Sleeping: How Long It Takes To Fall Asleep Reveals A Lot And Other Info
When your head hits the pillow after a long, hard day, the last thing you want to do is toss and turn for the next half hour. On the other hand, falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow could mean sleeping for a couple of hours and staying awake for most of the night.
Getting the correct amount of sleep each night can be challenging, and it becomes obvious if you lose the challenge. You may have puffy or red eyes with dark circles under them in the morning. You may also feel tired during the day and wish you could go back to bed.
The time it takes for you to fall asleep is clinically called “sleep latency.” According to the Sleep Foundation, most adults with healthy sleep patterns take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep on a typical night.
However, Kristen Casey, a licensed clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist, told HuffPost that “people are complex, so we may have more issues that stop us from falling asleep soundly that are likely out of our control.” For example, it may take people with health conditions 30 or 40 minutes to go to sleep, she said. And, sometimes, medications for health conditions can interfere with a person’s sleeping patterns.
Sleep experts say your body is revealing information to you, whether your sleep latency is a short time or longer. For instance, falling asleep quickly could be signs that:
• You are exhausted from overwork, burnout, or not spending enough time recovering and resting.
• You are sleeping, but the sleep that you’re getting is “junk sleep,” or sleep that’s not long enough or high-quality enough to nourish your brain and body.
• You may be experiencing sleep apnea, which occurs when your upper airway becomes blocked often while you sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow.
• You may be struggling with a mental health condition, like stress, anxiety, or depression.
Almost every mental illness often starts with difficulty falling asleep, Dr. Dave Rabin, a neuroscientist and board-certified psychiatrist, told HuffPost.
“This doesn’t mean if you have difficulty falling asleep, you have mental illness, but it does mean that the body is struggling with something that is making it feel unsafe or unable to settle down enough to be able to be vulnerable to enter sleep states—deep sleep states in particular.” Dr. Rabin is also co-founder and chief innovation officer at Apollo Neuroscience, which developed wearable technology designed to improve sleep.
There are also a variety of reasons why it takes a long time for you to fall asleep. Some of the top five reasons include:
1. Eating and Drinking Too Late
According to Dr. Ralph Cardin and Dr. Heather Cardin of the Cardin Center for Wellness in Kansas City, sleep time starts four hours after your last meal, about the same time that the nervous system takes to complete digestion. The Cardins recommend eating early, drinking less liquids (including water) after 6:00 p.m., and avoiding alcohol.
2. Not Eating Enough
People who are watching their weight monitor their intake of complex carbohydrates. Studies, however, have found that eating no or low carbs at dinner impacts how well you sleep. “If someone eats a salad for dinner, they may be left unsettled and possibly hungry before bed,” Mandi Neubecker-Phillips, a certified Pilates teacher, personal trainer, and reiki practitioner based in Brooklyn, NY, told Food Network. The body slowly breaks down complex carbs, which means you do not feel hungry, and your sugar blood levels are more stable. Filling up with root vegetables like parsnips, beets, and sweet potatoes, along with healthy carbs like quinoa, can stabilize your energy and mood, Neubecker-Phillips said.
3. Thinking Too Much
If there’s one time when worries flood your mind, it’s when you’re trying to go to sleep. When your mind races with worry and other thoughts, it can trigger emotions such as anger, anxiety, and sadness. Casey recommends a technique called “worry time,” which involves setting aside about 10 minutes and telling yourself that you are only allowed to worry for that period of time. One way to get your mind to wind down is to listen to soothing music or writing in a journal. Neubecker-Phillips offers a simple visualization exercise in which you imagine cutting a cord from the events, people, and places of the day.
4. Keeping the Lights On
Blue light that comes from a computer screen, a television screen, and other electronics, along with artificial household lighting, can suppress the release of melatonin, a natural hormone the body produces in the evening with darkness. Melatonin promotes sleep and is important to the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
5. Working Out
“Exercise is a form of stress that can elevate stress hormones, making it harder to chill out post-workout,” Neubecker-Phillips says. Exercising also raises your core body temperature, which is not what you want before going to sleep, according to Dr. Amy Shah, a Harvard-trained medical doctor. Being overheated can disrupt your sleep. Dr. Shah says that cool temperatures of 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit that are close to your own internal body temperature are the best for sleeping.
Sleep experts agree that if you are having trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor, who can provide a treatment specific to your needs. For instance, Casey said it’s likely that people who fall asleep too quickly because they are exercising too much and work a 12-hour day have a very high need for sleep. For these patients, Casey said treatment might look like carving out more time to sleep, adjusting their exercise regimen, how much they exert themselves, and getting lab work done at the doctor to cover all the bases.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults get more than seven hours of sleep each night. Worrying over not getting the recommended amount of sleep can lengthen sleep latency even further.
In a column for NBC’s Make It, Dr. Shah says she reminds people that “we all have busy lives, so it’s not worth stressing if you can’t get a full seven hours every night. Plus, each person is different. My advice is to let your body tell you how much sleep you need.”