How long does it take to fall asleep?

Sabina Muminović Last updated: 27 October 2023

You’re lying in bed with your eyes closed, waiting for sleep to come. How long has it been? 5 minutes? 15? 30? It’s hard to tell. Waiting to fall asleep is a prime example of time being relative and it can be frustrating and stressful when it seems like it’s taking too long.

Let’s explore how long it should take you to fall asleep and what does it mean if it takes longer or if you fall asleep instantly. And if you want some tips on what to do if sleep just doesn’t come, we’ve got those too!

Let’s get started.

In this article

What’s the average time to fall asleep?
Do your genes impact how long it takes you to fall asleep?
How long does it take to fall into a deep sleep?
Is it possible to fall asleep instantly?
How long does it take an insomniac to fall asleep?
What to do if you can’t fall asleep?
Interested in your genetic predispositions for sleep latency, quality and duration?

What’s the average time to fall asleep?

The average time it takes most people to fall asleep at night is between 10 and 20 minutes. The time it takes us to fall asleep is known as sleep latency.

It takes most of us about 7 minutes to reach a state where alpha brain waves take over. That’s the in-between state when you’re not really sleeping yet, but you are also not really awake anymore. It’s dreamlike and hazy, and it sometimes even comes with mild hallucinations.

We stay in this state for a few minutes before theta brain waves take over and we transition into the first phase of light sleep.

Sometimes it might take longer to fall asleep, especially if you’re worried about something or had an exciting or unusual event in your life. Sometimes you might fall asleep instantaneously – especially after an exhausting day or a rough night the day before.

This is perfectly normal as long as it’s not happening on a regular basis. If it is, there might be underlying issues or a sleep disorder to consider. We’ll talk about them a bit later.

How long does it take to fall asleep?

Now let’s see if your genes have any impact on your sleep latency.

Do your genes impact how long it takes you to fall asleep?

Heritability of sleep latency has been estimated at 17–44%, so your genes do play quite a big role when you lie down in bed at night.

Research has shown that sleep latency is a highly complex trait involving many genes and their interactions with environmental factors. The latter include gender, age, stimulant intake, dietary intake, sedentary lifestyle, and illnesses, such as depression.

There are 3 “main” genes that can have an effect on sleep latency.

1. The ARNTL2 gene affects the circadian clock. The circadian clock is an internal time management system. It regulates various physiological processes by generating approximately 24-hour circadian rhythms in gene expression, which are converted into rhythms in metabolism and behaviour. By affecting the molecular clock, the gene plays a role in regulating sleep timing. It has been shown that carriers of the CC genotype of the rs922270 polymorphism within the ARNTL2 gene had a lower sleep latency, thus taking a shorter time to fall asleep compared to carriers of the TC or TT genotypes.

2. The CACNA1C gene has a known association with bipolar disorder, narcolepsy, sleep quality, and sleep latency. Carriers of the rare GG genotype had a shorter sleep latency, taking a shorter time to fall asleep compared to CG or CC genotype carriers.

3. The RBFOX3 gene is involved in the release cycle of neurotransmitters including GABA, and various monoamines that are core to the human circadian clock and are also associated with sleep latency.

If you want to learn more about your genetic predispositions for sleep latency, quality, duration and more, follow the link at the end of the article.

How long does it take to fall into a deep sleep?

Deep sleep is arguably the most important stage as it is crucial for physical renewal, hormonal regulation and growth. Without enough deep sleep, you’ll experience sleep deprivation and will be more likely to get sick and feel depressed.

Let’s go through a typical sleep cycle to see how long each stage of sleep lasts.

Duration of a sleep cycle

Stage 1: Your eyes are closed, but it’s still easy to wake up. Your body functions begin to slow, your muscles relax and your brain waves start to slow down from their wakeful state. This stage lasts from 5 to 10 minutes.

Stage 2: You are in light sleep. Your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. Your body is getting ready for deep sleep. This can last for 10 to 25 minutes.

Stage 3: This is the deep sleep stage. It’s harder to wake up during this stage, and if you do, you feel disoriented for a few minutes. Your heartbeat and breathing are at their slowest as your muscles relax and your brain waves become the slowest they’ll be while you’re asleep.

The first stage of deep sleep lasts anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. It lasts for longer periods in the first half of the night and becomes shorter with each sleep cycle.

Stage 4: This is when REM sleep occurs. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side, you experience dreaming as your brain activity increases to a more wakeful state, your heart rate increases to near its wakeful state and your breathing becomes faster.

The first REM phase lasts for about 10 minutes and each following REM phase gets longer.

Is it possible to fall asleep instantly?

Yes, there might be days when you go straight to sleep as soon as you lie down. Although this might seem ideal to anyone that dislikes waiting for sleep to come, it could actually be a sign of sleep deprivation.

Your body needs a certain amount of sleep each night and your brain is actually keeping track of how many hours of sleep you got and how much sleep it is “owed”. If you often sleep less than what you require (6 to 9 hours, depending on each individual) you’ll acquire sleep debt. The greater the debt, the lower the sleep latency. If you usually fall asleep in less than 5 minutes it means you’re sleep-deprived and if you fall asleep in less than 1 minute it means you’re severely sleep-deprived.

Sleep deprivation can lead to chronic fatigue and health conditions like high blood pressure and stress, as well as a weaker immune system. Make sure you get enough sleep and pay attention to how fast you fall asleep!

You should also observe other possible signs of sleep deficiency when you’re falling asleep too quickly:
• Quiet moments make you sleepy. You catch yourself napping as soon as you start reading a book or riding a bus.
• You can’t focus. You struggle to concentrate or remember things. You might make more mistakes and have trouble making decisions.
• Your emotions are intense and you experience sudden mood changes. Emotional control is one of the first things to go when you’re not getting the rest you need.
• You are a little too attached to coffee. You consume too much caffeine in order to mask the signs of sleep deficiency.

If you notice the above signs, try extending your nightly sleep by 15 minutes on a weekly basis until you see improvements.

How long does it take an insomniac to fall asleep?

It generally takes people suffering from insomnia more than 45 minutes to fall asleep.

If you’re experiencing this kind of sleep latency it may also mean that you’re sleeping too much and your body and brain simply aren’t ready to rest. If you know that’s not the case, it’s probably a sign that you’re grappling with either transient or chronic insomnia.

It’s incredibly frustrating when you have trouble falling asleep. However, 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.

Research shows that when you lie awake in bed for too long, your brain will soon create an unhealthy mental connection between your sleeping environment and wakefulness.

Instead, 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.

There are also other things you can try listed below.

If nothing helps and you just can’t fall asleep, talk with your doctor about insomnia.

What to do if you can’t fall asleep?

Before you start looking for some big underlying issue, ask yourself these fundamental questions about sleep hygiene:

• Is your bedroom sufficiently dark?
• Is your bedroom sufficiently quiet?
• Is your bedroom sufficiently cool?
• Has it been at least 3 hours since you drank alcohol or ate a large meal?
• Has it been at least 10 hours since you had caffeine?
• Has it been at least 1 hour since you spent time looking at a screen (phone, TV, computer, tablet)?

If you answered no to any of these questions, this might be the problem. Tweak your sleep habits until you answer “yes” to all questions and see if that helps you fall asleep faster.
However, this is not always the case! For example, some people just aren’t affected by caffeine. If you’re one of them, make sure to learn why. 

If you’ve got all of the above sleep hygiene principles in order and still can’t seem to fall asleep, don’t give up just yet. There are some other things you might want to try.

Young man having problems trying to fall asleep

Establish a relaxing bedtime ritual

Modern, hectic lifestyle and stress may have a profound effect on sleep.

Take some time for yourself and establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a bath or listening to music. Research has shown that taking a warm bath 90 minutes before bed improved sleep quality and helped to get more deep sleep. Drinking herbal tea, especially valerian or lavender, or practising meditation also helps with restorative, healthy sleep.

Put away electronics
We said it before, but it’s so important we’ll say it again – using electronic devices disrupts your circadian rhythm, mostly due to radiated artificial blue light. Studies have shown that blue light suppresses the hormone melatonin, making us less sleepy.

Stay away from electronics, especially your smartphone, before bedtime as early as possible. Even 30 minutes before bedtime will help, but remember that the sooner the better. Reading a book is a much better alternative to relax before bedtime. It is also recommended to use warm, low-level, dim lighting in the evening.

Start a sleep diary
Lying in bed and worrying can cause anxiety and stress, which can lead to negative emotions and sleep problems.

Research has shown that writing a sleep diary before going to bed reduces anxiety and stress, extends sleep time, and improves sleep quality. A sleep diary can also help you identify trends that could disrupt your night’s rest. A study has shown that writing a to-do list, even if only for 5 minutes, also helped young adults fall asleep faster.

The principle is simple – put your worries and tasks on paper so that you don’t have to think about them before you fall asleep.

Establish a regular sleep schedule
A consistent sleep schedule can aid long-term sleep quality. To sleep better at night and reduce daytime sleepiness, try to maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Try to keep your normal sleep schedule on weekends as well. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep-wake rhythm.

Regular exercise
Regular physical activity, particularly aerobic exercise, is crucial for your health as well as for the quality of your sleep. It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia.

However, try to avoid exercising just a few hours before bedtime. Although daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems. This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and levels of hormones such as adrenaline.

Visualize a peaceful place
Research has shown that study participants were able to fall asleep faster after they were instructed to use an imagery distraction.

It is recommended to visualize a place that makes you feel peaceful, relaxed, and happy. A place that will take your mind away from worries and concerns during the pre-sleep time.

Expose yourself to bright light during the day
Research has shown that daily sunlight or artificial bright light can improve sleep quality and duration, especially if you have severe sleep issues or insomnia.

It is therefore recommended to go for a 30-minute walk or run every day. If you must stay indoors during the day, keep the curtains or shades open to let the daylight in.

Doing everything right, sleeping well, but still can’t seem to wake yourself up? Feeling sleepy during the day even though your sleep is great? Learn 19 quick and long-term tips on waking yourself up. 

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Interested in your genetic predispositions for sleep latency, quality, and duration?

Now you know a bit more about sleep latency and what it can mean.

If you’re still curious and want to explore your genetic predispositions for sleep latency as well as sleep quality and duration we recommend GenePlanet’s MyLifestyle DNA test. It contains more than 70 analyses that cover all key areas of your lifestyle: sports, nutrition, stress, and sleep.

It also comes with personalised recommendations depending on your results and it will certainly help you to know yourself better.


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