Whether it’s going to bed at night, napping during the day, or falling back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night, (almost) everyone wants to know how to go to sleep.
If you, like many of us, have trouble dozing off, we show you how to go to sleep fast — and not just at bedtime. The trick is to leverage the two processes that regulate sleep — sleep debt and circadian rhythm (your internal body clock) — while harnessing the power of good sleep hygiene.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. While the RISE app supports natural sleep patterns and boosts sleep hygiene, it does not treat medical conditions like sleep disorders.
Like many others who have trouble sleeping, you want to know how to fall asleep fast to make the most of the time you have to sleep, to then have the energy you need during the day.
Optimizing your sleep so you can feel and function your best each day comes down to giving yourself enough time in bed to meet your sleep need (the genetically determined amount of sleep your body needs; not everyone needs eight hours), and boosting your sleep efficiency (how much time in bed you spend asleep). The latter also reduces the buffer you need to give yourself to account for how long it takes you to fall asleep (sleep onset latency) and how much time you spend awake at night (sleep fragmentation).
But how fast is fast? Is falling asleep within 15 minutes considered fast enough or should you aim for five minutes instead?
Contrary to popular misconception, snoozing the moment your head touches the pillow isn’t ideal — it’s actually a sign of considerable sleep deprivation, which we’ll talk more about later. Instead, going to sleep within 15-20 minutes is normal and healthy for many of us. If you take longer than that to drift off, say 30 minutes or more, it’s probably a case of sleep disorders and/or poor sleep hygiene.
Now that we’re all on the same page as to how fast you should be expected to fall asleep, let’s explore the inner workings of slumber. This is where the Two-Process Model of Sleep Regulation comes in. The model details the two processes that explain how sleep “happens”, which you can leverage to feel more awake and energized during the day. Here’s how they work:
If you’re new to the term sleep homeostasis, it’s all about balance — think of it as a seesaw that wants to be level. When you’re awake, the drowsiness-inducing compound adenosine builds up in your brain. The resulting sleep pressure tilts the sleep homeostat to one side. When you meet your sleep need at night, adenosine fully dissipates and rebalances the sleep homeostat. On the other hand, if you don’t meet your need, leftover adenosine stays in your system. This sleep “debt” – the rolling difference between the amount of sleep you need and how much you get – leaves the seesaw unbalanced, sapping you of energy.
But why do you not succumb to sleep pressure during the day as it steadily increases? That’s because of the competing second process of your circadian rhythm. When you wake, light exposure tells the master clock in your brain to release circadian alerting signals in growing amounts. These signals keep you awake until a temporary lull later in the day that signifies your afternoon dip. It’s why you feel drowsier post-lunch. Past that, the signals pick up their production until the sun sets.
At night, under conditions of healthy sleep hygiene and circadian alignment, cresting sleep pressure aligns with the “sleep gate” trough of your circadian rhythm, making it easy to drift off to sleep.
To better your odds of falling asleep by your target bedtime, practice good sleep hygiene from the moment you wake up till you slide into bed. To get the hours of sleep you need (the RISE app will tell you your unique amount), healthy sleep habits should take place 24/7. That said, sleep hygiene is only effective when it’s tied to your circadian rhythm.
So, what do we mean by that? To illustrate, let’s talk about caffeine consumption.
You know that drinking coffee too late in the day can make it harder to fall asleep that same night. Yet, how late is too late?
Caffeine lasts, for most, much longer than we realize. Caffeine stays in your system for up to 10 hours with an average half-life of roughly five hours. Drinking an espresso at 12 p.m. means half of the stimulant is still in your body at 5 p.m. After five additional hours, a quarter of the caffeine is still in circulation at 10 p.m. It’s no wonder that you have trouble sleeping if that’s your target bedtime.
To have better sleep that night (which includes falling asleep quickly), you need to know when to cut off caffeine consumption. This is where the RISE app can help. The “Limit Caffeine” habit tells you the latest time it’s OK to have your coffee based on your unique chronobiology.
Of course, this example is just the tip of the iceberg when leveraging good sleep hygiene to get enough sleep (and falling asleep fast). You also want to expose yourself to light immediately upon awakening and throughout the day. But avoid bright light exposure (especially from electronic devices) in the evening. We recommend dimming the lights and using blue-light blocking glasses. (RISE’s “Blue Light Control” habit comes in handy here.)
Besides that, sleep hygiene warns against a handful of common sleep interfering culprits: steer clear of alcohol, excess fluid intake, and large evening meals too close to bedtime. If you need reminding when to stop taking them, add the following habits to your Energy Schedule in the RISE app:
To find out other sleep-promoting habits you should focus on throughout the day and evening and which ones to avoid, bookmark our step-by-step Sleep Guide.
If you’re wondering whether you’re taking too long to fall asleep, let’s circle back to the concept of sleep onset latency — how long you take to fall asleep.
The average sleep onset latency is around 15-20 minutes. To clarify, this is the time you spend in bed trying to go to sleep. It excludes pre-sleep rituals like winding down and brushing your teeth. If you take less than 15 minutes to doze off, it’s a likely indication you’re bogged down with sleep debt (the amount of sleep you’ve missed in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need):
It may seem counterintuitive, but the better you generally sleep, the slower the sleep onset latency process might be. And before you fret over it, remember that it’s a good and "normal" thing as taking around 15-20 minutes to fall asleep means you aren’t substantially sleep-deprived and suffering from the impairments that come from sleep debt while you’re awake.
That being said, you don’t want to take too long to drift off either as it will only make it less likely you’ll meet your sleep need. Sleep latency that’s longer than 30 minutes or so may be due to a sleep disorder like insomnia or poor sleep hygiene. For the latter, common examples include sleep-interfering behaviors such as too-late-in-the-day caffeine consumption and late evening meals.
The bottom line is to aim for a happy medium of 15-20 minutes of sleep latency. That’s why when you plan for your bedtime to meet your sleep need, there should always be at least 30 minutes of buffer time. The half-hour is to account for the normal sleep latency duration of 20 minutes plus potential sleep fragmentation (how often you wake up during the night).
If your sleep problems keep you past your intended bedtime, here’s what you need to do. Bear in mind the following tips also come under the wide umbrella of healthy sleep hygiene.
An environment that’s conducive to sleep makes it easier to snooze at night. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. The ambient temperature should be between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Use blackout curtains and an eye mask to get a good night’s sleep. Also, invest in soundproofing your room or a pair of earplugs, if need be.
Need a reminder in checking your sleep environment? Just add the “Check Your Environment” habit to your Energy Schedule in RISE.
Regular sleep and wake times help promote circadian alignment. When your body clock runs smoothly, you find it easier to fall asleep at night to meet your sleep need for better energy during the day.
If you need some help adjusting your sleep timetable, say you’re a night owl transitioning to an early-bird roster, use our guide on “How to reset your sleep schedule.”
Melatonin is a well-known sleep-promoting hormone. To increase the odds of falling asleep at night, use the RISE app to schedule your target bedtime within your “Melatonin Window.” This is the window of time in which your body produces optimal levels of melatonin to help you doze off more effortlessly. Simply add the “Melatonin Window” habit to your Energy Schedule in RISE.
One of the best things you can do to fall asleep tonight is to wind down in the 1-2 hours before bed. Too often, we’re too wired for sleep, making it hard to doze off. That’s why a relaxing bedtime routine is essential to put you in the right frame of mind for sleep. This way, you have better odds of keeping sleep debt low to have the energy to do the things you need during daylight.
But what does the ideal evening wind-down look like? Pick calming activities over stimulating ones. For instance, try any of the four relaxation techniques in the RISE app:
Aside from these techniques, a warm bath is scientifically proven to reduce sleep latency by 10 minutes. How it works: Warm water aids the natural drop in core body temperature just before sleep when you step out of the shower. What’s more, research shows that bathing in warm water just before bed significantly increases the percentage of your sleep cycles spent in deep sleep.
For other tips and tricks on the ideal pre-sleep routine, check out our post on how to create the ideal Wind-Down Time for you. For best results, add the “Evening Routine” to your Energy Schedule in the RISE app.
If you’re Googling how to go to sleep, chances are you’ve been roused in the middle of the night and then struggle to fall back to sleep. If so, try a sleep reset.
Give yourself no more than 15 minutes in bed to fall asleep. If you still haven’t dozed off, get out of bed and do something non-arousing, like read a book or listen to calming music. Once you feel sufficiently sleepy, go back to bed. Repeat this process as often as needed to fall asleep again.
For your sleep reset to be effective, don’t let anxiety get the better of you. Doing so only hikes up your cortisol production and jumpstarts your fight-or-flight response, all of which breeds more sleeplessness. Fret not, RISE’s “Sleep Reset” habit will guide you through the process.
To dial down the middle-of-the-night awakenings, bulletproof your sleep hygiene during wakefulness. If you suspect a medical condition like sleep apnea is to blame, consult a sleep specialist or your primary doctor for treatment options to help you sleep through the night.
Going to sleep during daylight (aka napping) is actually highly recommended, especially when paying down high sleep debt.
We recommend snoozing during your afternoon dip (the RISE app will tell you when yours is – the timing of the energy dip varies day to day and person to person). Remember, this is the time when your circadian alerting signals have quietened down a bit, making it easier for the mounting sleep pressure to work in your favor and help you go to sleep. That said, you don’t want to nap too long or too late in the day and relieve too much sleep pressure. Doing so will only make it more difficult to go to sleep at night.
To figure out how long you should nap, read our post on how to determine the best nap length for you. Naps up to 90 minutes are ideal for paying down sleep debt but come with a side of sleep inertia or grogginess when you wake up. On the other hand, short naps of 10-20 minutes act as a short-term energy booster, minus the wake-up grogginess.
If you need some help with daytime napping, try a sleep supplement like melatonin (see next section).
Poor sleepers may be tempted to take sleep aids. While sleep medicine may help you fall asleep, they create what’s called “manufactured” sleep and often come with many unwanted side effects, and in some cases, even worse sleep when you stop taking them. For the naturalistic, healthy sleep your body needs, your best bet is still good sleep hygiene.
That being said, there are times when sleep supplements may help. For instance, battling travel jet lag, dealing with shift work, and resetting your sleep schedule. For these reasons, you may want to try melatonin supplements.
You’ve probably heard that the human body produces this sleep-promoting hormone under dim light conditions. The rising tide of melatonin sets off specific physiological actions (e.g., a lower body temperature and blood pressure) to ready you for bed. At times when you need extra assistance in going to sleep, a little exogenous or supplemented melatonin can help.
Unlike traditional sleep aids that make you feel “drugged,” melatonin supplements act as a chronobiotic. Essentially, the latter help shift your circadian rhythm forward or backward, depending on when you take them. If you want to use melatonin to go to sleep earlier tonight, add the “Melatonin Supplements” habit to your Energy Schedule in RISE.
But if you have chronic insomnia, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends against using melatonin for your sleep troubles. This is a recent reversal on its previous stance of using melatonin as an acceptable treatment for the sleep disorder. Instead, sleep experts advocate good sleep hygiene in tackling acute insomnia. For chronic insomnia, the American College of Physicians recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) as the primary treatment.
With sleep deprivation being a public health epidemic, most of us have had trouble falling asleep at one point or another. The trick is to practice healthy sleep hygiene 24/7 paired with your body clock.
As everyone’s circadian rhythm is unique to them, a tool like RISE helps you figure out the best times to carry out sleep-promoting habits and avoid sleep-disrupting ones, so you can fall asleep and sleep through the night more easily. What’s more, RISE calculates your biological sleep need to help you stay on top of your sleep debt.
When you keep your sleep debt low and stay in circadian alignment, you find it easier to escape the vicious cycle of sleeplessness and sleep loss. So, if you want better sleep for better energy, download the RISE app today.
Falling asleep within five minutes indicates you’re massively sleep-deprived. As a rule of thumb, we generally take around 15-20 minutes to nod off. To fall asleep more quickly, hone your sleep hygiene to perfection during the day. At bedtime, relaxation techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation have been proven to reduce sleep latency (how long you take to fall asleep).
Trouble sleeping at night is usually due to poor sleep hygiene. From ill-timed light exposure and caffeine consumption to suboptimal sleep conditions, there are various triggers why you can’t sleep at night. Circadian misalignment (when your body clock is thrown off balance) is another common culprit.
Not being able to sleep even though you’re tired is usually due to circadian misalignment when your body clock is at odds with the external light-dark cycle. Other possible causes could be chronic stress and anxiety, and poor sleep hygiene, like too-late-in-the-day caffeine consumption.
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