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Sleep MD Explains Why It Takes You So Long to Fall Asleep

It can take you a long time to fall asleep if you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm or you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, such as drinking coffee too late.
Published
2024-01-05
Updated
2024-01-06
11 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
woman lying in bed wondering why it takes so long to fall asleep

Why Does It Take Me So Long to Fall Asleep?

  • It may take you a long time to fall asleep because you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or you’ve got a sleep disorder or a medical condition.
  • It’s normal to take 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. Falling asleep faster may be a sign of sleep deprivation.
  • To fall asleep faster, improve your sleep hygiene and sync up with your circadian rhythm. Reach out to a healthcare provider if you’re still having trouble falling asleep. 
  • The RISE app can help you fall asleep faster by telling you the best time to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day based on your body clock. You’ll also get a recommended bedtime when your body’s more primed to fall asleep.

You crawl into bed, get comfy, close your eyes, and…nothing. You don’t drift off for what feels like hours. Sound familiar?

Below, we’ll explain why it takes you so long to fall asleep and how you can use the RISE app to fall asleep faster (including a checklist of behaviors to try today).

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Here’s what Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, who's double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine has to say:

“When my patients tell me they struggle to fall asleep, the first thing I ask about is light. Do they get out in sunlight during the day? Do they sit in bright lighting and in front of screens all evening? My best advice is to make your days bright, but your evenings dark. This will keep your sleep cycle in check and signal to your body when it’s time to sleep.”

Why Does It Take Me So Long to Fall Asleep?

It may take you so long to fall asleep because you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or you’ve got a sleep disorder or medical condition. 

Here’s more on those four key factors that can extend your sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep). 

You’ve Got Poor Sleep Hygiene 

Sleep hygiene is the name for daily behaviors that can help or hurt your sleep. If you’ve got poor sleep hygiene, it may take you longer to doze off. 

Poor sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Drinking coffee too late in the day. Caffeine lasts in your system longer than you think (12+ hours)! 
  • Drinking alcohol, doing intense exercise, or eating a large meal too close to bedtime 
  • Not getting enough (or any) morning sunlight or light during the day
  • Getting too much light in the run-up to bedtime
  • Not winding down before bed and being in fight-or-flight mode or ruminating (endlessly worrying) over problems 
  • Getting too much screen time before bed (bad for both blue light and stimulating content), including scrolling on your phone or falling asleep with the TV on 
  • Trying to sleep in a bedroom that’s too bright, noisy, or warm

Poor sleep hygiene can be the reason you wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall back asleep.

The fix: Improve your sleep hygiene. RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you when to do them, based on your own biology, to make them more effective. We’ll walk you through a checklist of things to try to fall asleep faster tonight below. 

RISE app screenshot showing you sleep hygiene habit reminders
The RISE app can remind you to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

You’re Out of Sync With Your Circadian Rhythm 

Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock. It helps to determine when you feel alert and sleepy over a roughly 24-hour cycle. 

When you’re out of sync with your body clock, it can take you longer to fall asleep as physiological processes that help you drift off — like your body producing the sleep hormone melatonin and dropping your body temperature to prepare for sleep — won’t happen in line with your bedtime. 

You can get out of sync with your circadian rhythm by: 

  • Having an irregular sleep schedule (including trying to sleep early on weekdays after late nights all weekend, aka social jet lag, or succumbing to revenge bedtime procrastination, which is when you stay up late to get more me-time)
  • Working night shifts 
  • Traveling across time zones and getting jet lag 
  • Ignoring your chronotype (i.e. a night owl trying to sleep hours earlier than usual)    

If you try to sleep too early for your circadian rhythm, it can take you a long time to drift off, even if you’re tired. You may even find it impossible to sleep if you head to bed during what's known as the forbidden zone of sleep, when your energy levels rise about two to three hours before your regular bedtime.

The fix: Get in sync with your circadian rhythm by keeping a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, even on your days off. Your circadian rhythm will adjust and your body can anticipate when you’ll want to go to sleep. It’s also good for your health, wellness, and even productivity, as you’ll be able to anticipate when your energy will fluctuate over the day and schedule your tasks to match.

If needed, you can reset your circadian rhythm so it matches your lifestyle and you can fall asleep faster at the time you’d like to. For example, night owls can shift their circadian rhythms to more easily and consistently go to sleep and wake up earlier.

RISE predicts your circadian rhythm each day, so you can see when your body naturally wants to be awake and go to sleep.

RISE app screenshot showing your energy dip and peak times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen here

You’ve Got a Sleep Disorder

Sleep disorders can make it harder to fall asleep. 

These include: 

  • Sleep onset insomnia: When you struggle falling asleep. 
  • Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder: When your sleep is abnormally delayed compared to the light-dark cycle.  
  • Restless leg syndrome: When you get uncomfortable sensations in your legs, which can happen in the evening.

The fix: Speak to your health provider or a sleep specialist. They can test you for sleep problems and recommend the right treatment. This could include cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which includes improving your sleep hygiene, sleep restriction (temporarily decreasing and then increasing your sleep time, so you spend less time awake in bed), and stimulus control (strengthening the link between your bed and sleepiness). Melatonin supplements can help those with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder and 2023 research suggests magnesium and vitamin B6 could be one effective treatment for restless leg syndrome.

You’ve Got a Medical Condition

Some medical conditions can cause trouble sleeping. 

These include: 

Certain medications can also cause sleeplessness, such as antidepressants, cold medications, and even hormonal birth control. When you stop taking medications like sleeping pills or cold meds like Benadryl you may experience rebound insomnia and your sleep problems can get even worse than they were before.

The fix: Speak to your healthcare provider about physical or mental health issues. They can run tests to check for underlying medical conditions that could be affecting your sleep or check your medications. 

We’ve covered more on why you can’t sleep even though you’re tired here.

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What’s the Average Time to Fall Asleep? 

On average, it’s normal to take 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. 

You shouldn’t worry if you don’t fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. In fact, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Falling asleep within 10 minutes can be a sign of having a lot of sleep debt, which is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. Falling asleep within 8 minutes may indicate narcolepsy or idiopathic hypersomnia.

On the other hand, if you’re taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, and this happens at least three times a week for at least three months, this could be a sign of insomnia

Everyone’s sleep latency is different though, and it can even change over time. Research shows sleep latency can increase with age in women. The most important thing is that you’re getting enough sleep overall. 

Heads-up: RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have. The app first works out your sleep need, which is the amount of sleep you need.

This number is determined by genetics and unique to you. For example, when we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found it ranged from a tiny five hours to a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes.

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need.
How much sleep RISE users need.

Your sleep need is then compared to how much sleep you’ve gotten over the last 14 nights to work out your sleep debt. 

Taking a while to fall asleep every now and again is nothing to worry about — and worrying about it will only make it harder to drift off. Instead, focus on keeping your sleep debt low overall for better energy, health, and performance. 

You don’t need to keep your sleep debt down at zero — that won’t be feasible for many of us — but reducing it as much as possible can help you feel and function your best.

You want to be happy with your sleep, though. A 2023 study found the more satisfied you are with your sleep, the better your mood and life satisfaction the next day. And struggling to sleep never feels great.

So if taking a long time to fall asleep is a regular occurrence, and you’ve tried improving your sleep hygiene and syncing up with your circadian rhythm, consider speaking to a healthcare professional.

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app calculates your sleep debt daily.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep debt here.

How to Fall Asleep Quickly?

You can fall asleep quickly by improving your sleep hygiene. Here’s a checklist of things to try to help you drift off faster each night: 

RISE can tell you when to do these habits — and more — at the right time for your circadian rhythm, which can make them even more effective. And the good news about sleep hygiene is that it can help you wake up less often in the night too for a good night’s sleep all round. 

We’ve covered more ways to fall asleep faster here and how to fall back asleep here, including things to do when you’re awake in the night such as yoga nidra, also known as NSDR, or a brain dump.

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Expert tip: Check RISE for your Melatonin Window. This is what we call the roughly one-hour window when your body’s rate of melatonin production (the sleep hormone) is at its highest. Go to bed during this window for a better chance of falling asleep faster.

RISE users say this alone helps them fall asleep without any sleep aids.

“If I go to sleep according to my schedule, within my Melatonin Window, I am guaranteed to satisfy my sleep needs without any additional sleep aids, supplements, or medications. I am blown away by the accuracy and effectiveness of RISE.” Read the review.

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window
The RISE app predicts your biological bedtime each night.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window here.

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Why Is It So Hard for Me to Fall Asleep? 

It can be hard for you to fall asleep if you have poor sleep hygiene, you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, or you have a sleep disorder or medical condition. 

RISE can help you perfect your sleep hygiene by sending you timed reminders based on your body clock for 20+ daily habits. RISE can also show you when your body’s most primed for sleep, so you can head to bed when you’re more likely to fall asleep fast. 

All this can help you get a good night’s rest fast — 80% of RISE users sleep better within five days. 

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