We’ve all been there: You’ve been in bed for what seems like hours, you’re tired, but you can’t seem to fall asleep. Might you have insomnia? How long should it take you to fall asleep? And what can you do if it feels like its taking you too long?
Here’s the short answer: Most people fall asleep within ten to twenty minutes of getting into bed. This period is called “sleep latency.” The good news is that most people overestimate how long it takes them to fall asleep. In other words, what seems like an hour to you may actually be only twenty or thirty minutes. This is normal or only slightly above normal, and no cause for concern. Using a sleep application on your phone or a fitness tracker may be able to tell you how long it actually takes you to fall asleep. (Asking your bed partner might also do the trick.) But if it’s taking you over thirty or sixty minutes to fall asleep every night, you might have insomnia. Falling asleep within seconds of hitting your bed may also be a sign of trouble.
What If It Takes Too Long To Fall Asleep?
Each of us has an internal circadian rhythm (our so-called biological clock) that signals our bodies when it’s time to wake up, eat, or go to bed. This rhythm is related to outside signals like sunlight and temperature and can be disrupted by the advent of modern technology, such as television screens and phones. If it’s taking you too long to fall asleep, this might mean that your internal clock isn’t working properly. Read on for a few steps you can take to get it back on track.
1. Avoid Caffeine After 4pm
Caffeine is a stimulant that makes you feel more awake than you really are and disrupts your body’s natural sleep-inducing mechanisms. Some research suggests that caffeine consumption too close to bedtime can even alter your body’s circadian clock, pushing it back by more than thirty minutes. This means that you may have trouble falling asleep at your regular bedtime not only that night but also the following day, even if you didn’t consume caffeine the next day. If you want to avoid these disruptions to your sleep, it’s best to avoid caffeinated beverages and foods such as coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate in the five to six hours before your desired bedtime.
2. Avoid Bright Lights and Technology
The lights of your phone or television can disrupt the natural signals that tell your body it’s time to rest. Doctors recommend avoiding technology for at least an hour before bedtime. Dimming your lights and avoiding loud music may also help you get to sleep faster.
3. Create Bedtime Rituals
Bedtime rituals such as a warm bath, a cup of (non-caffeinated) tea, and reading a book (a paper copy, not on your tablet) can help you relax, slow down your thoughts, and signal to your body that it’s time to start getting ready for sleep. This can be particularly helpful to those who are kept up at night due to anxiety or stress. There are meditation techniques specifically designed to help slow you down and fall asleep more easily, so make sure to consider those if you need help relaxing. A good stretch of all your muscles before going to bed can also be very helpful. Practicing a few yoga positions is great, but any kind of stretching will do.
4. Lower Your Room Temperature
Your body’s temperature naturally drops while you sleep. This release of heat is often transferred to our bed sheets and may help explain why we often go to bed feeling cool and wake up sweating under the hot sheets. Lowering the temperature in your room for the few hours leading up to bedtime can help signal your body that it’s time to sleep which can cut the time it takes you to fall asleep.
5. When To See a Doctor
If you’ve tried all the techniques above and it’s still taking you longer than thirty minutes to fall asleep each night, it might be time to see a doctor. Long-term sleep deprivation can have serious consequences, including irritability, mood swings, trouble concentrating, depression, weight gain, and even heart problems. Several studies suggest that people who regularly get less than the recommended amount of sleep are at significantly higher risk for early death. If you’ve tried everything you can and you’re still having a hard time falling asleep, see a doctor.
What If I Fall Asleep Too Quickly?
Falling asleep immediately after you get into bed is an easier problem to solve. It’s a clear sign that you’re not getting enough sleep. Given that sleeping is essential to our general mood and health, it’s important to make sure we give ourselves the recommended seven to nine hours of slumber each night. That might sound like a lot, but it’s what the doctor orders. You’ll be happier and healthier, too!