[Emily’s note: While I am great at sticking with some healthy habits, like working out and eating real food, when it comes to getting a good night’s rest, I struggle because I stay up too late for no reason and then regret it the next morning. In this post, fellow acupuncturist Leslie Murphy shares her smart secrets of how to fall asleep faster.]
Zombies may be fictitious, and yet I was convinced that I had become one. I wasn’t one of those blood thirsty, human eating zombies, but I’d definitely ventured into what felt like the land of the Walking Dead due to my insomnia.
More often than not I found that I would morph into an impatient, angry and frustrated zombie. Yet most of the time I was a walk around in a fog all day kind of zombie – forgetful, unmotivated and dead tired.
But at night when my head hit the pillow, I would simply lie awake. Wide awake in fact – watching the minutes and sometimes hours tick by. I was so exhausted and desperate for shut eye, but I could not fall asleep.
After I jokingly told a friend that I resembled a zombie, I realized that it truly wasn’t a joking matter. It was high time for me to take my insomnia seriously and make sleep a priority. In order to return to the land of the living (or at the very least, the highly functioning), I had to figure out how to fall asleep faster.
Getting to the root of my insomnia
In order to figure out how to fall asleep faster, first I had to identify what was sabotaging my efforts.
I chalked up my difficulty falling asleep to three main factors:
- Over-thinking – My biggest problem falling asleep was shutting my mind off. As soon as my head hit the pillow I was either mentally clicking away at tomorrow’s to do list or obsessing over some worry or concern.
- Late night cramming – Once my kids were asleep I would tackle the laundry, clean the kitchen, return emails or start a project for work. My mind was turning up to hyper-drive to get things done when it should have been winding down from the day.
- Screen watching – Most nights however I would simply veg on the couch exhausted, escaping into some TV show. But watching late night TV, filled mostly with violence, left me feeling high strung and stressed out right before bed.
Though these are common contributing factors to insomnia, if you have trouble sleeping there may be other things keeping you awake at night such as anxiety, stress, pain or simply caffeine too late in the day. Before you try to tackle a solution, it will help to figure out your own problem areas first.
How to fall asleep faster:
6 strategies that work for me
Enough was enough.
Sleep medication wasn’t an option for me because I wasn’t interested in just masking the problem. Instead, I implemented the following six changes that now help me fall asleep faster.
1 – Create an effective sleep environment
To start, I made sure that I had set up the best sleep environment possible. For me, this meant:
- Setting my bedroom thermostat to 70 degrees (not too hot but not too cold)
- Decreasing the bedroom lights at least one hour before I went to bed
- Eliminating work or TV in my bed
- Setting a consistent bedtime
- Purchasing a comfortable mattress and pillow
It’s been relatively easy keeping work or TV out of the bed. It’s been slightly more challenging sticking to a consistent bedtime, but I’m managing so that my body knows when it’s time to get ready for sleep.
2 – Conduct an end of the day mind dump
Since over-thinking was a major factor in my insomnia, I now plan tomorrow’s to do list after dinner. This seems to help me collect my thoughts at a reasonable hour so that I’m not rehashing the day and thinking about tomorrow at bedtime.
If late night brainstorms still occur, I have a notepad on my nightstand so that I can capture the idea and get back to sleep.
3 – Use guided visualization
Guided visualization has had the greatest impact on my ability to fall asleep. Guided visualization is a mind-body technique that has been shown to decrease stress, reduce pain, alleviate allergies, and yes, improve sleep (source).
I now use this guided visualization before bed if I don’t seem tired or if my brain won’t turn off. After just 15 minutes my body is less tense and I’m drowsy if I haven’t already fallen asleep.
I also never miss one of Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s free 21 day meditation series. Though they are not geared for sleep specifically I like to listen to them at bedtime. I find Deepak’s voice very soothing and the meditations help me to relax.
4 – Set realistic priorities
It finally registered that I could no longer morph into the Tasmanian Devil, working furiously to get “everything” done in the evening. I’ve had to set more realistic expectations and prioritize what I can and cannot do in the evenings so that I have sufficient time to let my body and mind wind down for sleep.
A must for me – having the kitchen table and counters clean by the end of the day. The toy room, living room and even the laundry room just have to wait if they are in complete disarray. Prioritizing has been invaluable as it saves me time and energy at night, plus it makes me happy come morning having at least a clean kitchen.
I’ve also set aside an hour and a half in the afternoon when the kids can keep themselves occupied and I can focus on “must do” work projects or house tasks rather than leaving them to late in the day. I implement this EVERY day during the week without fail as it has really helped me to feel productive and less stressed in the evenings.
5- Unplug and step away from the technology
Once I understood that staring at devices with blue light emissions have been shown to decrease levels of melatonin, the hormone secreted at night to induce sleepiness (source), I have made it a point to power down by 9:30pm (with the exceptions of one 9:00pm show that I watch with my husband and the occasional movie night).
I’ve always been an avid reader so I now rely on books to unwind at the end of the day—no e-reader for me.
Surprisingly, the easiest change to implement has been turning off the tube. I honestly don’t miss TV and I know that I am sleeping better without watching something late at night. Though now I have to watch the clock to make sure that I stop reading and get to bed no matter how invested I get in a story.
It’s been slightly more difficult some nights to turn off my laptop. Running my own business, there’s a never ending list of things to get done but it’s all about striking that work/life balance. Right now, getting a good night sleep is more important than that extra hour of work I could put in at night.
6 – Try magnesium
I still felt like I needed a bit more help relaxing at night to sufficiently fall asleep so I started taking this magnesium supplement before bed. Magnesium helps to relax muscle tension, stimulate melatonin synthesis and deactivate adrenaline, all of which I knew would help me to fall asleep faster (source).
I know that this is helping as I can tell a difference if I forget to take it two nights in a row.
Even though these changes are relatively new, I am already seeing results. Most nights I’m able to fall asleep within 30 minutes. If I have a lot going on at work, I may still have an occasional night when it takes longer since my mind will still be going, but that’s when I pull out the guided visualization.
Because I’m getting more sleep, I find I’m also less impatient and have more motivation.
I do still have days when I’m overtired, but I’m a working mom of two so that goes with the territory–and that’s OK. So I’m happy to say that I’m back in the land of the living, no longer a member of the walking dead. I’ll leave the zombies to TV.
What has helped you fall asleep faster?
Share your tip in the comments!
Leslie Murphy is a licensed acupuncturist who is passionate about helping others live healthier, stress less, sleep more and become free of pain. Follow her at Balanced Health Acupuncture.