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Sleep Health

How Long Does It Take You to Fall Asleep?

    Last Updated
    December 7, 2022
    min read

    It may take you a few minutes before you drift off to sleep, or you may fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. Most adults fall asleep within 20 minutes of laying down. Although some people fall asleep faster or take longer. 

    The time it takes to fall asleep is called sleep latency, and people’s sleep latency generally falls within one of several ranges. Each period can indicate if you suffer from sleep deprivation or if you’re getting healthy, restful sleep.

    Check out our guide to learn more about sleep onset latency, the effects of sleep difficulties, and how you can form healthy sleep habits. These simple tips can help you enjoy sounder sleep at night.

    What Is Sleep Latency?

    Sleep onset latency, also known as sleep latency or SOL, is simply the time it takes for you to fall asleep. In other words, the time between full wakefulness to usually the lightest of the non-REM sleep stages. In an original set of sleep studies around sleep latency, the time it took participants to fall asleep was directly correlated to how sleep-deprived they were.

    The typical test used to measure sleep latency is the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), which is designed to measure how long it takes someone to fall asleep in a quiet environment. A physician might ask someone to go through an MSLT if they report excessive daytime sleepiness since it’s a good tool for diagnosing sleep disorders like sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and others.

    Sleep latency is directly related to sleep efficiency. If a person spends the majority of his/her time in bed actually asleep, that’s considered sleep efficient. A sleep efficiency score of 85% is normal, while anything above 90% is considered very good. If a person is able to fall asleep quickly, chances are a good night’s sleep will follow since the two sleep qualities go hand in hand.

    Sleep is divided into two main phases – the light sleep, non-rapid-eye-movement stages, and the REM stage. A person who falls asleep relatively quickly is more likely to move efficiently through all the stages of the sleep cycle. Your sleep latency will fall into one of four categories.

    How Long Does It Take to Fall Asleep? Onset Sleep Latency Decoded

    As it turns out, the time it takes you to fall asleep can tell you a lot about whether you’re getting enough restful and restorative sleep in general. 

    There’s a sweet spot when it comes to the time it takes you to fall asleep each night. You should go to sleep quickly after the lights go off, but not too quickly

    Our sleep is divided into specific stages: There’s REM sleep, where our dreaming occurs, and non-REM sleep, which takes us through three stages into our deepest sleep. Our level of sleep latency has a big influence over whether we’re able to stay asleep and move through all four stages of good sleep in a healthy sleep cycle throughout the night.

    Generally, it takes anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes for people to fall asleep. We will go into more detail for each time and what it may mean.

    Less Than 5 Minutes

    While it might seem ideal to go straight to sleep as soon as the lights are off, falling asleep in less than five minutes could actually mean that you’re in a sleep deficit. In sleep latency studies, this kind of sleep latency is coded as representing severe sleepiness or sleep debt. People who are in a state of sleep deprivation can experience both physical and mental fatigue and often fall asleep very quickly. In fact, they fall asleep much more quickly than those who aren’t experiencing a sleep deficit. Of all the factors that influence sleep latency, sleep debt may have the largest impact.

    If you find yourself falling asleep in less than five minutes, that may be a sign that you are sleep deficient and should try to get a little more sleep each night. How much sleep do you need? That varies from person to person. Try backing up your bedtime by 15 minutes a week until you’re at a point where you wake up more refreshed and better rested after consistently getting a good night’s sleep. That’s a great way to determine how many hours of sleep you need to feel your best.

    5-20 Minutes

    Sleep studies tend to code this level of sleep latency as normal sleepiness, so it indicates that you’re in a healthy range of sleep effectiveness and not in sleep debt. This is the sweet spot: It means falling asleep fairly quickly, so there’s no counting the minutes as you lie there awake, but you’re also not dropping off so immediately that it’s a sign from your body and brain that you’re exhausted. According to many sleep scientists, in fact, the ideal sleep latency time is between 15 and 20 minutes.

    20-45 Minutes

    This would be considered a moderate sleepiness level of sleep latency. While it’s not exactly in the ideal range for sleep latency, it doesn’t necessarily indicate a major sleep disorder, either. The important thing with this category is to be aware of it and when it shifts in either direction. Shorter or longer sleep latency may indicate issues with sleep debt or impending sleep deprivation.

    Over 45 Minutes

    If you’ve been in bed for more than 20 to 30 minutes without feeling sleepy, get up and do something else rather than lying there letting your brain churn. Do something quiet to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, such as listening to music, meditating, or reading a book. When you feel yourself getting sleepy, then go back to bed and try again to fall asleep.

    If you’re experiencing this category of sleep latency it may mean that you’re already sleeping too much and your body and brain simply aren’t ready to rest. It could also be a sign that you’re grappling with either transient or chronic insomnia. 

    It may be time to talk with your doctor about insomnia and identify additional treatment methods for how to fall asleep faster, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

    How Long Should It Take To Fall Asleep?

    It should take you five to 20 minutes to fall asleep. This sleep latency range is considered average, although everyone has different sleep needs and conditions. For example, some people may fall asleep in less than two minutes but wake up feeling refreshed and alert.

    While short sleep latency is often a warning flag of sleep debt and exhaustion, some people are simply lucky enough to drift off quickly. Try keeping a sleep diary so you can note how long it takes you to fall asleep and if this period affects your sleep quality.

    Why You Should Make Sleep A Priority

    You should make sleep a priority because insufficient, poor-quality sleep can affect your physical and mental health. Here are some benefits that you can experience when you work on improving your sleep quality and hours.

    • Better mental health: Sleep deprivation is linked to increased risk for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Getting more and better sleep may make it easier for you to manage stress and feel calmer during the day.
    • Improved attention span: Sleep deprivation has been found to impair attention, especially the ability to divide attention between multiple tasks. By getting better sleep, you may find it easier to focus and complete activities.
    • Better memory: Poor sleep interrupts memory consolidation, which can hamper your ability to learn and remember things effectively.
    • Reduced risk for certain diseases: Sleep deficiency is linked to a greater likelihood of developing diseases such as cardiac problemsdiabetes, and stroke. Getting enough good-quality hours of sleep may reduce the chances of getting these illnesses.
    • Lowered risk of injuries due to accidents: Studies have found that sleep deprivation can make people too drowsy and tired to focus, increasing their chances of workplace or motor vehicle accidents. Sleeping better will reduce the likelihood of getting into these incidents.

    Sleep Deprivation vs Sleep Deficiency

    Sleep deprivation is a condition where you don't get enough hours of sleep, while sleep deficiency is a broader concept that can be caused by several factors. Sleep deficiency occurs when you suffer from one or more of the following:

    • Insufficient hours of sleep (a.k.a. sleep deprivation)
    • Poor-quality sleep, despite the length of sleep time
    • Dependency on caffeine to stay alert, even during quiet moments like sitting in traffic or reading at home
    • A medical condition that leads to poor sleep quality or prevents you from getting enough hours of sleep
    • Falling asleep at hours outside your bedtime (e.g., during the day)

    For most adults, the recommended average hours of sleep is 7 to 8 hours a night. If you're sleeping for fewer hours than that, you're sleep-deprived and this can lead to sleep deficiency.

     However, don’t be complacent just because you’ve met that daily recommendation! If you sleep for at least 7 hours or even longer but still feel fatigued, this may still be a sign that you have a sleep deficiency.

    Suffering from sleep deficiency can make it difficult to focus or react, hampering your ability to get through daily routines. It can also be dangerous – a study found that overly sleepy people are 70% more likely to get into workplace accidents.

    In some cases, making changes to your sleep routine can improve your sleep duration and quality. But if you're still suffering from sleep deprivation after trying multiple methods, you may have an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed.

    The Subtle Signs Of Sleep Deficiency

    Worried that you're not getting enough sleep or that your sleep quality is bad? Here are some early signs that could indicate that you have a sleep deficiency problem:

    • Feelings of fatigue or physical weakness
    • Drowsiness, especially in the daytime
    • Moodiness and irritability
    • Difficulties with concentrating
    • Frequent yawning

    If you experience any of the early signs above, you may need to consult a healthcare provider and/or make changes to your bedtime routine.

    Over time, sleep deficiency may worsen and cause other mental and physical health problems. Studies have found that long-term sleep deficiency increases your risk for these conditions:

    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Obstructive sleep apnea
    • Heart conditions such as cardiac arrest
    • High blood pressure
    • Sudden and severe mood swings
    • Stroke
    • Asthma attacks

    How Can I Improve My Sleep Latency?

    You can improve sleep latency by establishing effective sleep hygiene practices. 

    If you’ve undergone an MSLT, you may already be working with your physician on ways to improve your sleep latency and sleep patterns. But if you’ve noticed that you’re not hitting that sweet spot of a 15-20-minute sleep latency time or have trouble falling asleep, there are a few things you can do to improve your sleep efficiency and fall asleep faster.

    Here are a few suggestions to get a restful night’s sleep:

    • Avoid blue light before bedtime.
    • Avoid both caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
    • Go to bed and wake up at a consistent time every day – even on weekends and holidays.
    • Make sure your bedroom is an ideal sleeping temperature.
    • Read, listen to music, or engage in another quiet, relaxing activity before you turn out the lights.

    These are just a few ways you can help prepare your mind and body for successful sleep.

    The Average Time It Takes to Fall Asleep

    The average healthy person takes around 10-20 minutes to fall asleep, but sleep latency naturally varies from person to person. If you fall asleep too quickly or not quickly enough, it can have a major effect on your overall sleep-wake cycle and the quality of sleep.

    For many sleepers, that magic moment when the lights go out can be the most blissful of the whole day. For others, the tossing and turning that follow lights-out may be a sign of insomnia. Talk with your doctor if you feel like your sleep latency is trying to warn you about deeper sleep problems.

     Otherwise, try a few of the suggestions here to modify your sleep schedule and sleep hygiene in order to find the sweet spot for the right kind of good sleep you need.

    Key Takeaways

    Sleep latency that's too short or too long can indicate serious problems with getting restful sleep. If you fall asleep too quickly, it may be a sign of sleep deprivation. If it takes you too long to sleep, this may be caused by jet lag, caffeine consumption, or health conditions that could need medical intervention

    How can you fix your sleep latency? Adjust your bedtime routine and make your sleep environment more relaxing. By improving your sleep hygiene, you can prevent sleep difficulties and avoid feeling sleepy in the morning.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Falling Asleep

    How long does it take to fall asleep when tired?

    It takes an average of 10 to 12 minutes to fall asleep when tired, according to several studies. However, the same study also said that this period, a.k.a. your sleep latency, may be prolonged as you get older.

    How can I fall asleep quickly?

    You can fall asleep quickly by improving your regular bedtime routine. There's no one-size-fits-all treatment that can help you fall asleep at a reasonable time, but following these simple suggestions could make a difference:

    • Put your electronic devices away before bedtime, as the blue light from your screens can block the production of melatonin and make it difficult for you to drift off.
    • Stick to a regular sleep schedule so your body can start adjusting to a reasonable bedtime hour. Set clear hours for when you should sleep and when you should be working or doing chores.
    • Avoid working in your bedroom.
    • Moderate your caffeine and alcohol intake, and avoid taking these before bedtime. Caffeine may make it harder to fall asleep. And while studies have shown that alcohol may make you fall asleep faster, it also disturbs your sleep cycle and duration.
    • Sleep in a cool, dark room.
    • Get regular exercise, but do your workouts no later than two hours before bedtime. Regular physical activity like light stretching has been linked to longer sleep duration and better sleep quality.

    If you continue to have trouble dozing off despite these tips, consult a healthcare provider. They can determine if you need therapy for insomnia.

    How long does it take an insomniac to fall asleep?

    It can take insomniacs anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep if they suffer from sleep-onset insomnia.


    About the authors

    Cecilia Gillen

    Cecilia brings over five years of writing experience primarily centered around lifestyle and health topics. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism from the University of South Dakota. She’s both an advocate for sleep and a night owl at heart.