Don’t look at my phone, don’t look at my phone… OK, I’ll just take a little peak. Oh my God, it’s been 40 minutes and I’m still not asleep!
Sound familiar? Whether you’re dealing with ‘coronasomnia’ or waking up at 3 a.m., the fact is that many of us are getting poor quality sleep these days. And for some of us, that means not even being able to nod off to begin with. That’s why we tapped the experts to ask how long does it take to fall asleep, plus get their tips for how to obtain that sweet, sweet slumber.
So, how long should it take you to fall asleep?
The amount of time required to fall asleep is known as SOL or sleep onset latency. “Generally, a normal sleep latency is somewhere between five to 20 minutes,” says Dr. W. Chris Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It.
“The main idea here is that falling asleep instantaneously is not necessarily healthy and that taking a little bit to fall asleep is perfectly fine,” he adds.
Wait, is it bad if it takes you less than five minutes to fall asleep?
Not necessarily, but it could be a sign of sleep deprivation. “Really short times to fall asleep (i.e., less than five minutes) often suggest significant sleepiness or sleep debt from insufficient sleep on prior nights,” Dr. Alex Dimitriu, MD from Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine tells us.
Other signs that you’re sleep deprived include fatigue, irritability, mood changes, difficulty focusing, a weakened immune system and a reduced sex drive.
If you’re lying in bed and struggling to fall asleep, when should you just give up and try something else?
Dr. Dimitriu usually tells his patients to spend 20 minutes trying to fall asleep. “Clock watching is bad, as is getting stressed out about not sleeping in bed,” he explains. After about 20 minutes of not being able to fall asleep, you should get out of bed and do something relaxing like reading in a dimly lit room. When you feel sleepy, get back into bed and try it again.
For Dr. Winter, it’s less about a specific time limit and more about how you feel. “I think that regardless of time, as soon as frustration, annoyance, anger sets in, it’s time to get out and watch the next episode of Bridgerton,” he advises. (Hey, you don’t have to tell us twice.)
Top Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep, According to the Pros
1. Keep a consistent bed and wake time
In order for your body to get onboard with a healthy sleep routine, you have to be consistent with the time you wake up and go to sleep every day—yep, even on weekends (sorry).
Big surprise to no one—working up a sweat on the reg is good news for sleep quality. But don’t take it from us, take it from the pros: Moderate-to-vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality by reducing sleep onset (i.e., the time it takes you to fall asleep) and decreasing the amount of time you lie awake in bed throughout the night, says the Sleep Foundation.
3. Embrace being in bed awake
Whenever Dr. Winter finds himself lying awake in bed at night, he doesn’t let it bother or frustrate him. “It’s kinda great,” he says. And he has a point—the more stressed out you get about being awake, the harder it will be to actually fall asleep. So, instead of freaking out that you’re lying in bed and can’t fall asleep (cue the anxiety), take a breath and tell yourself that it’s totally fine to lie there for a little bit.
“Meditation is a significant aid to falling asleep,” says Dr. Dimitriu. “I recommend patients practice meditating by day and continue to do so by night when they cannot fall asleep. Spending 10 minutes per day in the practice of acknowledging thoughts, and returning to the silence or the breath, can have significant benefits for insomnia and sleep quality.”
5. Keep your bedroom cool
Dr. Dimitriu suggests lowering the temperature in your room (think 65 to 68 degrees). Why? Because your body needs to drop its temperature in order to nod off.
6. Turn off the screens
The light from electronic devices (like your smartphone or your laptop) suppresses your natural production of melatonin, aka the sleep hormone. With that in mind, try to disconnect for at least 30 minutes before going to bed. But you knew this one already, right?
In general, it should take you between five and 20 minutes to fall asleep. If it’s taking you longer—or shorter—than that, take a look at your sleep hygiene to see if you need to embrace some healthier habits (check out the tips above for some ideas). But if you experience difficulty falling asleep regularly, be sure to bring it up with your doctor.