We have all struggled to fall asleep at least once in our life. We’re laying in bed, struggling to keep our lids open, tossing, turning, counting sheep, and whatnot. But, sleep doesn’t come. If only there was a universal formula that can determine how fast we can fall asleep.
And, while the perfect formula doesn’t exist and we’re all unique, we still tried to get an answer to the question of how long does it take to fall asleep. We believe this article will be vastly helpful, especially to people who struggle to fall asleep due to insomnia or some other sleep disorder. Read on!
Have you ever heard about the term known as sleep latency? It is described as a period of time from the moment we’re still awake into the transition of sleeping state. This term was first defined by William C. Dement, a researcher from Stanford University. He didn’t only make the definition of sleep latency, he also developed a test which can help determine yours. The test, known as the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) saw subjects test the level of fatigue they experienced on a special sleepiness scale. After measuring the level of fatigue, they were laid down in dark and silent rooms where they were instructed to sleep.
Dement then measured the sleep latency score on each one of them, ranging from 0 to 20 minutes. Each of the subject’s sleep latency scores would get higher as it’d take them longer to fall asleep. If there was a person who was still awake after 20 minutes, the experiment would conclude for them.
Checking the results of the study, Dement concluded that there was a link between sleep latency in the study’s participants and their overall level of fatigue and sleepiness. While this discovery wasn’t a breakthrough confirmation that’d help people sleep easier, it still served as the pioneer sleep study that gave conclusive information about the link between the time it takes us to fall asleep and the level of sleepiness.
This was the first time that scientists knew with certainty that people will go to sleep depending on how exhausted or tired they are. Interestingly, sleep latency also gave life to another term in sleep health known as “sleep debt.” Sleep debt is another name for a piece of information in our brains that memorizes the amount of sleep we’ve had and how much it is owed to the brain for a person to feel fully rested and functioning. Scientists then found that the higher the sleep debt score the lower will be the sleep latency score. In other words, people who haven’t been getting enough rest in the previous days due to obligations or some other reason will have an easier time falling asleep.
The study found that some people who were sleep-deprived to the extremes fell asleep in less than one minute, meaning that their sleep latency score was between 0 and 1.
Both Derment’s study and other research endeavors that followed discovered that people fall asleep between 10 and 20 minutes on average. Some newer studies indicate that seven is the average number of minutes necessary for adults to fall asleep. The reason for that is that based on some EEG evidence, researchers found that alpha brain wave dominates after seven minutes and puts us in a state of being between being awake and being asleep. Researchers also stated that the state between being awake and asleep may also come with moderate hallucinations.
States And Levels of Sleep Latency
Above, we learned that different times within the sleep latency study show the level of restfulness or fatigue in people. Sleep latency can also tell us a lot about sleep hygiene and bedtime routines. In this section, we’ll talk about what time it takes you to fall asleep tells about your sleep health.
5 Minutes or Less
Falling asleep as soon as you lay to bed sounds perfect, but is it? If it takes you as little as 5 minutes to fall asleep, that indicates that you’re not getting enough sleep regularly and that in other words, you’re in sleep deficit.
As per the Sleep Latency study’s records, people who took as little as five minutes to fall asleep exhibited the signs of extreme fatigue and sleepiness. That also meant that their sleep debt was high. Keep in mind that sleep deprivation is not a good thing and that it can lead to daytime sleepiness and potential accidents.
You should also find the key behind your sleep deprivation. If you lack sleep due to work or stress, it’s time to introduce some stress-relieving lifestyle changes. On the other hand, if the culprit behind your sleep deprivation is depression, you should visit a doctor or a therapist that can help you treat your acute or chronic insomnia.
Between 5 and 20 Minutes
As we stated above, according to the Sleep Latency study, it takes a person between 10 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. That means that falling asleep anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes is considered normal and healthy.
That means that your bedtime routine is regular and that your sleep debt isn’t abnormally high. It is perfect timing because you’ll fall asleep relatively quickly, and still have enough time to let your body relax, and get used to the sleep environment. As we mentioned above, falling asleep too early indicates that you’re sleep-deprived and exhausted.
As per some scientists, the ideal time to fall asleep is between 15 and 20 minutes, but that time is different for everyone. In one study, researchers studied the right amount of sleep latency and how it affects sleep quality.
Between 20 and 45 Minutes
This is probably not what you’d have hoped for. However, falling asleep between 20 and 45 minutes isn’t any close to the ideal sleep latency. However, not everything is so grim, and the reason it takes you longer than the average to fall asleep can vary.
The good news is that you probably don’t have any sleep disorder. It can indicate that you go to sleep too early, that you spent a lot of time in front of electronics, ate a heavy meal, or enjoyed an alcoholic beverage. It can happy every once in a while, and the important bit is to start correcting it as soon as possible.
It can be as little as changing the sleep environment to be darker or quieter or making lifestyle changes like not exercising in the late evening, eating heavier meals, or using electronics.
Keep in mind that some people who are overtired, exhausted, or sleep-deprived may have difficulties falling asleep immediately. This usually happens to people who otherwise have normal sleep debt, but have stayed up over the past few nights due to work, exams, or a family gathering.
More Than 45 Minutes
Taking too long to fall asleep can be unnerving, especially if it takes nearly an hour. For most people, getting up after realizing they won’t fall asleep that easily turns out to be the remedy. Still, some people take longer to fall asleep, even after trying to tire themselves.
We’ve seen that the sleep latency test ends after 20 minutes, so taking over 45 minutes to fall asleep is an indicator of low sleep debt, or yet some sleep disorder that disrupts your natural sleep cycle. To be able to fall asleep easier, you should avoid electronics, or do something that will calm you down and cause your blood pressure and heart rate to lower. Another reason why you’re not able to fall asleep may be an extremely warm room ambient or bright and noisy environment.
Still, another reason it may take you so long to fall asleep could be because you already have a sufficient amount of sleep that soothes your brain and prepares it for day to day activities. Have you taken a nap in the afternoon that took more than 30 minutes? It’s possible that your afternoon nap that lasted too long decreased your sleep debt.
The Right Time to Fall Asleep
What to Do if You Can’t Fall Asleep?
As we said, every once in a while, you may have difficulties falling asleep. But what is the reason? Below, we presented a few reasons why it may take you too long to fall asleep.
- You went to bed too early.
- Your bedroom’s lights are on, or it’s loud
- Your room may be too hot or too cold.
- You already sleep too much
- You’re overly excited about an upcoming event.
- You exercised too late in the evening
- You ate a heavy meal before bed
- You had too much screen time on the phone, tablet, or laptop.
Trip and jetlag could also be the normal reason behind a delayed sleep latency, but don’t worry, your biological clock will get used to the change of environment and time zone, allowing you to sleep easier. To sum up, this article talks about the average times taking you to fall asleep. We also defined the terms of sleep latency and sleep debt.
If your sleep debt is high, you’ll likely fall asleep in less than five minutes after laying down in bed. That means that your sleep latency score is low. The ideal sleep latency score is between 10 and 20, meaning it takes you 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. Finally, if it takes you longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, likely, you’re not tired yet, you got distracted by daytime activities or that there’s an underlying sleep condition.