This Is What a Sleep Expert Does When They Can’t Fall Asleep

Having difficulty falling asleep is an extremely common problem and one that can lead to serious health issues if it goes on for too long. Whether you've had a stressful day and can't wind down or you've been an insomniac for years, being unable to get a good night's rest is frustrating and, unsurprisingly, exhausting. 

Knowing what to do when you're lying in bed wide awake is tricky. Many of us tend to reach for our phones or just put up with the fact that we won't be sleeping anytime soon. It can also be tricky to know exactly why it is that we can't just relax and have a sound night's sleep.

Because sleep is so crucial to our wellbeing, we turned to sleep expert Moira Junge, CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation and the director of the Australian Sleep and Alertness Consortium.

Moira began her career as a registered nurse while also studying to become a psychologist. She took up a position as a sleep scientist at a hospital, a role which combined her nursing skills with her knowledge of psychology and physiology. "Helping people with their sleep studies and chatting to them about how seriously sleepy and tired they were really ignited an interest and passion for sleep disorders and generally educating people about the importance of sleep," she shares with Bed Threads Journal.

Below, Moira walks us through five ways to fall asleep faster.

5 Ways to Fall Asleep Faster, According to a Sleep Expert

1. Know what bedtime works for you

A major issue many people face is not listening to their own body clock, and trying to sleep earlier than their own circadian rhythm is ready to do so.

Many people get into bed too early and try too hard to sleep. It’s important to know if you’re a night owl or an early morning type (or in the middle) and try to get your sleep routine into a time that suits you best.

2. Lighting is everything

Lighting can really help your body adjust to nighttime, and let it know it's time for bed. I plunge myself into dark conditions in the evening, just having soft lighting on and not overhead lights a couple of hours prior to bedtime.

3. Have a dedicated wind down routine

A very important rule of thumb is to not jump into bed and try and sleep if you haven’t had an unwinding period and if you don’t actually feel ready for sleep. We need to have a relaxed mind and body prior to and during sleep as we otherwise will be producing stress hormones and the human body isn’t designed to sleep well if there is a sense of danger/adrenaline.

Ensuring we switch off from work (and from all our tasks) in time to still have a wind down period of reading, music, TV (not in bed and not hand-held) will assist with the drift into a consolidated sleep. Hot tips are meditation, music, warm bath or shower, and feeling as though your to-do list has been ticked off for the day.

4. If you're struggling to sleep, get out of bed

If you’re struggling to fall asleep for at least 20-30 minutes the best thing you can do is to get up out of bed. Sit out in the lounge in dim lighting and read, listen to music, listen to a podcast perhaps. Wait to get sleepy and tired and then return to your bed and try again.

5. If the problem is ongoing, try to find the root cause

The biggest culprits of not being able to sleep on a regular basis are stress and what we call hyperarousal (being wired and tired but not actually sleepy). Addressing the causes of stress and turning off screens can help here.  

If not, ensure you have yourself checked or screened for an underlying sleep problem such as obstructive sleep apnoea.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.

For more expert sleep advice visit: sleephealthfoundation.org.au, @twitter.com/shfaustralia, @sleephealthfoundation

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