How long did it take you to fall asleep last night? Were you down for the count before your head hit the pillow? Or did a busy mind keep you tossing and turning for hours? And how long should it take to fall asleep anyway?
Sleep scientists say between 10 to 20 minutes. If it takes longer, it’s probably because a load of worry is keeping you awake, or you had too much caffeine, or your body clock is out of whack for whatever reason — or all of the above. Any of these sound familiar?
And if you routinely fall asleep within five minutes, guess what? You’re not getting the rest you need. In that case, you’re on notice that you should make it a priority to get more snooze time. If you don’t, it’s bound to catch up with you — and not in a good way. Sleep deprivation has been linked to illnesses like heart disease and obesity, not to mention a chronic case of brain fog.
We’re not very good at gauging our sleep
But here’s the thing: You may think you’re out before your head hits the pillow, or that you spend hours staring at the ceiling. But the truth is, you probably have no clue how long it takes to fall asleep.
Surprised? Don’t be. It’s not uncommon to think you’re awake when in fact you’re actually asleep. Studies have shown that we’re notoriously unreliable at accurately estimating how long it takes us to nod off.
Sleep scientists call this “sleep state misperception.” Which is just a fancy way of saying we’re terrible judges of how long it take us to fall asleep, and also how much sleep we get at night. They found that around 50% of people who are awakened out of light sleep believe they are awake!
So how can you get a true snapshot of your sleep patterns? Assuming your sleep partner won’t be keen to stay up and watch you fall asleep and take notes, a better idea would be to put a sleep tracker to work.
A sleep tracker, really?
Just like a fitness tracking app or wearable that logs your steps or monitors your heart rate, these apps can track your sleep by detecting and analyzing muscle movement during the night. (The types of movements determine your sleep stage since various sleep phases have telltale markers.)
Sleep apps, the kind you install on your smartphone, work in a similar way. But instead of wearing a device to bed, you simply place your smartphone on your mattress while you sleep. Though it’s not foolproof, tracking your zzz’s will give you a more accurate picture of your sleep habits than your own best guesstimate.
Is something wrong with my sleep?
If you track your sleep and find that you don’t fall within the “normal” range, keep in mind that everyone has a restless night here and there.
However, if you’re tossing and turning every night for weeks or months on end, you may need to re-think your bedtime routine and/or talk to a professional, since chronic sleep problems can be a sign of other health issues.
Bonus reading: Is Chronic Insomnia Affecting Your Health?