Stress Less to Fall Asleep Faster

Follow this advice, which can help you doze off when your brain feels wide awake.

stress less to sleep faster

Photo by: Chris Eckert/Studio D

It can be a vicious cycle: Your body and its inner clock are set up for sleep, but you’re so fixated on the items you forgot to tick off your to-do list that your brain races you right past that golden opportunity to doze off. Then, once you realize how long you’ve been lying there, you start to worry about not being able to sleep—and the anxiety escalates. Sound familiar? Relax. If it’s only a once-in-a-while problem, you can distract your brain and lull your body back to sleep mode. Here’s your course of action:


First: Count backwards from 300 The trick: Do it by multiples of three (300, 297, 294, and so on). “I know it sounds crazy, but it works really well—I promise,” says Michael Breus, PhD, author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan. “It’s mathematically so complicated that you can’t think of anything else, and it’s so doggone boring that you’re out like a light.”


If that doesn’t work: Get out of bed Most sleep docs say you shouldn’t stay in bed for more than 20 minutes, but Lisa Shives, MD, a Chicago-based sleep specialist at Northshore Sleep Medicine and medical expert for, has her own rule. “If you’re getting annoyed or anxious, don’t keep lying there,” she says. “Hop out and break the cycle.” She advises that you leave the room without flipping on the lights (keep a mini flashlight on your nightstand), then sit quietly in a comfy chair and distract yourself with something soothing, like soft music or an audiobook. And “avoid things like paperwork, dishes or folding laundry,” adds Susie Esther, MD, a Charlotte-based sleep specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “That rewards you for not sleeping, because work is getting done.” Sit there until you finally feel sleepy, then go back to bed.


Your last resort: Use a sleep aid If drowsiness never sets in, try a sleep aid (don’t look at a clock—just use your judgment). Valerian root is a natural supplement that prompts your brain to produce neurotransmitters that make you sleepy, says Dr. Breus. Be careful, though—it makes you very tired. Never take the recommended dose (500 milligrams) less than 4 hours before your alarm goes off. You can also try an over-the-counter sleep aid, like ZzzQuil, or Benadryl (the active ingredient—an antihistamine called Diphenhydramine HCL—is the same, says Dr. Esther, and these bring on sleep without the added pain relievers and cough medicines in other nighttime meds, like Nyquil or Tylenol PM). “Just beware that these OTC meds often cause dry mouth and next-day grogginess—that’s why they’re a last resort and should only be used occasionally,” she adds.


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