October 5, 2018

Picture it: You’ve just finished a long day of work, with an even longer-feeling commute. You’ve dragged yourself through dinner, scrolled through Instagram, caught up on Insecure, brushed your teeth, washed your face, and finally—finally!—crawled into bed.

But once you’re there, nothing happens.

Your brain starts to whirl. Maybe you start to replay that long day in your head, or perhaps you get angry at yourself for not being able to fall asleep. Which… makes it even harder to relax.

Sleep troubles are frustrating, familiar, and often life-altering: A recent study found that sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on a person’s memory, leading to serious mistakes, irritability, and miscalculations.

The problem is, sleeping trouble can feel like a finger trap: The more you fight it, the harder it pulls you in.

Sleeping trouble can feel like a finger trap: The more you fight it, the harder it pulls you in.
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So, How Can You Catch Some Zzzs?

For starters, try stealing a technique from the United States Navy Pre-Flight School.

During World War II, pilots were often limited to a few hours of sleep per night, and many struggled to fall asleep after a day of adrenaline-fueled fighting. the government, growing frustrated with the mistakes that fighter pilots were making due to their sleep deprivation, developed a method to get pilots to shut down for the night.

After six weeks of practicing the technique, 96 percent of pilots were able to fall asleep in under two minutes, even with loud noise in the background and even while sitting upright in chairs.

Writer Sharon Ackman rehashed the strategy in a recent popular article on Medium. Here's how to do it:

Start by getting in position—if you’re sitting up while you sleep, like the pilots were, rest your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. If you’re lying down, let your hands and feet go limp.

Then, relax your face. “Think of it as the epicenter of your emotions,” writes Ackman. “Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Then relax all 43 of your face muscles—no squinting or frowning. Your forehead should be smooth. Let everything go loose. Breathe out as you feel your cheeks, mouth, tongue, and jaw relax.”

From your face, move onto your upper body, then your lower body, breathing deeply all the while. Breathe in fresh air, exhale tension.

Once your body is loose, do the same to your mind, trying to clear out all thoughts for 10 seconds. “If that doesn’t work,” writes Ackman, “say the words 'don’t think … don’t think … don’t think' over and over for at least 10 seconds. This will clear out any thoughts and stop your brain from wandering.”

Don’t worry if you find yourself awake two minutes later, or even ten—the technique can take practice. Keep at it, and you should be falling asleep a little quicker by the end of the month.

Not sold? Try these alternative techniques.

Breathe in a 4-7-8 pattern

Integrative expert Dr. Andrew Weil swears by this breathing pattern to shed anxiety and drift off to sleep.

Exhale out of your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound as you breathe. Then, inhale through your nose for four counts.

Hold your breath for seven counts, then breathe out to a count of eight.

Repeat three more times, or until you fall asleep. The pattern helps relieve physical stress, which can help your body slip into slumber.

Picture your favorite place

Quick: What’s your favorite place in the world? It could be a vacation spot, or simply your mom’s kitchen. Wherever it is, hold that image in your mind the next time you’re trying to nod off.

A small study found that “imagery distraction,” or distracting your mind with the image of a pretty, happy place, helped insomniacs fall asleep more quickly than those who focused on something else.

Blow bubbles

Yes, really. Rachel Marie E. Salas, M.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Men’s Health that blowing a few bubbles using a container of bubble fluid—or even just imitating the action—is a sort of deep breathing technique, and the silliness of the move can help take your mind off the task at hand.

Try a Sleep Meditation

Yup, there are meditations designed specifically to help you calm your mind before sleep. The Shine iOS app has a few—all under 7 minutes—and they're a quick to disrupt those tossing-and-turning moments.

The sleep struggle bus is real—and a whopping 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder, according to the American Sleep Association. These are just some hacks to help, but if your sleep issues persist, it might be time to ask your doctor for their recommendations.

You deserve more restful nights.


Read next: 15 Unconventional, Quick Ways to Relax

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