How Long Should It Take To Fall Asleep? Exploring Insomnia

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated July 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Sleep disruptions can seriously impact your mental health

Sleep is a necessary function that helps us rest, heal, and perform at our best. Consistent sleep routines can be vital to our efforts to care for our mental and physical health. Sleep disruptions, then, can have a significant impact on our lives. 

Trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently throughout the night, and other struggles can keep you from getting the rest you need—and they may signal the existence of a sleep disorder. But how do you know whether you’re living with a condition like insomnia? Understanding how long it should take you to get to sleep and being aware of the signs of insomnia can help you address its symptoms and get restful, restorative sleep more consistently. 

This article provides an overview of how long it takes most people to fall asleep, how issues like sleep apnea can impact falling asleep, and the symptoms of insomnia. We’ll also discuss how to navigate sleep disorders like insomnia and steps you can take to improve your mental health, sleep, and circadian rhythm. 

How long should it take to fall asleep?

It takes an average of 5-20 minutes for adults to fall asleep once they lie down in bed. Falling asleep faster or slower than this does not necessarily mean your sleep schedule is unhealthy, but it could be a sign of an underlying concern.

If you fall asleep quickly, it may mean you are not sleeping enough. On the other hand, if your sleep latency— the time it takes you to fall asleep— is an hour or longer, this could be a sign that you are sleeping too much or struggling with insomnia.

iStock/fizkes

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterized by trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. It is estimated that 10% of adults live with chronic insomnia, and 20% experience occasional symptoms of insomnia. To be diagnosed with insomnia disorder, you typically must experience sleep disruptions a minimum of three nights a week over at least three months. If you believe you’re living with insomnia or another sleep disorder, a healthcare professional can examine your symptoms and determine whether further testing and treatment is necessary. 

The symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Trouble initiating sleep

  • Waking up frequently

  • Difficulty falling back asleep after waking up

  • Waking up early in the morning

  • Excessive drowsiness

  • Trouble concentrating

Common causes of insomnia include stress, caffeine or alcohol consumption, and a changing schedule (e.g., experiencing jet lag after a long flight or starting a job that requires shift work at night). Your environment may also play a role in the quality of your sleep—excessive noise or light, an uncomfortable bed, or a room temperature that is too high or low may make it harder for you to get to sleep and stay asleep.

The impact of sleep deprivation

Because quality sleep plays a key role in our ability to function, the sleep deprivation associated with insomnia can lead to challenges related to your career, relationships, and overall quality of life. However, sleep deprivation may also occur due to stress and other physical or mental health challenges. People who fall asleep fast, within five minutes, regularly may be experiencing sleep deprivation. 

The consistent lack of a good night’s sleep is associated with various mental health concerns, including conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not getting enough sleep may affect various aspects of physical health, including the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous system. In some cases, it may increase the risk of or worsen conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic pain. 

Sleep debt is an important idea that ties directly into the consequences of ongoing sleep deprivation. It accumulates when we consistently fail to get enough rest, which can decrease our mental sharpness and overall sleep health.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Getty/AnnaStills
Sleep disruptions can seriously impact your mental health

Other sleep disorders

Sleep disorders encompass a range of conditions that can greatly affect a person’s ability to get enough sleep, affecting overall sleep quality and health. These disorders can lead to lying awake for long periods before finally drifting off, or they may disrupt the sleep cycle, preventing individuals from reaching deep sleep. 

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: Characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep due to airway obstruction, leading to poor sleep quality and potential health risks. 

  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): Causes an irresistible urge to move the legs, often interfering with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

  • Shift work sleep disorder: Affects individuals who work non-traditional hours, disrupting their sleep cycle and leading to insufficient rest. 

  • Narcolepsy: A chronic disorder marked by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep, regardless of having adequate rest. 

These are just some examples of sleep disorders. If you find it difficult to feel rested or need more sleep after waking up, you may want to seek help from a sleep specialist who can help improve your understanding of sleep and what may be causing problems. You can also make lifestyle changes that may help manage symptoms of sleep disorders. 

How to manage insomnia and other sleep disorders

There are several strategies that you can implement in order to help you overcome sleep disorders and manage their often-challenging impacts. These strategies can range from fixing poor sleep hygiene to managing stress. Depending on your specific challenges, some of the following techniques may work better than others.  

Lifestyle changes

Small alterations to your everyday routine can make a significant difference in the quality of your sleep. Reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake, particularly just before bed, can help you avoid sleep disruptions. Incorporating physical activity into your day can also help promote sleep by reducing stress and anxiety. (It’s important to note that exercising just before bed can also make it harder to fall asleep.) If it takes you more than 20 minutes to fall asleep at night, try to limit napping during the day as well. While a short nap of 15-20 minutes can be restorative, longer naps may make it harder for you to get to sleep at night.  

Stress management

The physical symptoms and mental and emotional challenges that often accompany stress make it a primary contributor to insomnia. According to an American Psychological Association survey, approximately 43% of adults in the US experience sleep disruptions caused by stress. There is thought to be a bidirectional relationship between sleep and stress, meaning a lack of sleep can lead to increased stress, and higher stress levels can cause or worsen sleep disruptions.

If your insomnia symptoms are related to stress, consider utilizing common management techniques to decrease the time it takes you to fall asleep at night. Deep breathing exercises, for example, can help ease physical tension and alleviate worry or nervousness. Eating a balanced diet, meditating, and participating in therapy are other common ways of lowering stress levels.  

Regular sleep/wake times

A consistent sleep schedule can be key to managing insomnia. Research shows that going to sleep and waking up at similar times each day is linked to beneficial health outcomes. Consider creating a bedtime routine that you begin each evening at a specific time in the evening. An appropriate nighttime routine may improve your sleep hygiene and help you achieve better sleep.

Restful sleep environment

Creating a space that is conducive to sleep can be a crucial component of a treatment plan for insomnia. A relaxing sleep environment that is quiet, dark, and a comfortable temperature can help you get to sleep more quickly. Try to limit the amount of light and noise you’re exposed to at night, especially from electronic devices, as the blue light they emit may affect your ability to fall asleep quickly. You can also consider whether there are changes you can make to your bedding that may make it more comfortable for you. 

Warm showers or baths

A relaxing soak or shower before bed can calm you and help you prepare for sleep. Research suggests that bathing in warm water can allow your body to release heat and lower your core temperature, which can help you fall asleep faster. 

Get out of bed 

If it takes you more than 20 minutes to fall asleep, experts recommend not staying in bed, as this can make it even harder to fall asleep in the long run. Instead, try to move to another room and do something relaxing. This might include reading, drinking a cup of herbal tea, or listening to peaceful music. This method may help shift your focus and relax your mind until your head hits the pillow again, ready for sleep.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Medication

A variety of sleep-aids can be prescribed to address insomnia, often in conjunction with stress management strategies or therapy. These medications are typically meant to help improve sleep and limit the effects that lack of sleep can have throughout the day. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting or stopping any medication. Some medications can be habit forming or have undesirable side effects. 

Sleep centers

Sleep clinics provide a comprehensive form of care for insomnia through testing and observation. There, you will typically sleep in a room set up to look like a bedroom as professionals monitor you and take measurements from sensors placed on your body. As you sleep, they may measure leg movements, oxygen levels in the blood, and eye movements. Information from the sensors can then be used to determine the causes of poor sleep and detect conditions such as sleep apnea. If you choose to go to a sleep center, you’ll likely be advised to avoid sugar, caffeine, and napping prior to the assessment. 

Therapy

Working with a therapist, you can explore any causes contributing to your disrupted sleep, address the emotional effects of insomnia, and develop strategies for getting better quality sleep so it takes you fewer minutes to fall asleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of therapy used to treat insomnia. With CBT, you can learn how to replace unhelpful thoughts that might be contributing to your problems with sleeping so you can approach sleep with a healthy mindset. 

For example, a therapist might help you notice that you have irrational beliefs about sleep, leading to increased stress and worsening insomnia symptoms. To avoid this, they may suggest methods of challenging your thoughts so that you can get to sleep faster while also helping you implement stress management techniques, such as mindfulness meditation. 

Improved sleep through online therapy

Studies show that online therapy can help individuals address both sleep disruptions and common comorbid conditions. In a study published in the journal Internet Interventions, researchers found that online therapy led to significant reductions in insomnia as well as improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety. The study also notes the increased mental health care that online therapy platforms provide. 

If you struggle to maintain a healthy sleep routine, consider contacting a licensed therapist online. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can talk through sleep struggles remotely through video calls, voice calls, or in-app messaging. BetterHelp works with thousands of mental health professionals who have a wide range of specialties, so you'll have a good chance of matching with someone who can address your specific concerns regarding insomnia. Below are reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people who have sought help for similar challenges.

Therapist reviews

"I tried a few counselors and almost gave up until I found Colleen. I love her! She's easy to talk to, really gets me and best of all she makes me feel like I'm talking to a friend. She's given me some great tips and I'm sleeping better already most nights."

"Dr. Marote is great! She has helped me a lot. I have noticed a huge improvement in just two weeks. I feel comfortable during our weekly sessions and she is a great listener. She has also provided me with many helpful tips to overcome my anxiety and insomnia. I am truly happy I found her here on BetterHelp."

Takeaway

While insomnia can present varied complications in life, healthy sleep habits can manage it. By finding the right techniques for you and remaining consistent, you can get better quality sleep each night and limit the effects of insomnia. If you'd like assistance navigating the challenges of sleep disruptions, know that online therapy is available to help. Matching with a qualified professional can be a constructive next step toward restful nights and mental wellness.
Learn the impacts of sleep deprivation
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started