Sometimes, no matter how tired you are, your brain just won’t shut down and let you get some shut-eye. Some people turn to popping pills to banish their snooze blues, but drugs can have annoying side effects of their own. Next time counting sheep fails to make you drift off to dreamland, try one of these utterly unexpected (but amazingly effective) tips. Here’s how to fall asleep fast:
1. Inhale through your left nostril.
Sounds too simple, right? But this ancient yoga method helps to reduce blood pressure and calm your mind. Holistic sleep therapist Peter Smith, author of Sleep Better With Natural Therapies says: “Lie on your left side, resting a finger on your right nostril to close it. Start slow, deep breathing in the left nostril.” Why the left nostril? According to the physiology of yoga, each nostril is associated with a different part of the brain. The right is linked to the sympathetic system (aka the “fight or flight” mechanism) and the left is linked to the parasympathetic (aka the “rest and repair” mechanism).
2. Put some pressure on (your skin, that is).
Acupressure is a cornerstone therapy that’s been used in Chinese medicine for over 5,000 years. It’s based on the same trigger points as acupuncture, but involves the application of pressure or massage, as opposed to needles. (Yay, for us needle-phobes!) Steve Given, clinical faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University recommends the following three techniques when you’re having problems sleeping:
- Between your eyebrows, right above your nose, there is a small depression. Apply gentle pressure to that point for a minute.
- On top of your foot, between your first and second toes, there is a depression. Press that area for a few minutes until you feel a dull ache.
- Massage both of your ears for a minute.
3. Try a little reverse psychology.
Tell yourself you have to stay awake – your brain will rebel against you! It’s called the sleep paradox, says psychotherapist Julie Hirst. She explains: “Keep your eyes wide open, repeat to yourself ‘I will not sleep’. The brain doesn’t process negatives well, so interprets this as an instruction to sleep and eye muscles tire quickly as sleep creeps up.” Think this sounds silly? Science backs it up. A small study conducted at the University of Glasgow found that insomniacs who were instructed to lay in bed and try to stay awake with their eyes open fell asleep quicker and had less sleep performance anxiety than participants told to fall asleep as usual.
4. Hold your thumb.
This trick comes courtesy of Jin Shin Jyutsu, an ancient Japanese healing technique that balances the energy in your body. “All you need to do is gently wrap one hand around your thumb and hold it for at least two minutes,” recommends Integrative Therapist Baylissa Frederick. “Hold it for as long you want. You can also switch hands. There are no rules. Some people sleep holding their thumb all night.”
5. Keep your toes cozy.
In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers found that warm feet (and hands) helped people fall asleep faster. They had participants place hot water bottles at their feet, which widened the blood vessels in their skin and increased heat loss from their core – something your body does naturally when it’s shutting down for shut-eye. The warm extremities simply speeds up the process!
6. Do some mind-numbing mathematics.
Tire out your brain with a boring mental challenge. Michael Breus, Ph.D. (aka, “The Sleep Doctor) says “I count backwards from 300 by threes. It is mathematically so complicated you can’t think of anything else, and it is so boring I am out like a light!”
7. Crack open the Crayola's.
Adult coloring books are a booming trend and there’s a growing selection focused explicitly on sleep like: ‘Color Me to Sleep,’ ‘The Can’t Sleep Coloring Book,’ and ‘Calm the F*ck Down: An Irreverant Adult Coloring Book.’ “Coloring helps tune out the chatter of the day by focusing the mind on a single activity,” say Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter, the authors of ‘Color Me to Sleep.’ “The repetitive motion and detailed designs help induce a meditative state for most adults and allows them to tune the world out for a little while as they focus. Coloring engages the amygdala, the ‘fight-or-flight’ part of the brain, and gives it permission to let its guard down.”
8. Take an icy face bath.
From the time we’re tiny babies, it’s warm baths for better bedtimes, but it turns out if you’re anxious or stressed at bedtime, a face full of ice-cold water could be the perfect panacea. Immersing your face in very cold water for 30 seconds triggers an involuntary instinct known as the “mammalian dive reflex” – a biological survival mechanism that makes our parasympathetic nervous system kick in, slowing down your heart rate to relax and calm you down.
9. Concentrate on the “4-7-8.”
The “4-7-8” breathing method is championed by the renowned Dr. Andrew Weil – and many claim it helps them fall asleep in just a few minutes. Here’s how he explains doing it:
Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that with this breathing technique, you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important.
10. Blow some bubbles.
Sure it sounds ridiculous, but it’s worth a shot according to Rachel Marie E. Salas, M.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In an interview with the New York Post, she said, “It’s like a deep breathing exercise, which helps calm your body and mind, she says. And since it’s such a silly activity, it can also take your mind off of any potential sleep-thwarting thoughts.”
11. Listen To Relaxing Tones
Sleep is directly related to the behavior of brainwaves. Binaural beats and isochronic tones help get your brain into frequencies that help with sleep.