10 Tips to Fall Asleep (or Back Asleep)

Emily Nagoski
4 min readJan 6, 2020

Sleep is important.

It’s so important, we made an entire podcast episode about it, and that episode is the second longest we’ve recorded (the only longer episode was “How to Rage” — VERY important), and still that episode contained only a fraction of what we wanted to say about how to sleep. Sleep is THAT important.

And of course we got questions about some of the topics we didn’t discuss in the episode. One of them was “how to fall asleep.”

Insomnia — difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep — is the most common sleep disorder, and its most common cause is worry about sleep. I created this list of tips for falling (back) asleep, so that you don’t panic when you can’t fall asleep. This is not a to-do list; it’s a shopping list. I want you to have options to do whatever’s going to work for you at any given bedtime.

If you struggle to fall asleep in less than half an hour — or if you wake in the middle of the night and toss and turn, unable to get back to sleep — try any of the following strategies to fall asleep:

1. Take a hot shower. This artificially raises your core body temperature; when you get out of the shower and go back to bed, your body temperature will gradually decrease, which is a physiological trigger for sleep.

2. Progressive muscle relaxation. Beginning with your feet and working your way up your body, tense each muscle group for a slow count of ten, then release and breathe comfortably for a slow count of twenty. From feet to calves, to thighs, to pelvis and bum, to abdomen, to hands and arms, to shoulders, to neck and scalp, to face.

3. Counting sheep (or similar). There’s a reason this is an old classic. The gentle, more or less arbitrary task gives you something neutral and calm to focus your attention on, so that your attention isn’t on anything that might cause Noisy-brain.

4. Mindfulness. It’s not a self-help/healthy-living guide without mindfulness, right? The purpose of mindfulness meditation for falling asleep is to step to one side of Noisy-brain and witness it without directly participating in it. Like sitting on a river bank and watching the river flow past you, you just watch all the thoughts go by, not judging, just noticing. There are lots of great mindfulness resources available, including apps with meditations specifically for helping you sleep.

Emily Nagoski

sex educator, author, researcher, and activist. also: nerd. http://go.ted.com/emilynagoski and @emilynagoski