 report also reported a similar benefit.
Regular exercise during the day can to augment also the secretion of melatonin, which we know helps to fall asleep. However, do not sweat too late at night – it is better to stop exercising at least 90 minutes before bedtime, as vigorous exercise can temporarily odd sleep latency.
Adjust the temperature
Temperature regulation is important because we tend to fall asleep when the temperature drops, says Zee. Core body temperature has a circadian rhythm of its own; it’s usually at its lowest around 4 a.m. and peaks around 6 p.m. As the body prepares for sleep, core body temperature decreases to produce drowsiness, which makes us drowsy.
Likewise, the extreme heat during the summer can raise our body temperature, making it harder to fall (and stay) asleep. In these cases, adjusting the room temperature by turning on a fan or air conditioner can be beneficial.
For some people, taking a warm bath before bed and wearing socks to bed helps them fall asleep, says Zee. A hot bath could to augment drowsiness at bedtime as it temporarily raises the body’s core temperature, which then drops sharply after leaving the bath. Wearing socks in bed can also be effective because warm feet actually increase heat loss and promote falling asleep quickly.
Overall, the practice of these good sleep habits and following a regular sleep schedule will help you fall asleep at night, says Malhotra: “It’s best to have a regular bedtime routine that incorporates a period of ‘relaxation’ and gives your body and mind time to relax.