November 5, 2020

If You Fall Asleep Instantly — Is That a Good Thing?

And how long should it take you to fall asleep?

man sleeping in a chair during the day

Most of us would love to get to dreamland as soon as our head hits the pillow. It’s much more fun than lying awake, watching the hours tick by on the clock.

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Still, if you conk out too quickly, it might not be a good thing. Behavioral sleep medicine psychologist Michelle Drerup, PsyD, explains why some of us fall asleep too quickly and when this could signal a sleep problem.

How long should it take to fall asleep?

If you fall asleep quickly, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you might be one of the lucky ones who can drift off with ease. The bad news is you might need more sleep, and that’s why you can’t keep your eyes open. The key is to figure out which group you’re in.

Quality sleep is much more complex than the minutes it takes you to drift off. “Most people need about five to 20 minutes to fall asleep,” says Dr. Drerup. “But this is just an average. Everyone is different.”

If you fall outside of that range, don’t be alarmed. “If it takes you three minutes to fall asleep, but you feel refreshed, you’re probably well-rested,” Dr. Drerup says. “Falling asleep quickly might be normal for you. Don’t put too much emphasis on that number.”

Sleep deprivation vs. sleep deficiency

“Sleep deprivation” and “sleep deficiency” are similar but not quite the same. Sleep deprivation means you’re not getting enough sleep. It’s one type of sleep deficiency. But you may also have sleep deficiency if you:

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  • Sleep at the wrong time of day.
  • Wake up frequently or don’t get deep sleep.
  • Have a sleep disorder that interferes with quality sleep.

If you’re getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night, you’re probably sleep-deprived. Sleep deficiency is a bit harder to spot.

The subtle signs of sleep deficiency

Even if you fall within the typical range for drifting off, that doesn’t mean you’re getting the sleep you need. If you notice any of these signs, you might be sleep deficient:

  • Quiet moments make you sleepy: Sitting in traffic, reading or doing something boring makes you want to doze.
  • You can’t focus: When your brain doesn’t get restorative sleep, you may struggle to concentrate or remember things. You might make more mistakes and have trouble making decisions.
  • Your emotions are intense: Feeling like you want to scream? 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: When you’re well-rested, you don’t need caffeine to get through your day. (Triple espresso, anyone?) If you’re chugging coffee, tea or energy drinks all day long, the caffeine could be masking the signs of sleep deficiency.

Why you should make sleep a priority

Your body needs sleep, just like it needs food and water. People who have chronic sleep deficiency have a higher risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart disease.
  • Obesity.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Depression.
  • Injuries or death from serious car crashes.

Practical ways to get more sleep

Use these tips to improve your sleep habits and start catching more zzz’s.

  • Keep a sleep diary: Record when you went to bed, when you got up and how rested you felt that day. This journal can provide valuable info about your sleep quality.
  • Turn off the screens: The blue light from your smartphone, tablet and TV can trick your brain into staying awake. Go screen-free for at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Shift bedtime back gradually: If you’re falling asleep quickly or don’t feel rested, go to bed 15 minutes earlier. If you don’t see improvement after a week, push it back another 15 minutes.
  • Stay on a regular schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. This helps set your body’s internal clock.
  • Get out while the sun shines: Spend time outside during the day. The daylight tells your body when it’s time to be awake.
  • Be active: Walking, biking or other physical activity is great for your health and improves your sleep quality.

Get more sleep, get more done

Don’t put off sleep for the sake of your to-do list. “Many people think they should skimp on sleep because they’re too busy,” Dr. Drerup says. “But when you’re tired, you’re not as productive. It takes you longer to do things, so you end up wasting time.”

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Dr. Drerup says to look at sleep as an investment. “If you get quality sleep, you can focus better and stay on task. You’ll get more things done in less time.”

Discuss sleep with your doctor

Getting quality sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health, along with eating a healthy diet and exercising.

If you have signs of sleep deficiency, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can recommend possible tests and treatments to check for sleep disorders or other health conditions. “You can’t afford to skip quality sleep,” Dr. Drerup says. “It makes such a big difference in your daily life and overall health.”

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