What is sleep latency?
Sleep latency or sleep onset latency is defined as the length of time it takes you to fall asleep. It is said that normal sleep latency is around 10-20 minutes for most, with other sources calling 5-15 minutes a healthy sleep latency range.
One study from 2005 found that a sleep latency as short as 8 minutes could be a result of sleep deprivation or poor sleep due to an underlying sleep disorder.
What factors can influence sleep latency?
Sleep latency is different for everyone and can change based on a number of factors such as:
- Alcohol consumption
- Going to bed earlier or later than usual
- Napping habits
- Your location or comfort level in a different place
- Your general exhaustion / sleepiness levels
How does sleep latency impact your quality of sleep?
Sleep efficiency, or the percentage of time spent sleeping divided by the amount of time spent in bed, is closely linked to sleep latency. Longer sleep latency can yield poorer sleep efficiency, however low sleep efficiency can be the result of many other factors, like the frequency of sleep interruptions.
Sleep debt is also often associated with sleep latency. Sleep debt is determined by the hours of sleep you achieved subtracted from the amount of sleep you require nightly. Sleep debt can compound over multiple days, weeks, and more! Short sleep latency times can indicate the accumulation of sleep debt, even if you don't necessarily feel tired or the full effects of your aggregate sleep deprivation.
Why is sleep latency important?
Sleep latency is an objective measure which can help determine how your quality and quantity of sleep may be affecting you. It is recommended however that you observe a few factors in addition to sleep latency before jumping to diagnose a sleep disorder. Sleep latency, sleep debt, and sleep efficiency are all helpful tools for determining how your sleep needs are being met, since our own reflections of how tired or well-rested we may feel can be biased.
How can you improve sleep latency? Or what should you do if you can’t fall asleep?
There are a few things you can try if you find yourself having trouble getting to sleep when you want to:
- Change your bedtime. Early bedtimes sound like a great idea until you find your circadian rhythms aren’t cooperating as you’d hope. If you struggle to get to sleep early, try pairing an early bedtime with an early wake up for best results.
- Evaluate how much sleep you’re getting. Though it may sound counterintuitive, getting too much rest can negatively impact your sleep. Oversleeping, also called hypersomnia or long sleeping, can negatively impact your quality of sleep in the long run, proving that it is possible to get too much of a good thing.
- Improve your bedtime routine and sleep hygiene. Strong sleep hygiene includes more than just your bedtime routines, but also involves maintaining healthy habits throughout the day to support and regulate your circadian rhythms and improve your quality of sleep!
- See a doctor to identify if you have an underlying sleep condition. While all of these tips can help you improve your sleep latency, ultimately consulting with your healthcare provider is the best way to evaluate your sleep and bedtime practices so you can feel your best and get the rest you deserve.