Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Louise Carter
While we all have different sleep habits, most healthy adults with an appropriate sleep cycle will start to doze off within 20 minutes of going to bed.
If you’re still awake after 20 minutes, get out of bed and restart the sleep process. If you lay in bed, trying and failing to fall asleep, you’ll likely become increasingly frustrated.
As well as making sleep difficult when you’re agitated, this can create a psychological block. Your mind associates the bedroom with no sleep.
Find a different room to relax in. Avoid turning on the TV or smartphone, as screens are anathema to sleep. Keep the lights in this room low, and find a different activity to pass the time.
If you can’t fall asleep, try muscular stretches, breathing exercises, reading, or listening to music.
If stress or anxiety is keeping you awake, consider writing a journal about anything bothering you, and take a warm shower if you didn’t do so before bed.
If you regularly take longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, something is amiss with your sleep-wake cycle or sleep hygiene practices. Don’t accept this and expect to function on less than 8 hours of rest.
How Long Should It Take to Fall Asleep?
An adult with a healthy sleep pattern can usually doze off within 15 – 20 minutes of climbing into bed.
If you’re wondering if taking 2 hours to sleep is normal, the answer is no. If this is the case, something is amiss with your sleep cycle. Taking longer to fall asleep is called delayed sleep latency.
Common explanations for delayed sleep latency include the following:
- Excessive use of screens immediately before bed. The American Journal of Health Behavior stated that the passive use of electronic devices at night can delay sleep.
- Stress and anxiety lead to a racing mind and difficulty relaxing sufficiently to fall asleep.
- Consumption of stimulants, most notably caffeine, within 6 hours of attempting to sleep.
- Exposure to bright lights immediately before bed blocks the release of melatonin in the brain.
- A high body temperature makes your body too uncomfortable to fall asleep.
- A lack of physical activity or mental taxation during the day, so the mind and body don’t seek rest.
If delayed sleep latency is a regular concern, it can become chronic insomnia.
How Long Should You Try To Fall Asleep Before Getting Out of Bed?
If you can’t sleep after around 20 minutes, get out of bed and reset your sleep cycle.
Don’t continue to lay in bed, growing increasingly frustrated. Use your body clock and judgment to assess the passing of time because staring at the clock will aggravate anxiety.
Staying in bed when you can’t sleep creates the risk of a Pavlovian psychological response.
Your mind will associate the bed and bedroom with difficulty sleeping, making it increasingly unlikely that you’ll relax enough to doze off.
Getting out of bed when you can’t sleep is known as stimulus control.
This aims to reset your mind and body by leaving the bedroom for a while, relaxing elsewhere in the home, and returning to attempt to sleep again after a short time away.
Move to another part of the home that you don’t associate with sleep. Dim the lights, using a small lamp rather than bright overhead illumination, and divert your mind away from your inability to sleep.
Watching TV or playing video games may seem the simplest way to distract yourself from insomnia, but using screens is counterproductive.
Here are some activities that may help you prepare for sleep:
Stretch Your Muscles
While stretching is more commonly associated with waking in the morning, it can also help ease you into a state of sleep. Stretching improves blood flow and relieves any tension in the muscles.
If you have a yoga mat, perform stretch poses that help you feel comfortable and relaxed. If you’re inexperienced in stretching, attempt the following upon getting out of bed:
|Lay on your front, bending one knee under your chest and stretching the other leg.
|Seated Forward Fold
|Sit upright with your legs stretched and bend forward to touch your toes.
|Reclined Spinal Twist
|Lay on your back and rotate your hips so your left leg stretches over your right, or vice versa.
If you have limited mobility or are worried about hurting yourself while stretching, lie on your back beside a wall at a 90-degree angle. Use the wall to lift your legs.
This barrier will carry most of your weight, making relaxing easier.
An alternative to stretching that can yield similar results is breathing exercises. Frontiers in Psychiatry reported that deep, slow breaths can enhance sleepiness and calm the body and mind.
Consider these breathing exercises before returning to bed:
|Place one hand on your chest and the other on your diaphragm. Inhale deeply through the nose, holding your hand in position on your chest and allowing the hand on your diaphragm to rise and fall. Repeat 20 times.
|Empty your lungs by exhaling through the mouth and inhaling through the nose for a count of 4. Hold this breath for 7 seconds, then exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 6 times.
|Alternate Nostril Breathing
|Block your left nostril, and inhale through the right nostril for 6 seconds. Block your right nostril and hold your breath for 6 seconds. Unblock the left nostril and exhale for 6 seconds. Alternate nostrils and repeat until calm.
After breathing exercises, return to bed and attempt to sleep again.
Write A Journal
If thoughts and concerns are racing through your mind and preventing you from sleeping, source a pen and a notepad and write down everything that is bothering you.
This can be particularly effective if you’re worried about tasks that await you in the morning.
The Keller Center Research Report stated that emptying the mind of unfinished duties through a to-do list helps reduce delayed sleep latency, and these tasks will be fresh in your mind upon waking.
Once you’ve completed your writing assignment, complete the remainder of your usual pre-sleep routines and return to bed. You should find that your mind is calmer.
Read a Book
If you get out of bed at night, screen-centric entertainment is off the table. Keep a book handy to help give your mind a different focus. If you’re not an avid reader, a magazine will suffice.
This book or magazine doesn’t necessarily need to be enthralling. It may be preferable to read something dull rather than a compelling page-turner.
Give your mind a different focus for a short time, resetting the rhythms of your mind and body. After a short time spent reading something you consider boring, your brain will likely welcome sleep.
Listen to Music
If you need to calm down and relax, select some soothing music and play it – ideally through headphones to avoid disturbing anybody else in the home.
A study from PLoS One found that 62% of problem sleepers slept better after listening to music.
Avoid music you associate with working out or other physical activity, which will raise your heart rate. Dance music, heavy metal, and even most pop songs are best avoided.
Classical music is considered the best genre for aiding sleep. Play your music in a different room, and if necessary, bring it into your bedroom and listen through a pair of sleep-safe earphones.
Take a Bath or Shower
Many people take a bath or shower before bed as part of their usual sleep hygiene ritual. If this doesn’t apply to you, consider doing so during the night after an unsuccessful attempt to sleep.
The intention is to reduce your body temperature, encouraging the body to relax.
Increasing humidity may also lull you into sleep upon your return.
Should I Give Up Sleeping if I Can’t Sleep?
Futile attempts to sleep can feel like a waste of time, but they aren’t. Even if you feel you can function well on 4 hours of sleep a night, sleep debt will eventually catch up with you.
Instead of assuming you’ll never sleep, adjust your nighttime routine.
Identify the causes of insomnia and seek professional help. Experts can provide cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) practices to break habits that lead to difficulty falling asleep.
The European Journal of General Practice explains how less than half of people with insomnia consult healthcare professionals about their trouble sleeping. Just 12.2% seek a formal diagnosis.
If you’ve not dozed off within 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and restart the sleep hygiene process.