The time it takes for you to go from wakefulness to sleep is called sleep latency. Doctors and scientists consider 10–20 minutes a normal amount of time to fall asleep. In general, if it takes more than 20 minutes or less than 10 minutes, your body may be trying to tell you something.
- If it takes you too long to fall asleep, such as an hour or more, you may be struggling with insomnia. Insomnia can happen if you have trouble relaxing or turning off your brain at night. It can also happen if your body isn’t ready to fall asleep, perhaps because of too much caffeine or having traveled across multiple time zones. You may want to consider talking to a doctor if falling asleep is becoming a persistent problem.
- If you fall asleep very soon after getting into bed, it may be a sign that you’re not sleeping enough. If this is the case, make it a priority to get more sleep. If you don’t, it can lead to other health problems.
Sleep and brain waves
It takes the average person about seven minutes to reach a sleep-like state where alpha brain waves take over and they enter a phase somewhere between wakefulness and sleeping. This state is often described as dreamlike, hazy, and peaceful, sometimes with mild hallucinations. Then theta brain waves take over, and you enter the first full stage of light sleep. Brain waves slow down even more in very deep sleep and are called delta waves.
Your brain is a big influence on how fast you can fall asleep, mainly due to the chemicals that are released in certain regions. Cells within the hypothalamus and brainstem, for instance, produce a chemical called GABA, which works to reduce the activity of arousal centers in these brain regions. The release of adenosine from cells in the forebrain also promotes sleep.
Some activities you do throughout the day can influence how fast you end up falling asleep. Try to avoid these before bedtime, as they can promote wakefulness instead of sleepiness.
Stress is a big factor that influences how long it takes some people to fall asleep. When worrisome thoughts keep you up at night, it’s hard for your brain to calm down and fall asleep.
Poor sleep hygiene can also make it hard to fall asleep. Things like drinking caffeine too late in the day, eating big meals for dinner, or exercising too late at night can all influence how quickly you fall asleep. Using technology before bed can contribute to keeping you awake. The blue light emitted from tablets, smartphones, and laptops wakes up your brain and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
To train yourself to fall asleep earlier, you need to develop a solid nighttime routine and stick to it every day. Maybe your schedule has changed and you need to start waking up earlier for school or work, or maybe you find you’re not getting enough rest and want to try going to bed earlier.
To train yourself to fall asleep earlier, you need to develop a solid nighttime routine and stick to it every day.
Whatever the reason, you can fall asleep earlier with some effort, and these tips may make the transition to an earlier bedtime easier:
- Set a specific bedtime for yourself and stick to it. Turn off all digital devices about 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed. Instead, relax with a book.
- If you’re trying to go to bed substantially earlier, such as an hour or two, it’s best to do it in gradual stages. Bump up your bedtime by 15 minutes for a week, then try 30 minutes earlier the next week, and so on.
- Exercise earlier in the day, at least four hours before bed. Working out during the day can help you fall asleep at night because your body has been active. There is an exception: performing gentle yoga poses or light stretches before bed might help you drift off more quickly.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the evening. Caffeine counteracts sleepiness by blocking the actions of adenosine.
- Set an alarm to prevent oversleeping on weekends, which can cause even more sleep problems.
If you’re trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, it’s important to stay consistent. That means you have to stick to your sleep schedule during the week and on weekends. Adjusting your sleep schedule takes some work, but it can be done if you stick to it.
Your body clock regulates your circadian rhythm, which is how your body knows when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to go to sleep.
Changing your sleep schedule involves resetting your body clock. Your body clock regulates your circadian rhythm, which is how your body knows when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to go to sleep.
Many things can cause your sleep schedule to get out of whack. Maybe you stayed up too late over the weekend or you’ve traveled across multiple time zones. Whatever the reason, try these tips to fix your sleep schedule:
- Adjust your bedtime carefully, but be patient. Pushing it forward an hour or two right away likely won’t be effective. Instead, aim for 15-minute increments each week or every two to three days.
- Don’t nap during the day, even if you feel tired. Napping can interfere with your nighttime sleep.
- Get up at the same time every day, and go to bed at the same time every night. Set an alarm if you have to, because being consistent is an important part of maintaining your ideal sleep schedule.
- Be strict about your bedtime. Once you’ve achieved your optimal times for going to sleep and waking up, don’t veer from them. This could throw off your schedule, and you’ll have to start all over again.
- Melatonin may be helpful. Check with your doctor first, especially if you’re already taking other medications.
Only a doctor can determine whether or not you have insomnia, but some common symptoms include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty remaining asleep — waking up multiple times during the night and having trouble going back to bed, waking up too early in the morning
- Sleep that doesn’t feel refreshing or restorative
- Constant fatigue or low energy
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Mood changes, such as feeling irritable
If you find insomnia interferes with your relationships with friends, family, or colleagues, it may be helpful to get some professional assistance.
Insomnia is considered chronic if it occurs at least three nights a week for at least three months. If you find you have consistently low energy during the day from lack of sleep, or if it’s interfering with your relationships with friends, family, or colleagues, it may be helpful to get some professional assistance.
In general, you should be able to fall asleep most nights in 10–20 minutes. If it’s consistently taking you longer than that, you may want to talk to a doctor about possible symptoms of insomnia. If you fall asleep right away, it may be a sign you need more rest, and you should consider adjusting your sleep schedule. Sleep is important for the overall health of your mind and body, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting the rest you need.