We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Products or services advertised on this page may be offered by an entity that is affiliated with us. Learn more about our process here.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who struggle with insomnia, you may find your mind racing and your body tossing and turning when you just want to be asleep.

With the right approach, you can reliably fall asleep within a matter of minutes. One of the keys to smoothly falling asleep is relaxation. Research shows that the relaxation response Trusted Source National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NICCH) NCCIH funds and conducts research to help answer important scientific and public health questions about complementary health approaches. View Source is a physiological process that positively affects both the mind and body.

By reducing stress and anxiety Trusted Source Medline Plus MedlinePlus is an online health information resource for patients and their families and friends. View Source , the relaxation response can enable you to peacefully drift off to sleep. Our step-by-step guides offer proven relaxation methods that may help with insomnia and other sleep problems.

Experts emphasize that it can take time to master these techniques, but the practice pays off. Even better, these methods are customizable, so you can adjust them over time to make them work for you.



The Four Key Elements to Cultivating Relaxation

For thousands of years, relaxation has been a central focus of spiritual and cultural practices, enabling a sense of calm and connection with oneself and the surrounding world.

Only in recent decades, though, have meditative practices for relaxation become a focus of scientific research, which has come to identify key elements Trusted Source The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine The University of Pennsylvania is the oldest and one of the finest medical schools in the United States. View Source for fostering the relaxation response.

  1. A quiet environment. Quiet does not have to mean completely silent. Calming sounds or music can be beneficial. Loud, abrasive sounds or noises should be avoided.
  2. A focus of attention. A word, phrase, mantra, breathing pattern, or mental image can all be used to draw your attention and reduce thinking about external concerns.
  3. A passive attitude. Accepting that it’s normal for your mind to wander allows you to remain at-ease and draw your focus back to the object of your attention.
  4. A comfortable position. Finding a cozy place to relax is critical. Naturally, when relaxing to fall asleep, the recommended position is lying in bed.
  5. A comfortable sleep environment. Finding the best mattress and pillow for your sleep position and body type can be instrumental in a good night’s rest.

All of the following methods are ways of achieving these core elements so that you can calmly fall asleep. Keeping these basics in mind empowers you to adjust these methods to suit your preferences.

Falling Asleep With Relaxation Techniques

Once you’re lying comfortably in bed, try one of these techniques to put yourself at ease and settle gently into sleep.

Controlled Breathing

Why It Works:

A series of slow, deep breaths can enable a sense of calm. This method, also known as pranayamic breathing, is believed to help reduce stress in the nervous system Trusted Source Science Direct The leading platform of peer-reviewed literature that helps you move your research forward. View Source and may prepare the brain for sleep Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source by reducing excitatory stimulus.

How to Do It:

Option 1: Counting Breaths

  1. Inhale slowly and gently through your nose.
  2. Exhale slowly and gently through your mouth.
  3. Count up. You can count each breath or each cycle of inhalation and exhalation, whichever comes more naturally to you.

Option 2: Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Method

  1. Place the tip of your tongue near the ridge behind your front two teeth and hold it in this location throughout the breathing exercise.
  2. With your mouth closed, slowly inhale through your nose while counting to four.
  3. Hold your breath while counting to seven.
  4. Open your mouth and exhale while counting to eight. Because of the location of your tongue, exhalation should cause a whooshing sound.
  5. Repeat this 4-7-8 cycle three more times.

Who It’s Great For:

Controlled breathing is excellent for people just getting started with relaxation techniques or who have difficulty using other objects of focus like imagery or mantras.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Why It Works:

Mindfulness is centered around slow, steady breathing and a non-judgmental focus on the present moment. By reducing anxiety and rumination, it has been found to have sweeping health benefits Trusted Source NIH News in Health The NIH, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation’s medical research agency — making important discoveries that improve health and save lives. View Source , including an ability to help reduce insomnia Trusted Source Wiley Online Library Wiley Online Library is one of the largest and most authoritative collections of electronic journals published by Wiley, as well as a vast and growing collection of reference works and other books. View Source .

How to Do It: 

There are many variations of mindfulness meditation for different situations. One easy to use style is the body scan meditation Trusted Source Greater Good in Action Greater Good in Action is a website run by UC Berkeley that collects research on leading a happier, more meaningful life. View Source .

  1. Focus on slowly inhaling and exhaling at a comfortable pace.
  2. Notice the position of your body on the bed.
  3. Notice any sensations, good or bad, in your legs and feet. Let your legs be soft.
  4. Continue the “body scan,” observing, from your legs up to your head, each region of your body and its sensations. The goal is to stay present and observe your body without judging or reacting and then letting each part of your body relax.
  5. After scanning each part of your body, reflect on your body as a whole and allow it to relax.

This version is adapted from UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action (GGIA) program that offers audio recordings for this and other mindfulness meditations Trusted Source Greater Good in Action Greater Good in Action is a website run by UC Berkeley that collects research on leading a happier, more meaningful life. View Source .

Who It’s Great For: 

Anyone can meditate, including with mindfulness meditation, but it can take more practice to get used to. As a result, it usually works best for people who can devote at least five minutes per day to increase their comfort with it.

Saas Quiz

Better Sleep, For a Better You.

Trouble sleeping? Let us help.

Help Us Connect You To A Better Nights Sleep

Sleep is the foundation on which mental and physical wellness is built. Let us help improve your quality of life through better sleep.

On a scale of 1-10, how disruptive is your sleep quality to your daily life?


Select which best describes your sleep challenges or goals:


What elements of your sleep environment would you like to improve?


What best describes your sleep pain?

Curating Your Sleep Solutions

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Why It Works:

Progressive muscle relaxation Trusted Source University of Michigan Medicine Michigan Medicine is the site of many groundbreaking medical and technological advancements since the Medical School first opened in 1850. View Source (PMR) creates a calming effect by gradually tightening and releasing muscles throughout the body in conjunction with controlled breathing.

How to Do It:

  1. With your eyes closed, slowly breathe in and out.
  2. Starting with your face, tense your muscles (lips, eyes, jaw) for 10 seconds, then release your muscles and breathe deeply in and out for several seconds.
  3. Tense your shoulders for 10 seconds and then relax and breathe.
  4. Continue tensing and relaxing the following body parts, skipping any area where tensing the muscles causes pain:
    1. Shoulders
    2. Upper arms
    3. Lower arms and hands
    4. Back
    5. Stomach
    6. Buttocks
    7. Hamstrings
    8. Calves
    9. Feet

Who it’s Great For: 

Studies have found that PMR can help people with insomnia Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source , and when done carefully, may be beneficial Trusted Source National Center for Biotechnology Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source for people who are bothered by arthritis Trusted Source Arthritis Foundation The Arthritis Foundation is a website dedication to pursuing a cure for arthritis with resources, research, advocacy, and community. View Source or other forms of physical pain. PMR is not recommended for people with uncontrolled cardiovascular problems.


Why It Works: 

Visualizing a peaceful image from your past and all of its details engages your attention in order to promote relaxation.

How to Do It: 

  1. With your eyes closed and in a comfortable position, think about a place or experience in your past that feels relaxing, such as a quiet natural setting.
  2. While slowly breathing in and out, reflect on the details of this setting and how it looks.
  3. Continue focusing on this image by adding details relating to your other senses (smell, sound, taste, touch) and experiencing the calmness of this mental imagery.

Who it’s Great For:

Visual thinkers who easily recall past scenes replete with details are ideally suited to using imagery as part of their bedtime relaxation.

Are There Downsides to Relaxation Techniques?

Negative consequences are rare for relaxation techniques, but a small number of people find that they can provoke anxiety. Anyone with concerns about trying these methods should talk with their doctor for specific advice before getting started.

What to Do About Mind Wandering

Even experts in meditation find that their minds can wander during these relaxation techniques, so don’t worry if it happens to you. Instead, stay calm, keep breathing slowly, and try to bring your mind back to the main focus of attention.

Having trouble sleeping?

Call the Help Me Sleep Hotline for a set of tips, meditations, and bedtime stories to help you get a good night’s rest.


What If I Still Can’t Fall Asleep?

If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up, go to another part of your house, and do something soothing, such as reading or listening to quiet music.

Lying awake in bed for too long can create an unhealthy mental connection between your sleeping environment and wakefulness. Instead, you want your bed to conjure thoughts and feelings conducive to sleep.

Pre-Bedtime Tips to Help Fall Asleep Quickly

Before you actually get into bed, a few simple tips can help make sure your mind and body are prepared to fall asleep easily:

  • Wind down for at least half an hour before bedtime. Reading, light stretching, and other relaxing activities are ideal during this time.
  • Disconnect from close-range electronic devices like laptops, phones, and tablets because they can stimulate the brain and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Dim the lights to help your eyes relax, and make sure you’re in comfortable clothing.
  • Make sure your bedroom is set to a pleasant temperature. The cooler the better.
  • Consider a calming scent, like lavender essential oils, that can generate a calming effect.
  • Avoid big meals, spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol in the lead-up to bedtime.

Big-Picture Tips to Fall Asleep Easily

Beyond the immediate run-up to bedtime, incorporating fundamental sleep tips can aid in falling asleep and prevent serious sleeping problems.

  • Follow a consistent sleep schedule with the same wake-up time every day, including on weekends. This helps fine-tune and entrain your internal clock for more regular sleep.
  • Make time for physical activity. Regular exercise benefits the body in many ways, and facilitating better sleep is one of them.
  • If you have a hard time sleeping, start keeping a sleep diary to identify trends that could be throwing off your nightly rest.
  • See a doctor. If your sleeping problems are severe, long-term, or worsening, it’s important to see a doctor who can work with you to try to identify a cause and recommend optimal treatment.
Related News
Thanks for the feedback - we're glad you found our work instructive!

Thanks for the feedback - we're glad you found our work instructive!

Submitting your Answer...

Learn more about our Editorial Team

14 Sources

  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2016, May). Relaxation Techniques for Health., Retrieved June 11, 2020, from

  2. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. (2020, August 13). Relaxation techniques for stress. MedlinePlus., Retrieved June 11, 2020, from

  3. Lichstein, K., Taylor, D., McCrae, C., & Thomas, S. (2010). Relaxation for Insomnia. In M. Aloia, B. Kuhn, & M. L. Perlis (Eds.), Behavioral Treatments for Sleep Disorders: A Comprehensive Primer of Behavioral Sleep Medicine Interventions (Practical Resources for the Mental Health Professional) (1st ed., pp. 45–54)., Retrieved from

  4. Jerath, R., Edry, J. W., Barnes, V. A., & Jerath, V. (2006). Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: Neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical Hypotheses, 67(3), 566–571.

  5. Jerath, R., Beveridge, C., & Barnes, V. A. (2019). Self-Regulation of Breathing as an Adjunctive Treatment of Insomnia. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 780.

  6. WEIL. (2016, May). Three Breathing Exercises and Techniques., Retrieved June 11, 2020, from

  7. National Institutes of Health. (2012, January). Mindfulness Matters., Retrieved June 11, 2020, from

  8. Ong, J. and Sholtes, D. (2010), A mindfulness‐based approach to the treatment of insomnia. J. Clin. Psychol., 66: 1175-1184.

  9. Greater Good in Action. Body Scan Meditation., Retrieved June 11, 2020 from

  10. Greater Good in Action. Discover New Practices., Retrieved June 11, 2020 from

  11. Healthwise Staff. Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation. University of Michigan Medicine Health Library., Updated December 15, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from

  12. Morin, C. M., Hauri, P. J., Espie, C. A., Spielman, A. J., Buysse, D. J., & Bootzin, R. R. (1999). Nonpharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine review. Sleep, 22(8), 1134–1156.

  13. Vickers, A., Zollman, C., & Payne, D. K. (2001). Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. The Western journal of medicine, 175(4), 269–272.

  14. Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). Progressive Muscle Relaxation., Retrieved June 11, 2020, from


Learn More About Insomnia

Stress and Insomnia

By Alexa Fry March 17, 2023


By Eric Suni March 3, 2023

What Causes Insomnia?

By Eric Suni March 3, 2023

Treatments for Insomnia

By Austin Meadows March 3, 2023

Insomnia and Older Adults

By Alexa Fry March 3, 2023

PMS and Insomnia

By Eric Suni March 3, 2023

Light Therapy for Insomnia Sufferers

By Danielle Pacheco March 2, 2023