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With rapid turnabouts of circumstances, our dreams of living on a perfect day remain, well, just a dream. We stay up all night thinking of what to do in the morning and toil all day to figure out what we plan on doing during the night. But in our desperation to make that elusive perfect day happen, we forget that dreams begin with a good night’s sleep.
Ironically enough, some of that constant thinking includes worrying about our sleep. We create our own kinds of ‘no-sleep-loops’ in which we constantly think about wishing we’d just fall asleep, which, paradoxically, stops us from actually falling asleep. You see, we’re in this constant bubble of worry while falling asleep thrives on a relaxed state of mind.
In fact, up to 75% of people report worrying about their sleep at least some of the time, and nearly a quarter say they worry about it a lot and often.
Yeah, it’s no wonder it takes you a while to get to the dream world…
What is the Ideal Sleep Latency?
You see, everything is good in moderation, and it’s no different for your sleep latency. Better known as sleep latency, the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep shouldn’t be on either side of the two extremes. 2 minutes to fall asleep? Far too quick. Three hours to fall asleep? Far too long.
Let’s discuss this further.
Give your average night some thoughts. How fast or how slow do you fall asleep?
If the scenario turns out to be, it takes you somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep, your sleep latency is just where it’s supposed to be – at the sweet spot, balanced. Taking between 10 to 20 minutes to go from full alertness and sink (dive) into the lightest stages of sleep is ideal. Whatever bedtime routine you are following or the morning exercise regime you’ve constructed that balanced your sleep latency out, keep with it.
On the one hand, if you take an hour or even longer to fall asleep, you very well may have already fallen prey to sleep-onset insomnia. Being one of the most common sleep disorders, insomnia is described either as the difficulty to fall asleep, also known as sleep-onset insomnia, or the difficulty to stay asleep also known as sleep-maintenance insomnia. The symptoms have to persist for at least three times a week for a period of three months or longer in order to be diagnosed with insomnia.
On the other hand, if your sleep latency allows you to fall asleep by the 5-minute mark, this quick of a sleep-onset can also be a sign that something is going on with your sleep and health.
To help you figure out why you are experiencing irregular sleep-onset, we will have to discuss all the causes that can make a turmoil out of your sleep latency and all the effects that come along with it.
Let’s get to work.
Cause and Effect – Stress delays sleep-onset
While delayed sleep-onset does have a habit of developing in combination with other health conditions; diabetes, sleep apnea, or heart disease, the number one reason for it occurring is still worrisome thoughts. While these negative thoughts might just be a consequence of modern-day life taking its toll with all the stressors, they might also be a sign and a symptom of underlying anxiety or depression.
Give your doctor a visit and discuss your options. Consult your doctor on any medication you are currently taking and check if there’s any medication he recommends to help you deal with delayed sleep-onset and insomnia.
If you are currently on the couch and partaking in psychotherapy to manage your anxiety or depression, your therapist is a vast source of knowledge about all these therapeutic techniques that will help you deal with insomnia as well.
Poor Sleep Hygiene Leads to Sleep-Onset Insomnia
Cases have shown that the causes triggering sleep-onset insomnia can be much more benign. Something as simple as not paying attention to your sleep hygiene for a while can develop into something as problematic as sleep-onset insomnia.
Since regularly drinking caffeine past the early afternoon, stuffing your stomach with huge meals late in the evening, or hitting that high-intensity workout at night can all mess with your sleep latency through over-energizing your system, do try to steer clear of these activities at given times.
Furthermore, scrolling through Facebook or binge-watching the 4th season of Californication on Netflix before bed is also a major cause of sleep utterly destroyed. Since the screens on any technological device emit blue light that gets perceived as daylight and excites your nervous system, which in turn prevents regular sleep-onset.
Construct and design a bedtime routine filled with enough calm to bore someone to death. All the relaxing activities will do the job just right. Meditate away. Read an encyclopedia. Take a warm bubble bath. Listen to Claire de Lune. Breathe.
Oversleeping and Sleep Latency
Squeezing in too many naps throughout the day, or sleeping more than the standard recommended amount of time does your overall sleep health no good as well. Trying to fall asleep, when you’ve already satisfied your sleeping needs, won’t yield any rewards. It’s only natural that it takes a longer amount of time to glance upon the gates of the dream world if you’re oversleeping.
Remember – the average adult needs anywhere from 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
First and foremost, get to collecting the data on your sleep, then break it down and analyze it, and finally make the behavioral changes needed to regulate your sleep and achieve the ideal sleep latency. Keep a sleep diary. Use a smartphone app. Track how long it takes for you to fall asleep and how much time you spend asleep, and measure it across time to get an average. This will provide you with the data needed to work out a solution. If you’re sleeping more than the recommended amount and it takes forever for you to fall asleep, cut back on those naps or that late night cup of coffee. If, on the other hand, you end up sleeping way less than the recommended and it still takes forever to fall asleep, it can be a sign insomnia is creeping in on you.
Either way, if your own efforts and changes in behavior and bedtime routines just don’t seem to work, it’s imperative you speak with your doctor. They’ll not only hold you accountable for your choices, but they will also work with you to diagnose and treat the underlying, root cause that’s making your insomnia come out of the closet.
Sleep Deprivation and Sleep Latency
Getting fewer than 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night is a sure-proof way to allow sleep deprivation coming from around the corner and knocking on your door. As we all know, when sleep deprivation starts knocking on you, it knocks hard and merciless.
Living with the burden of sleep deprivation on your shoulders not only makes it hard to maintain optimal function throughout the day; slow reaction time, focus and memory impairment, weakened immune system, it also has an effect on your sleep latency. Being in a state of chronic sleep deprivation can make you fall asleep rather instantly since your body and brain are exhausted, fatigued, and burnt-out. It can even trigger involuntary ‘microsleeps’. These are lapses in consciousness that go undetected and unnoticed by both you and the people around you. We can’t dread the idea of experiencing an involuntary ‘microsleep’ in a dangerous situation enough. Imagine driving and having ‘microsleeps’. Not only do you compromise your own safety, but you also threaten the safety of everyone in your vicinity. Having these happen frequently is a ‘must visit your doctor’ scenario, because they might be linked to an abundance of sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy.
For the most extreme cases of sleep deprivation, it’s recommended that you pay a visit to a sleep lab. Let the experts with all their knowledge about sleep do the renowned multiple sleep latency test. Undergoing this method of testing out your sleep latency will measure how easy and quick you fall asleep when forced to take a series of 20-minute naps. The results of the test show if a person with their sleep debt maxed out will have no issues falling asleep in a matter of seconds, indicating how sleep deprived that person actually is. The multiple sleep latency test is one of the most effective ways of diagnosing sleep deprivation, and it’s also often used to test for excessive daytime sleepiness or narcolepsy.
On the other hand, the people dealing with not as extreme cases of sleep deprivation will find sleep tracking to be beneficial in their journey towards healthier sleep latency. Download a sleep tracking smartphone app. Try keeping a sleep diary. Collect the data on your sleeping patterns and mark how fast you fall asleep for a period of time. Analyzing the data will point out to any sleeping issues – the less time it takes to fall asleep, the more likely you are dealing with a case of sleep deprivation.
Furthermore, make the standard behavioral changes that are known to promote healthier, high-quality sleep. Make a sleep schedule that will allow you to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and make sure you follow it to the letter, even on weekends. You should be seeing positive effects over time.
Everything points in one direction – having an ideal sleep latency and regular sleep-onset is at the core of your holistic health. Having high-quality sleep is essential to everything from healthy brain function to overall wellbeing. Missing sleep regularly can affect your cognitive performance and worsen all other aspects of your life.
Since people experiencing inconsistent, insufficient and low-quality sleep are at risk of developing an array of problems ranging from depression and anxiety to having their own safety compromised, knowing what we now know about sleep latency and delayed sleep-onset makes us one step ahead to prevent and stay proactive about our sleeping hygiene.
That’s it, ladies and gentlemen. We hope we’ve delivered on what we promised to explain all the causes of taking too little or too much time to fall asleep and all the effects that follow along.
We will end this with an important paragraph from the beginning of the article that we hope will always remind you of the importance of high-quality sleep.
With rapid turnabouts of circumstances, our dreams of living on a perfect day remain a dream. We stay up all night thinking of what to do in the morning and toil all day to figure out what we plan on doing during the night. But in our desperation to make that elusive perfect day happen, we forget that dreams begin with a good night’s sleep.
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Laura Garcia is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She holds degrees in writing from Drake University. When she’s not busy writing, Laura likes to spend as much as time as possible with her husband James and three-year-old son Elijah.