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How Long Should It Typically Take to Fall Asleep?

Here’s what it means if you fall asleep too quickly or slowly.

By Michelle KonstantinovskyMarch 12, 2024


Striking a balance with sleep can be tricky: You want to keep your bedroom cool, but not too cool. You want to get as much light as you can during the day, but avoid the blue kind too close to bedtime. And, as it turns out, you want to fall asleep relatively quickly, but not so fast you pass out as soon as your head hits the pillow. 

That last quest for finding the just-right fit speaks to something called “sleep latency” and can actually be a big hint into your overall wellness routine. How long does it typically take to fall asleep? Your answer could reveal a lot about the quality of your rest. Here’s what it means if you fall asleep too quickly or slowly, and how to ensure you find a happy medium when it comes to drifting off to dreamland.

How Long Does It Take to Fall Asleep? 

“Time to fall asleep is known as ‘sleep latency’ and it can range from 10–20 minutes on average in adults,” says Funke Afolabi-Brown, MD, a triple-board-certified sleep medicine physician and founder of Restful Sleep MD. “Sleep latency is that period between being awake after lights out and the onset of actual sleep.”

According to Dr. Brown, a variety of factors influence sleep latency. For instance, children tend to fall asleep faster than adults, making age an important variable to consider. Other factors like sleep environment, stimulant intake, stress, anxiety, pain, or discomfort can all affect how long it takes a person to drift off. “And there are some individual differences,” Dr. Brown adds. “Some people just tend to fall asleep faster than others.”

Michael A. Grandner, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and director of both the university’s Sleep & Health Research Program and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic, says that some people may naturally nod off in under 10 minutes, but anything much faster than that could be a red flag. “If you are falling asleep in less than five minutes, it might be a sign that you are a little sleep-deprived and that you maybe waited a little too long to go to bed,” he says. “If it takes you over a half hour to fall asleep on a regular basis, that may indicate an insomnia condition.”

What Does It Mean If Your Sleep Latency Changes? 

Just about everyone experiences occasional ups and downs in their sleep quantity and quality. Everything from a demanding work week to travel-induced jet lag can throw your sleep schedule off-kilter, so a random change in your sleep latency typically isn’t cause for concern. But if you start to notice a pattern, you might want to see a doctor to investigate the issue.

“Occasional variations in sleep onset are completely normal because routines, stress, or environmental factors can play a role in this,” Dr. Brown says. “If these deviations become more frequent, sleep onset seems to be getting longer, and there is an impact on daily function, it is probably time to reach out for help.”

Dr. Brown says that some of the most common factors affecting sleep onset are stress, anxiety, a less-than-optimal bedroom environment (think: too hot or too noisy), and exposure to blue light or screens before bed. Additionally, consuming caffeine or other stimulants as well as eating too late at night can also delay sleep onset.

What It May Mean If You Take Too Long to Fall Asleep

While all the factors mentioned above can contribute to the occasional bout of short or long sleep latency, some more serious issues can result in regular patterns of falling asleep too quickly or slowly.

According to Grandner, taking too long to fall asleep (i.e. over 30 minutes) night after night could be a sign of a sleep disorder. “People who take a long time to fall asleep at least three nights per week can be diagnosed with an insomnia disorder if it leads to daytime problems and has persisted for at least three months,” he says. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can not only make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, but it can also result in waking up too early and being unable to fall back asleep. 

“Once you have an insomnia disorder, sleep tips, supplements, or other strategies may not be enough and you may require treatment from a health professional,” Grandner says. “The recommended treatment for insomnia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI), which works as well as or better than medications much of the time.” 

In addition to insomnia, Dr. Brown notes that two other major sleep disorders may be responsible for extra long sleep latency: delayed sleep phase and restless leg syndrome (RSL). “Delayed sleep phase is a circadian rhythm disorder where a person’s natural sleep-wake cycle is shifted much later [from typical patterns]. These people struggle with falling asleep at a conventional time, as well as waking up early,” she says. “Restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder with uncomfortable sensations in the legs, often relieved by movement. The urge to move the legs can make it difficult for individuals with RLS to settle down and fall asleep.” 

Both of these conditions also typically require professional treatment and/or lifestyle modifications, which may range from supplements and light therapy to prescription medications and diet modifications. In both cases, a consistent exercise schedule may also help—yet another reason to start stacking some Peloton classes (more on that in a bit).

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What It May Mean If You Fall Asleep Too Quickly

On the flip side, people who regularly fall asleep too fast (in under five minutes), tend to be overtired and in desperate need of rest. “Perhaps you stayed awake too long or are a bit sleep deprived, or you’re experiencing poor sleep quality due to sleep apnea or another medical condition,” Grandner says. “Either way, falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow is like finishing a whole plate of food as soon as you sit down to eat—why were you so hungry?”

While it may initially feel satisfying to start snoozing the second you snuggle under the covers, it’s worth exploring the root cause of your exhaustion, whether it’s physical, mental, or medical. “Short sleep latency can occur in the setting of sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, or in conditions like narcolepsy (typically characterized by an irresistible urge to sleep despite getting sufficient sleep),” Dr. Brown says. 

If you’re consistently falling asleep within a few minutes, you may want to take stock of your sleep schedule, bedroom environment, and other factors that could be impacting the quantity and quality of your rest time. And if you’re experiencing severe sleepiness during the day that’s impacting your ability to perform at work or maintain relationships, consider seeing a specialist to rule out a disorder like narcolepsy or to receive appropriate treatment.

“If you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, consider getting a little more sleep if you are sleep deprived,” Grandner says. “Or, if you think you are getting enough sleep but are still very tired, speak to a sleep specialist to find out whether or not you have a sleep disorder that is making your sleep shallow and unrestful. If you are taking a long time to fall asleep and it bothers you, know that supplements and tips may or may not help, and medications are not your only other option. Non-medication strategies exist and I suggest you reach out to an actual sleep specialist.”

Tips for Falling Asleep in a Healthy Window of Time

You may not always be able to control your schedule or clock the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but there are some ways you can optimize your general sleep patterns and keep your sleep latency in a healthy range.

Set a Consistent Sleep-Wake Schedule

Even if your daytime agenda varies day to day, it’s important to stick to a somewhat regular routine when it comes to sleep. That means you should decide on the same seven- to nine-hour window each night that you’ll dedicate to shut-eye. Do your best to abide by it, even if it means fixing your sleep schedule.

Have a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Whether it’s a bath, a book, or a calming Peloton sleep meditation, find some soothing habits that help you unwind and cue your body that it’s bedtime.

Use Your Bed Only for Sleep and Bed Activities

While it may be tempting to call into that early Zoom meeting from the comfiest place possible, try to keep non-bed-appropriate activities out of the sack. By protecting your bedroom as a stress-free space, you help your brain make relaxing, calming associations with the environment, which can help you get to sleep when you need to.

Limit Caffeine Intake and Stimulant Use Several Hours Before Bed

You may love your afternoon latte, but considering the fact that caffeine has a half-life of five hours, you may want to avoid it (and other stimulating substances) after lunchtime.

Address Any Underlying Stress and Anxiety

Yes, this is easier said than done, but it’s important to carve out time in your day to breathe, meditate, or otherwise calm your nervous system. If there are deeper issues to explore, consider meeting with a therapist or seeking additional support.

Spend Time Outdoors In the Morning and Limit Exposure to Blue Light In the Evening

While it can be beneficial to your sleep quality and duration to absorb some natural light rays early in the day, the blue light emitted from tech devices is notorious for decreasing the release of the sleep hormone melatonin at night and can prolong sleep onset. To avoid this disruption and get your natural rhythm back on track, try taking an outdoor walk early in the day, and putting your phone away an hour before bed. 

Squeeze In Physical Activity During the Day

There are a million reasons to prioritize physical activity in your life, but one of those reasons is the fact that exercise can increase your sleep drive, helping you fall asleep faster and achieve a more restful state. Moderate aerobic exercise has been shown to increase the amount of slow wave (or deep) sleep you get, which is when your brain and body do most of their recharging.

Of course, that last point is especially relevant to Peloton Members who may be wondering which classes to stack for optimal sleep latency. If you’re struggling to snooze in a timely manner, Dr. Brown suggests scheduling any high-energy workouts in the AM and sticking to more chill routines as the day winds down. “Avoid moderate to very strenuous activity too close to bedtime as that can make it hard to fall asleep,” she says. “You can still do stretches, yoga, and low-intensity exercise, but save the cardio for earlier in the day.”

The Takeaway

Sleep is an essential part of everyone’s wellness routine, and how long it takes to fall asleep can offer hints about what your body needs to function and recover properly. 

For many, incorporating these expert tips into their daily lives will be enough to help them get quality sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the day throws at them. 

However, both Grandner and Dr. Brown agree that if it’s taking you longer than half an hour to fall asleep or you’re questioning whether your sleep is negatively affecting your daytime routine, it’s time to seek professional help. To find an expert in CBTI, Grandner recommends checking out the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, and to find a medical sleep doctor, visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at least three nights per week, or you are falling asleep immediately because your sleep quality is poor, definitely reach out to a sleep expert to see if you have a fixable sleep disorder,” Grandner says.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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