How Long Should It Take to Fall Asleep?

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If you find yourself tossing and turning repeatedly after going to bed, you might wonder if you should be able to fall asleep within a specific amount of time. Most healthy adults fall asleep within 10 to 20 minutes after turning off the lights and lying down for the night. Falling asleep faster or slower than that range might indicate that something is affecting your sleep, such as an underlying sleep disorder, a health problem, or something you have consumed.

People are not always able to accurately estimate how long it takes them to fall asleep. Sleep specialists often measure how long it takes a person to fall asleep when they suspect an underlying problem, like insomnia or narcolepsy. Learn more about this aspect of sleep, what your falling asleep process might suggest about you, how to fall asleep faster, and when to see a doctor.

What Is Sleep Latency?

Sleep latency, also called sleep onset latency or latency to sleep onset, is a medical term used to describe the time it takes a person to fall asleep. Generally, clinicians and researchers begin measuring sleep latency when they turn out the lights and stop when an electroencephalography (EEG), or machine measuring brain waves, first shows signs of sleep.

Sleep latency is a measure recorded during polysomnography, or an overnight sleep study, and during the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), a daytime sleep test that occurs over a series of short naps. Doctors and researchers use sleep latency as one of many measures to help them determine if a person has a sleep disorder, such as insomnia, narcolepsy, or idiopathic hypersomnia, a disorder in which a person sleeps too much each day.

Can You Fall Asleep Too Quickly?

Many experts consider it abnormal when a person falls asleep in less than 10 minutes. Sometimes people fall asleep faster than usual because they are dealing with sleep deprivation or sleep debt, the accumulation of sleep deprivation over time. Taking sedatives, including alcohol, can also cause a person to fall asleep faster than usual. When a person is attaining adequate sleep each night and not taking sedatives, falling asleep too quickly may indicate an underlying sleep disorder.

Generally, medical professionals use eight minutes as a diagnostic criteria to decide if a person is falling asleep too fast. When doctors recommend taking a multiple sleep latency test with an overnight component, those who fall asleep in less than eight minutes on average during five consecutive naps may have excessive daytime sleepiness. If they go into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep within 15 minutes in at least two out of the five naps and the night before, they may have narcolepsy. Sleepers who fall asleep within eight minutes in naps but do not have narcolepsy might have idiopathic hypersomnia.

Why Does It Take Me So Long to Fall Asleep?

If you take longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, you might be experiencing insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or waking up earlier than you would like and being unable to fall back asleep. People with insomnia often also experience excessive daytime sleepiness. Experts suggest getting out of bed and engaging in other activity if you are not nearing sleep after lying down for 20 minutes.

Factors other than insomnia may cause you to have trouble falling asleep in a timely fashion. For example, ingesting caffeine even 6 hours before bedtime can disrupt your ability to sleep. Often, people turn to caffeine because they are sleep deprived, but the caffeine causes more sleep troubles, perpetuating the problem.

In some instances, mental health issues are at the root of a person's difficulty falling asleep. Both depression and anxiety can keep a person up at night. If worries or negative thoughts interfere with your ability to sleep, consider that a mood issue may be involved and consult with your doctor.

Tips for Falling Asleep More Quickly

If you are having trouble falling asleep, try these tips for improving your sleep hygiene:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Only use your bed for sleep and sex.
  • Reduce or eliminate daytime napping.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the hours near bedtime.
  • Engage in a relaxing routine as you prepare to sleep.
  • Get out of bed if you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes.

When to See a Doctor

If you continue to have trouble falling asleep after making sleep hygiene adjustments, consider seeing a doctor. Also, visit your doctor if you feel you are falling asleep too quickly and experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness despite attaining adequate sleep each night. Your doctor can ask questions, order tests, and help determine what is at the root of your sleep issues and how to properly treat the situation.

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