Do you lie in bed for hours yet can't sleep? 9 expert tips to get to sleep fast

A woman lies awake in bed for hours next to her partner because she is unable to sleep
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you often lie in bed for hours but can't sleep? If you've had enough and you're looking for ways to get to sleep fast, you're in the right place as we've asked two sleep experts, Max Kirsten and James Wilson, for their pro tips on how to do just that. 

There are plenty of reasons for being unable to sleep at night, and these range from drinking too much before bed, so you're having to use the bathroom more, to feeling too stressed out to sleep. Of course, one of the major reasons why you keep waking up at night could be insomnia, of which there are different types.

“Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing non-restorative sleep despite having the opportunity to do so”, explains Max Kirsten, a resident sleep expert at Panda London. “It can lead to daytime fatigue, irritability and impaired functioning.”

Fortunately, for most people there are ways to quickly get your sleep back on track. Here Max Kirsten and James Wilson, a sleep expert for MattressOnline, share their pro tips on how to get to sleep fast.

9 expert tips to help you get to sleep fast

1. Don't nap before bedtime

If nighttime insomnia is making you feel fatigued during the day, you might be tempted to make up for it by napping. However you should keep them to a minimum, advises Kirsten: “If you need to nap during the day, keep it short (20-30 minutes) and avoid napping too close to bedtime." If you nap too close to bedtime, your sleep drive won't be high enough, so you'll lie in bed for hours unable to sleep.

It may sound strange, but try doing some exercise when you're feeling tired in the day. Exercise boosts energy levels and endorphins, so you could avoid having to take a nap. Staying active in the day helps you get to sleep faster at night too, says Kirsten, as it “regulates your sleep patterns''. Just be sure to finish your workout a few hours before bedtime.

A woman with dark hair lies in bed yawning because she is so tired and ready to sleep

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Only go to bed when you're sleepy

Ever been tempted to hit the snooze button and catch up on sleep? Or are you hitting the hay later on the weekends as a form of revenge bedtime procrastination? While fun, this may be doing more harm than good. “Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends,” advises Kirsten. “This helps regulate your body's internal clock.”

However, James Wilson believes that sticking to a sleep schedule doesn’t mean you have to go to bed or wake up super-early. Instead, go to bed at an hour that’s right for your individual natural rhythm. “A natural 'night owl' can't fall asleep at 9pm, no matter what they do. You need to make sure you're sleepy when you go to bed,” he explains. “If you still feel wired, you should continue to relax.” 

3. Limit blue light exposure before bed

While Wilson says that you should absolutely unwind by watching something funny or trashy, you should switch off your TV or other device an hour before bed.  “Reduce exposure to electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime,” explains sleep expert Max Kirsten. “As the blue light emitted can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.”

4. Dim the lights and mask noise

“Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet,” advises Kirsten. “Invest in comfortable bedding and consider using blackout curtains or a sleep mask.”

If you're sensitive to noise, such as your neighbour’s barking dog or the sound of music blasting from a different room, Kirsten advises using white noise or calming nature sounds to drown out disturbances that might prevent you from falling asleep. You can find loads of these on YouTube, Spotify and on specialist meditation and mindfulness apps like Calm and Headspace.

Investing in the best mattress for your body type and sleep style will also help you get to sleep fast at night as you'll be far comfier in bed.

5. Don't drink or binge-eat before bed

While it’s not a good idea to go to bed with a rumbling stomach, it’s not a good idea to go to bed feeling stuffed either — and you definitely should steer clear of the coffee and alcohol. “Avoid large meals, caffeine, and nicotine close to bedtime,” Kirsten tells us. “These can disrupt sleep or make it harder to fall asleep.” 

A dark haired man in a blue shirt brushes his teeth before going to bed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Get dressed for bed before you relax

Your bedtime routine should begin an hour before you go to bed. As part of your routine, Kirsten highlights the importance of developing calming pre-sleep rituals, such as reading a book or taking a warm bath to “signal to your body that it's time to wind down.” 

"Before you start relaxing, make sure you have done everything you usually do before bed, like getting into your PJs and brushing your teeth,” Wilson adds. “That way, you can jump straight into bed when you feel sleepy, rather than doing anything that may wake you up."

7. Avoid clock-watching

You’re lying in bed and you feel as if your set alarm time is edging closer and closer. You check your phone’s clock, and you have seven hours before wake-up time. You check your phone again, and you now have four hours of sleep time left. “Constantly checking the clock can increase anxiety about not being able to sleep,” Kirsten says. “Turn your clock away or place it where you can't see it.” 

8. Consider a natural sleep aid

A lot of people don’t like the idea of relying on sleeping pills to help them drift off and prefer to turn to herbal remedies such as passionflower and aromatherapy instead . “Some people find herbal teas like chamomile or valerian root helpful,” notes Kirsten. “Consult with a healthcare professional before trying any supplements.” 

9. Try the 4 7 8 breathing exercise for sleep

The easiest breathing exercise for sleep for beginners is the 4 7 8 Method, developed by Dr Weil. To do this, you breathe in for four seconds, hold that breathe for seven seconds, then exhale it for eight seconds. This breathing exercise reduces anxiety and stress, enabling you to move past any worries to relax enough to fall asleep. 

Here's how to use the 4 7 8 Method to get to sleep fast tonight:

Insomnia FAQ

What is insomnia? 

According to the CDC, insomnia is a disorder that causes the sufferer to experience great difficulty falling or staying asleep. Roughly 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, with roughly a third of those people experiencing insomnia.

Sleep expert James Wilson points out that an inability to fall asleep straight away does not automatically mean that you have insomnia. “To fall asleep healthily, it should take you between 5-30 minutes to drop off,” he explains. “Falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow is not a good thing and is a sign of sleep deprivation. It suggests that you are not meeting your sleep needs.”

Can insomnia come and go?

If you find your insomnia comes and goes, it could be that you have acute insomnia. Sleep expert Max Kirsten says that there are three main types of insomnia, which come with their own set causes and symptoms: 

  • Transient insomnia: Lasts for a few nights and is often linked to situational stress or changes.
  • Acute insomnia: Occurs intermittently and is typically related to life events or short-term stressors.
  • Chronic insomnia: Persists for at least three nights a week for three months or more. It may be related to underlying health conditions, psychiatric disorders, or persistent stress.

Can insomnia cause anxiety?

Kirsten tells us that insomnia not only affects your sleep at night, but also your emotional state during the day, presenting itself in the form of mood disturbances such as sadness and anxiety. He also tells us that, outside of daytime symptoms, insomnia can present itself in other ways such as:

  • Difficulty falling asleep: Individuals with insomnia may struggle to initiate sleep even when tired.
  • Difficulty staying asleep: Some people wake up in the middle of the night and find it challenging to return to sleep.
  • Early morning wakings: Waking up earlier than desired and being unable to go back to sleep.
  • Non-restorative sleep: Even if individuals with insomnia spend enough time in bed, they may wake up feeling unrefreshed and fatigued.
  • Daytime symptoms: Insomnia often leads to daytime impairments such as fatigue, mood disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and decreased performance.

Can insomnia be cured?

The good news is that insomnia is treatable, with Wilson and Kirsten advocating for sleep management methods (such as adopting good sleep hygiene and relaxing techniques) that work for your type of insomnia — which sometimes means talking to a medical professional if your symptoms are severe and undergoing different therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi).

The severity and impact of insomnia can vary, and addressing the underlying causes, adopting good sleep hygiene practices, and sometimes seeking professional help are essential for effective management,” Kirsten says.

“If you constantly struggle with sleep despite trying these tips, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying sleep disorders or medical conditions. They can provide personalised advice and treatment options based on your specific situation.”

Frances Daniels
Sleep Staff Writer

Frances Daniels is a Sleep Staff Writer at Tom's Guide and her role includes covering all mattress and sleep news, in addition to mattress reviews and buyer's guides, plus sleep accessories such as pillows and mattress toppers. Frances is a PPA-accredited journalist and is hugely interested in the relationship between good sleep and overall health. When not writing about mattresses and sleep for Tom's Guide, Frances enjoys writing about women's issues, health and wellbeing, the environment, and her native Wales.