It’s normal to take ten to 20 minutes to fall asleep at night.
If it takes you more time, you may be struggling with what’s called sleep onset insomnia. Sleep onset describes the transition from wakefulness to sleep and this phrase is just a fancy way of saying there’s a big load of worry keeping you from powering down: either your brain won’t turn off, you had too much caffeine, your internal clock is out of whack for whatever reason – or all of the above.
I think I’m down for the count pretty quickly.
If you routinely fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, then, you’re likely not getting enough sleep. Or your body may be trying to let you know that you're coming down with, or still recovering from, some kind of bug.
But here’s the thing: You might think you’re out before your head hits the pillow, or that sleep is so elusive you’re awake for hours. The truth is, you probably have no idea how long it takes you to fall asleep. Humans are notoriously unreliable on this point. We're also terrible judges of how much sleep they get at night.
Yep. It’s not uncommon to think you’re awake when, in fact, you’re actually asleep. Sleep studies have revealed that people often have great difficulty accurately estimating how long it takes them to fall asleep, or how much time they’re awake during the night. This is especially true of those with insomnia.
The phenomenon even has a name: paradoxical insomnia, or sleep state misperception.
I would I figure out how long it takes me?
Well, let’s see, you could ask a bed partner to stay awake and watch you till you fall asleep, then note it in a sleep diary. But that probably wouldn’t sit well with the partner, who’s as eager to get their hard eight (or seven, or six) as you.
Or you could enlist the help of a sleep tracker. While not entirely accurate at tracking sleep phases, these devices work by detecting and analyzing muscle movement during the night normally provide a good indication of when you nodded off.
Sleep apps, the kind you install on your smart phone, work in a similar fashion. But instead of wearing your iPhone to bed, you simply place it on your mattress while you sleep.
Neither option is perfect, but at least you won’t be antagonizing your bedmate.
What if I don’t fall within the normal range?
Everyone goes though periods of being stressed out and staring at the ceiling, but if you feel like you’re tossing and turning for hours on end each night, you may need to re-think your bedtime routine and/or talk to a professional. If the problem truly is chronic it should be addressed.
You’ll be interested to know that sometimes a sleep study can surprise. You may go to see your doc, complaining that you can’t fall asleep, or you sleep poorly, but when the doctor actually measures your sleep, it’s nowhere near as bad as you think. Says one clinical and health psychologist: “It’s almost as if you’re lying.”