The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Do if You Have a Hard Time Sleeping, According To Sleep Specialists

Woman sitting up in bed and can’t sleep

There’s nothing more frustrating than lying in bed, trying to will yourself to sleep. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep on a regular basis, you’ve likely tried a laundry list of potential solutions. Taking melatonin, nixing caffeine after 2 p.m., not using screens before bed…Maybe you’ve done it all. But according to sleep specialists, there’s one common lifestyle habit that interferes with sleep that many people aren’t aware of.

Here, sleep experts share how long it should take to fall asleep and what to avoid doing if you’re having trouble getting some shut-eye. 

Related: This Is the Most Important Habit To Have if You Want To Get 8 Hours of Sleep Tonight

How Long Should It Take To Fall Asleep?

Some people fall asleep almost instantaneously while others lie in bed for hours. What’s considered normal? Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib, Ph.D., the head sleep expert and neuroscientist at Wesper, says that, ideally, it should take between five and 15 minutes to fall asleep. “If it consistently takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep three or more times per week, that is a sign that you’re suffering from onset insomnia,” she says. 

Dr. Mark S. Aloia, Ph.D., 
the head of Sleep and Behavioral Sciences at Sleep Number and an Associate Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, says that there are many different reasons why it could be taking someone longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep. “Part of the problem for some people is that when they lie down without intending to fall asleep. They read, watch television, or do work in their beds. This is fine if you have no trouble falling asleep, but if you’re struggling with sleep then this sends your body mixed signals as to what to do when you lay down,” he says. This is why many sleep doctors say that the bed should only be used for sleep and sex, as opposed to using it as a place to do other activities, like watching TV or answering emails.

Related: Why You Should Try a ‘Coffee Nap’—and Other Surprising Tips on How to Sleep Better 

Dr. Rohrscheib says that another common reason people have trouble falling asleep is because they engage in stressful or stimulating activities within two hours of going to bed. She says that this includes doing work, chores and watching TV shows that are too stimulating.

She also says that it’s important to avoid too much light the hour before bedtime and to get plenty of natural sunlight during the day. “This helps to keep your circadian rhythm well regulated since the brain uses light stimulation to know when we should be awake and asleep,” she says.

The One Thing You Should Never Do if You Have a Hard Time Sleeping

Even when taking all of this advice into account, there’s one common habit both sleep experts say could be negatively impacting sleep: waking up and going to bed at inconsistent times. For example, maybe during the week you go to bed around 10:30 p.m. and wake up around 7 a.m., while on the weekends, you stay up until midnight and then sleep until 10 a.m. Inconsistencies like these, they say, could make it harder to fall asleep.

“It’s important to avoid keeping an inconsistent sleep schedule because this is highly disruptive to your circadian rhythm, your brain’s internal 24-hour biological clock,” Dr. Rohrscheib says. “When you don’t keep a consistent schedule, it’s very difficult for your brain to predict when it should start creating the chemicals needed to initiate and fall asleep. Even a 30-minute deviation may be enough to disrupt sleep for people who are extra sensitive sleepers.”

Dr. Aloia agrees, saying, “If your sleep schedule varies too much day-to-day, you may need to try to reel in your sleep routine with the same or similar sleep and wake times. Consistency can go a long way.” 

Related: Sleep’s Magic Powers! 7 Important Reasons to Get a Good Night’s Rest 

If you’ve tried making changes to your lifestyle, including sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, and you’re still having trouble falling asleep, both Dr. Rohrscheib and Dr. Aloia recommend seeing a sleep doctor for help. They say that not being able to fall asleep could be because there are underlying medical issues. “Insomnia can be chronic, and it may be secondary to another health problem. Sleep apnea is present in 26 percent of the population and can mimic insomnia,” Dr. Rohrscheib adds.

Not being able to fall asleep as quickly as you want can be frustrating, but a sleep doctor can help find solutions that work specifically for you. “When you have sleep issues, it’s essential to get help as early as possible because poor sleep over time can develop into a habit that is very difficult to improve. The longer you’ve been sleeping poorly, the harder it is to break the cycle,” Dr. Rohrscheib says. So seek help sooner rather than later. Dream Land is within your reach. 

Next up, find out what common evening habit could be ruining your sleep.

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