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8 Popular Techniques to Sleep Better

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Whether or not a sleep technique works for someone is a highly individualized question.

The key to a technique working is that it helps the sleeper relax.

For some, a particular technique might help them relax, while for another, that same technique might cause them stress.

I’ve collected a list of every popular sleep technique I could find. Hopefully one or more can help you sleep better.

Before we go through them, keep a few things in mind:

  • A technique will not help if your sleep hygiene is bad. Make sure it’s good first.
  • Even an effective sleep technique may not work at first. Spend at least a few weeks on each technique you’d like to try in order to judge them.

1. The Military Sleep Technique

This technique is from the book Relax and Win: Championship Performance, and was originally developed for use by the military in order to improve sleep in rough conditions.

It was published in 1981, but this technique didn’t really get popular until recent years. The military sleep technique consists of 4 main steps:

  1. Relax the muscles in your face, including tongue, jaw and the muscles around the eyes
  2. Drop your shoulders as far down as they’ll go, followed by your upper and lower arm, one side at a time
  3. Breathe out, relaxing your chest followed by your legs, starting from the thighs and working down
  4. Spend 10 seconds trying to clear your mind, then picture a relaxing scene (e.g. Sitting in a boat on a calm lake)

While I couldn’t find any peer-reviewed studies on it, the author claims that it works for 96% of people who practice it for 6 weeks.

Of course, being in the military also seems exhausting, so just maybe that plays a role in getting to sleep too.

2. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

The 4-7-8 technique focuses on breathing in a controlled and relaxed manner.

It’s a form of diaphragmatic breathing, which reduces levels of hormones like cortisol (i.e. the “stress” hormone), and can help you sleep (1).

  • Lie down and relax your body
  • Breathe in for 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds
  • Breathe out for 8 seconds

And repeat.

Some people claim that this gets them sleeping in just a few minutes.

One final note is that while breathing out, the original technique calls for making a blowing “whoosh” sound, but that seems awfully distracting for most people.

3. Create a Fantasy World

One of the ways that sleeping techniques help is by distracting you from things that might be causing you stress.

Creating a fantasy world in your mind where you’re a character can give you a world to “escape” to at night.

A few things to keep in mind here:

  • Try not to think about things that are too exciting
  • Don’t get bogged down in the fine details and overthink everything

4. Counting Numbers

Counting is an incredibly old sleep technique, but it must work for quite a few people if it’s still around.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Count multiples (i.e. 3, 6, 9, 12...) up to a certain point before repeating
  • Count backwards from a target (usually 100-200)

The idea is to give your brain something to focus on that is just complex enough to be engaging, but simple enough so that it’s not stimulating.

5. Visualize a Calming Scenario

Similar to creating a fantasy world, you can also visualize scenarios.

However, be careful about what you think of.

Thinking about sports or stimulating events can have the opposite effect that we’re after. Instead think about mundane, calming scenarios like watching a sunset, or floating on a boat.

6. Condition Yourself to Sleep With Music

Pick one song that you find relaxing and make that your “sleep song.”

Listen to it as you’re going to sleep, and you may be able to condition your brain to associate it with sleep. Don’t listen to it at other times of the day.

Most phones have a timer to stop playing music after a certain amount of time, so you don’t need to leave it on all night.

7. Listen to “Boring” Podcasts or Guided Meditations

If you’re not a fan of music at night, there are plenty of podcasts and guided meditations that can help you relax (podcasts are essentially a lazy way of reading). Current research shows that meditation for insomnia can work well for people who are particularly stressed.

For example, listen to podcasts about history or engineering that will allow you to zone out like you used to in school.

Start with normal headphones, even though that might be a bit uncomfortable. If this is a technique you’d like to use regularly, then you can invest in sleeping headphones like these that are designed to be worn while sleeping.

At the very least this makes going to bed a bit more fun.

8. Pretend to Be Tired to Trick Your Mind

Finally, we take advantage of the fact that the body and mind are linked.

Just like smiling can make you happier, you can also pretend to be tired to make your brain think that you must be sleepy:

  • Yawn
  • Focus on how heavy your eyelids feel
  • Close your eyes just a bit
  • Walk slowly
  • Talk slowly

This can give you that initial kick to relax and get to sleep.


Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.