How to Fall Asleep Without Sleeping Pills: 7 Natural Sleep Aids That Actually Work

It’s 3 a.m. and you’re suddenly wide awake… Instead of reaching for the sleeping pills, try these seven science-backed strategies to fall asleep fast.

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Natural sleep aids that work - woman meditating in bed
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Natural Sleep Aids That Work

Give meditation a try

As a mindfulness coach, I’m very aware of the day-to-day anxieties and worries that can interfere with a good night’s sleep. One of the most effective natural sleep aids is a quick meditation session to ease yourself out of those stresses. Never meditated before? No problem! Below, I’ve put together a step-by-step audio that will guide you through a 15-minute meditation session with a built-in progressive muscle relaxation technique, with the goal of helping you fall asleep fast. If this is indeed your first attempt at meditation, you’ll likely find the meditation interrupted by thoughts flashing through your mind. It’s important for you to know that this isn’t a failure on your part, and that you aren’t doing anything wrong. Thinking is just what the brain does, as naturally as lungs take in air. The point is to be non-judgmental yet aware of your thoughts, bodily experiences and breath, moment by moment.

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Natural ways to fall asleep fast - woman can't sleep
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Stop wanting to fall asleep

It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? Sometimes trying too hard to do something is the very thing that prevents us from achieving it—and that’s never more true than when it comes to falling asleep. Desperately wanting to sleep will only stoke anxieties that will further stress your brain, essentially feeding it the message that it’s not safe to sleep. Throw in those worries about your to-do list at work the following day, and the whole thing can snowball into a panic attack. Try letting go of that feeling that you absolutely must sleep now, and observe your own anxieties for what they are—basic mental activity—without judgment. When you stop looking at sleep as a goal, you’ll find it easier to fall asleep.

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Natural sleep aids - woman writing in journal
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Start a journal

If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep, pick up a pen and paper (not your phone!), and start journaling: simply scribbling down an account of what’s going on inside your head. Although there’s no “right” way to journal, you might start by listing the events of your day, and from there, how those events and encounters made you feel. Building this structured picture of your thoughts may help you see that the problem that’s keeping you up at night is less overwhelming than you might have thought. Why my insistence on a pen and paper? First off, studies show the simple motor action that’s involved in the act of handwriting has a calming effect. Secondly, the light emitted by laptops and phones isn’t conducive to falling asleep.

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Fall asleep fast by calling a 3 a.m. friend
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Find yourself a “3 a.m. friend”

Some of us are lucky to have a “3 a.m. friend”—that close confidant you can call up in the wee hours knowing that they won’t hold it against you in the morning. Although it’s great to have someone to talk to when you want to fall asleep, it’s important that the conversation doesn’t just rehash the anxieties that are preventing you from catching shut-eye in the first place. Rather than using the call to seek solutions for those issues, talk about things that calm your nerves, or even have them assist you in deep breathing. It may sound silly, but doing a series of deep, relaxing breaths can help you let go of the troubles that are keeping you wide awake.

Here’s what can happen when you start meditating every day.

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Natural sleep aids that work - man taking warm shower
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Take a warm shower

Taking a warm shower not only relaxes your muscles and soothes minor aches and pains, but it also raises your core body temperature. As soon as you step out of the shower, your body starts working at lowering that temperature—which is something that normally happens when you’re falling asleep naturally. (That’s why we always feel the need for a blanket when we sleep, no matter how warm it is!) By kick-starting that temperature-lowering process, you’re tricking your body into falling asleep fast.

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Natural sleep aids that work - woman stretching before bed
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Stretch yourself to sleep

Anxiety keeping you up? Research suggests mild stretching can help take the edge off and relax muscles that have become stiff and sore after a long day. We’re not talking intricate yoga poses or acrobatics here, either: Simple stretches like an overhead arm stretch and bending over to touch your toes should do the trick. Ramp up the relaxation potential with a soundtrack of ambient noise at a volume that’s just barely audible. There are plenty of white noise apps that are free to download, but soft music can work as well (so long as there are no lyrics). Just remember, if you’re using an electronic device to play these sleep-promoting sounds, make sure it’s placed screen-down so you’re not distracted by the light it emits.

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Natural sleep aids that work - man reading in bed /

Read (or listen!) to something new

When you’re struggling with insomnia, it might be tempting to pull an old favourite off the bookshelf. In reality, it’s better to read or listen to an audio book that covers a topic on which you know absolutely nothing. New information, while taking attention away from the stressors that are keeping you up at night, gives your brain enough of a workout to make it tire more quickly than when it’s engaged with familiar subjects and concepts. Again, if it’s an audio book or podcast you’re listening to, make sure the light-emitting side of the device is face down to keep the room as dark as possible. Darkness and warmth play an essential part in the production and maintenance of melatonin, the hormone that plays the central role falling asleep.

Now that you’ve got these natural sleep aids in your arsenal, follow our ultimate sleep hygiene checklist for quality shut-eye.

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