As if we didn’t have enough to worry about it already, many of us also worry about whether we’re taking too long to fall asleep. Up to 75% of people report worrying about their sleep at least some of the time, and nearly a quarter report worrying about it often.
The amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep after getting into bed is known as your sleep latency, and like most things with sleep, what’s healthy lies in between two extremes.
Want to find out if you have a healthy sleep latency?
Think about your average night. How long, on average, does it take you to fall asleep? Do you…
Take 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep?
Congratulations, you’ve found the sweet spot. It’s normal for it to take between 10 to 20 minutes for you to drift from full alertness into the lightest stages of sleep.
Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.
Take 1 hour or longer to fall asleep?
If it’s taking you this long to fall asleep, you may have sleep-onset insomnia. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders, and is characterized by a difficulty falling (sleep-onset) or staying (sleep-maintenance) asleep at least three times a week for a period of three months or more.
Insomnia can develop comorbid to another health condition, like diabetes, sleep apnea, or heart disease, or it can be an unfortunate side effect of some medications. For most people, however, it’s worrisome thoughts that are keeping them up at night. These might stem from the stressors of everyday life, or be a symptom of full-blown anxiety or depression.
- What’s the fix? Talk to your doctor about any medication you are taking, and see if there is a suitable replacement that might relieve your insomnia. If you are seeing a therapist to manage your anxiety or depression, they may be able to work with you on therapeutic techniques to manage your insomnia as well.
Poor sleep hygiene
In some cases, however, the cause behind sleep-onset insomnia may be much more benign. It could be as simple as having poor sleep hygiene practices, for example. If you regularly drink caffeine late in the day, eat huge meals for dinner, or exercise at night, any of these can over energize your system so as to make it difficult for you to fall asleep quickly.
Using technology before bed also keeps you up. The blue light in these devices physically wakes up your brain, and the stress of social media notifications, emails, or your favorite Netflix drama can activate your nervous system, preventing relaxation and sleep.
- What’s the fix? Set up a bedtime routine with calming, relaxing activities that you can follow each night in the 30 to 60 minutes before bed, to slowly unwind before sleep. Take a warm bath, practice deep breathing exercises, meditate, or read.
It can take longer to fall asleep if you’re already getting enough sleep, and you’re trying to sleep more than you actually need to. The average adult needs 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep per night. Some people need more, and some people need less.
- What’s the fix? Keep a sleep diary or use a smartphone app to track how long it takes you to fall asleep and how much time you’re actually spending asleep. Are you getting around 7 hours of sleep, give or take? If you wake up in the morning and feel refreshed, you may not need as much sleep as you’re trying to force yourself to enjoy.
If you try these fixes and still have trouble falling asleep, speak to your doctor. They’ll work with you to determine the root cause for your insomnia.
Take fewer than 5 minutes to fall asleep?
Many people worry that they’re not falling asleep fast enough, but if you fall asleep too quickly, it can also be a sign that something is wrong – namely, that you’re not getting enough sleep.
If you are getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night, you’re likely living in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation makes it tough for you to function optimally during the day, slowing down your reaction time, impairing your focus, and making you more susceptible to getting sick. It also causes you to fall asleep instantly because your body and brain are exhausted.
- What’s the fix? If this sounds familiar, try rearranging your schedule to allow yourself more time to sleep. Set up a sleep schedule with regular bed and wake times and follow it consistently, even on weekends. A sleep diary can help in this scenario as well, allowing you to track how many hours you’re sleeping on a regular basis.
If you believe you are getting enough sleep and you’re still falling asleep instantly, talk to your doctor to see if you have a sleep disorder.