I Tried the Viral “Alpha Bridge” Method to See if It Could Help Me Fall Asleep Faster

published Jul 2, 2024
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When I’m not awake at night thinking about my to-do list or replaying conversations from the day, I’m delaying sleep by watching TV or scrolling through my phone — also known as revenge sleep procrastination. Using social media before bedtime can make it take longer to fall asleep, according to a 2023 survey. And yet, platforms like TikTok are where I often find tips on improving sleep, including a trick I came across recently called the “alpha bridge” sleep method. 

Because it’s hard to fall asleep when my thoughts are racing, I was looking for something to help calm my mind and fall asleep more quickly. After consulting two sleep experts, I decided to try it out every night for a week. Here’s more about the science behind the alpha bridge sleep method and how this experiment went for me. 

What Is the Alpha Bridge Method?

The alpha bridge method involves “a series of eye movements along with mental relaxation and breathing techniques to boost alpha brain wave activity,” says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an ABIM quadruple board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine, pulmonology, critical care, and sleep medicine, and a medical reviewer for the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Alpha waves support the transition from being awake to sleeping soundly.

In a TikTok video, positive psychologist Erica Terblanche says you can use the alpha bridge method to fall asleep anywhere. Since all you need is your own breathing, this method is free and easy to do anywhere (read: ideal for travel). Plus, you can do it sitting or lying down. 

Here’s how to do the alpha bridge method:

  • Start by getting into a comfortable position
  • Close your eyes and count to 30
  • Open your eyes slightly and count to five
  • Close your eyes again and count to 30
  • Open your eyes again part way and count to five
  • Close your eyes again 
  • Notice your breathing going in and out of your nose as you hopefully fall asleep
Credit: Sofie Delauw/Getty Images

How Does It Work?

The alpha bridge method is designed to mimic drowsy eye movements, so you feel calm and sleepy, Dasgupta explains. 

“Pairing the opening and closing of the eyes in a systematic way, with relaxation, is thought to create a sleepy condition,” says Dr. Mark Aloia, PhD, head of sleep and behavioral sciences at Sleep Number. 

The human brain produces alpha waves when you’re awake and relaxed with your eyes closed, Dasgupta says. In fact, generating alpha activity is something everyone does while preparing to fall asleep. 

“Certain people, like Buddhist monks, can generate alpha waves while awake with their eyes open,” Aloia says. Since the alpha bridge method hasn’t been verified by research, it’s not clear whether it’s effective at producing alpha waves or if you would find similar results with other relaxation techniques. 

“Sometimes a racing mind can interfere with alpha generation,” Aloia says. So if you struggle with anxiety or nightly insomnia, the alpha bridge method may not be very effective, especially when trying it for the first time. However, if you have occasional sleep difficulties, you may find it beneficial to incorporate mental relaxation and deep breathing into your nighttime routine

What Happened When I Tried the Alpha Bridge Method

The first time I tried the alpha bridge method, I was too distracted to focus on breathing and counting. I was thinking about how I needed to order dog food and renew a prescription. I found it challenging initially to remember the sequence of eye movements and stay on track while counting to 30. 

I finally got the hang of it on my third attempt. I noticed my eyelids feeling heavy as I transitioned from closing them to opening them halfway. I also found it calming to picture myself “going over the alpha bridge” as Terblanche calls this method in her video. 

By the seventh night, I was able to fall asleep faster using the alpha bridge method. I didn’t notice much difference in the quality of my sleep but that could’ve been the result of losing sleep from warmer temperatures overnight. That said, I did feel more rested as the days went on and was able to sleep more soundly. This method seemed to work best when I didn’t have to wake up early or rush out the door for my morning commute.

What Else Can You Do to Improve Sleep?

If the alpha bridge method doesn’t work right away, it’s worth giving it another try. Dasgupta’s advice is to combine it with other relaxation methods like progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness meditation to make it more effective. He also recommends “minimizing your screen time before bed and making sure your sleep environment is comfortable and relaxing.” 

Aloia agrees, noting the importance of having a consistent bedtime routine. Dimming the lights, adjusting the temperature, or reading a book can signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. He also suggests avoiding caffeine eight to 10 hours before sleep and alcohol four to six hours before bedtime. The same goes for electronics, which you should avoid in the one to two hours before you go to sleep. 

Exercising at night can help you sleep, but Aloia doesn’t recommend doing anything strenuous two hours before bedtime. Attending to sleep hygiene is helpful, “but if you have extended periods of not being able to sleep, then you should contact a sleep specialist and consider cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia,” he says. “Some sleep disorders require additional steps with an expert.”