Have trouble falling asleep at night? Want to learn how to fall asleep fast?
This is a step-by-step process I discovered through trial and error as I was struggling to fall asleep each night.
I wrote about it briefly before in a post about how to fix your sleep schedule. My sleep schedule was at one point so messed up that I was waking up in the early evening and falling asleep at 9 or 10AM. I will always remember hearing my roommate’s alarm clock go off as I was trying to fall asleep – not a good feeling at all.
During this time I would be up all night, thinking about everything under the sun as my mind went crazy. Finally in the not-so-early hours of the morning I would pass out from pure exhaustion.
Then I would wake up at 4 or 5PM – sometimes as late as 6 or 7 – having missed all my classes, social engagements, or anything else I was supposed to be doing during “normal people waking hours”. My first meal of the day was at dinnertime, and then the cycle would start all over again.
How I fixed this whole thing is a longer story – but learning how to fall asleep fast definitely played an important part.
So here is a simple process that you can start as soon as you get into bed at night. It may take a bit of practice, but hopefully after a few days you’ll no longer be searching for how to fall asleep fast.
1. Get Out of Your Head
The main reason people can’t fall asleep – barring some sort of medical condition – is because they are thinking too much. Modern life is full of stress, obligations, worries and anxieties and when we lie down in bed all this and more is running through our heads.
So the first step to falling asleep fast is to get out of your head. The way to do this is to simply allow thoughts to pass by in your mind.
Allowing thoughts to go by is simple, but not easy. When a thought enters your mind, the natural tendency is to engage with it and hold on to it. There’s an urge to explore the thought and to think about it more deeply.
Any thought quickly multiplies into more thoughts, and you get carried away in never-ending train of thought. Before you know it, three hours have gone by and you’re still lying in bed wide awake… thinking.
Thoughts distract us from what we really want to be doing, which is sleeping. So step 1 of how to fall asleep fast is to simply let your thoughts pass by in your mind.
When a thought enters your head, instead of engaging with it, just let it pass right on through. Rather than engaging with the though – let it go.
Thoughts will come and go inside your awareness if you let them – there’s no need to engage with a specific thought if you don’t want to. At night when you’re trying to fall asleep, there’s no need to engage with any thoughts at all.
(This will sound familiar if you’ve ever tried meditation or mindfulness training – the process is basically the same)
While this isn’t complicated, it can be difficult at first. Letting go of your thoughts gets much easier with practice – another reason why meditation is a good idea.
And although I’ve given a long explanation here, when you do this in real time it’s actually very quick – practically instant. You simply realize you are thinking, and you become present. Realizing you are stuck in a train of thought is all you need to get out of it. Then you can become aware of what else is going on around you and –
2. Feel your body
Now that you are no longer caught up in your head, shift your attention to the physical body. Notice the sensations in the different parts of your body, and become aware of how your body feels in an overall sense. You may even find that this starts to happen naturally once you are letting go of thoughts and no longer stuck in your head.
3. Get comfortable
As you become aware of your body, you may be surprised to find that you’re not actually that comfortable. It’s possible to get so caught up in thinking that we don’t even notice our body is twisted or turned in an awkward position. Notice if you feel any tension or discomfort in your joints, ligaments, or any part of the body, and move so that you are completely comfortable.
4. Relax Your Muscles
Once you are comfortable, with your awareness still in the body, begin to notice which muscles are tense. Consciously allow each one of these muscles to relax completely. Often the neck, shoulders and upper back hold the most tension.
5. Focus your attention on the breath
Step 5 is to focus your attention on your breathing. Begin to notice the rise and fall of the breath – notice how it enters and exits the body. As you do this, it’s likely that your breath will naturally deepen and slow down.
If your mind wanders, just become aware that you’re distracted by thought and return your attention to the breath. Again, this is very similar to practicing meditation. Continue to follow the breath – this is the last ‘physical’ step to falling asleep fast.
Bonus Step 6: Allow Your Subconscious Mind to Take Over
This is a difficult thing to explain – it’s more something you allow to happen to you rather than something you actively do.
When you’re asleep, the conscious mind is dormant and your subconscious mind takes over. The subconscious is the part of you that’s responsible for dreams, and is characterized by abstract, surreal or seemingly ‘weird’ thoughts. This is why people are more creative at night, because the subconscious has a stronger influence on our thinking as we get tired.
So as you’re lying in bed, comfortable, relaxed and following your breath, you may begin to feel this type of thinking slowly start to enter your mind. It’s hard to describe, but subconscious thoughts don’t feel quite like regular thoughts – the clear and logical ones that enter your mind during the day.
Subconscious thoughts are more abstract and seem to have a ‘flowing’ quality. There are often odd connections made between things that you wouldn’t normally relate to one another. (This is the essence of creativity) Let the subconscious take over and you start feeling like you’re living in a surrealist painting.
You know in the morning that feeling when you’re half-awake but still half-asleep? That’s what we’re going for here. All you can really do is try to allow the subconscious to take over. It’s important not to try and engage the subconscious flow with rational thinking, as this will just keep your mind (and you) awake. Try to allow the subconscious thoughts to wash over your mind and do your best not to disrupt the process.
Again if you get distracted by thoughts, simply return your attention to the breath. With your focus back on the breath, you should feel the subconscious start to come over you again and you’ll be asleep soon enough.
So to recap, the 6 steps for how to fall asleep fast are:
1. Get out of your head
2. Feel your body
3. Get comfortable
4. Relax your muscles
5. Focus your attention on the breath
6. Allow the subconscious to take over
That’s all you really need to fall asleep fast at night. It might take a bit of practice, but after doing this a few times you should be able to get from Step 1 to 5 in under a minute. At that point it’s just about fully relaxing and letting sleep come over you.
More tips for how to fall asleep fast
Just to be comprehensive – I’ve included some more tips below.
Fill your day with meaningful activity (“Spend yourself in a worthy cause”)
Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech describes the man “who strives valiantly; who errs… who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause..”
The truth is – again, barring a medical condition – that if you spend your daily energy in a worthy cause, you probably won’t have much trouble falling asleep at night.
But if you sit around all day, not really doing anything, not exercising or going outside – of course it’s going to be hard to fall asleep. Your body doesn’t need the rest, it’s been resting all day already!
This is to say that sleep problems can be at least somewhat caused by not really engaging with life enough. This was definitely the case for me at one point. The reason you have a ton of restless energy at night that keeps you from falling asleep may just be because you haven’t used that energy on anything worthwhile during the day.
The solution is easier said than done – start fully engaging with life. When you wear yourself out doing things you care about and are invested in, activities that are engaging and challenging, you will naturally feel tired and spent (in a good way) when it’s time to go to sleep.
Meditate before bed
When I first started meditating it was before bed every night – I have no doubt this helped me fall asleep faster. Meditation calms the mind and is excellent practice for letting go of thoughts, which is key to Step 1 above.
You can learn how to meditate here
Plan out the next day before you go to sleep
A great way to put yourself at ease before going to sleep is to plan out the next day in advance. When you plan out your day, you know exactly what you’ll be doing from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep the next night.
Because you put aside time to think about and write down everything you need to do the next day, you can rest assured that you don’t have to think about it as you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep.
Repeat to yourself “I am falling asleep”
I learned this trick from a book called Self Discipline in 10 Days (Amazon). All you do is repeat to yourself – out loud or internally – “I am falling asleep”. On the surface it sounds incredibly stupid, but it can actually work.
This technique is provided in the book as a way to make yourself do things you don’t want to do – it’s surprisingly effective. Basically it just involves repeating the message “I am _______” to yourself for whatever action you want to be taking.
(No bullshit – Self Discipline in 10 Days can end procrastination and change your life)
Don’t eat right before bed, especially not sugar or anything that will spike your insulin
It’s better to leave your digestion alone before going to sleep – don’t eat for at least one or two hours before. If you do eat, make sure it’s not something high in sugar (don’t eat sugar anyway) that spikes your insulin response.
Do a “brain dump” right before going to sleep
To do a ‘brain dump’ just sit down with a piece of paper and a pen for 5 or 10 minutes and write down everything that’s running through your head.
You don’t necessarily need to solve all your problems right that moment to relieve the mental load – just getting them out of your head and down in front of you can really do a lot. This is actually a pretty effective way to relieve mental stress in general.
To wrap up..
If you have problems with sleep you can also check out:
That’s all I have for you right now – I hope this was helpful. Try out these methods for how to fall asleep fast… and let us know how it works for you in the comments below.